Panel Discussion: International Justice in a Time of Transition


The International Peace Institute (IPI) held a panel discussion on International Justice in Times of Transition, focusing on the relationship between peace and justice in the context of recent developments and transitions throughout the world. Welcome remarks were given by Jozias van Aartsen, mayor of The Hague, and Warren Hoge, IPI senior adviser for external relations, moderated the debate.

Video streaming by Ustream

Peter Tomka, president of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), opened the discussion by highlighting the complementary role the ICJ plays in the international justice system.

Political transitions generate situations where both the recently established International Criminal Court (ICC) and ICJ jurisdiction applies, he said. The key difference is in the applicants to the courts; the ICC and hybrid tribunals focus on the responsibility of individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide; the ICJ addresses conflicts between states over international law.

Willem van Genugten, dean of The Hague Institute for Global Justice examined ever-present questions about the relationship between peace and justice, and made observations about the role of transitional justice in answering some of these dilemmas.

“A classical assumption is that doing justice is by its very nature a contribution to peace,” he said, “but there are complications surrounding this.”

He provided the example of peace negotiations that have often brought perpetrators to the table through promises of power-sharing, amnesty, or reduced sentences. The increased focus on establishing accountability for crimes calls into question whether these promises have moral or legal value, he concluded.

David Tolbert, president of ICTJ, noted that international justice itself is in transition.

The next few years will see an end to ad hoc tribunals, such as the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, as well as hybrid courts, like the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia. The Rome Statute of 1998 will structure international criminal justice going forward, he said, with the idea of complementarity—that state judicial systems are the first line of defense against impunity—at the heart of this structure.

“If we are going to see international criminal justice work in practice, we are going to see these cases happen at the national level,” he argued.

The panel discussion closed with questions from the audience. Panelists were asked to apply the peace and justice debate to the current situation in Syria: do we offer incentives to and negotiate with the regime to save lives, or make the promise to prosecute crimes and establish accountability as a basis for political transition?

Panelists also answered questions on the impact of criminal justice decisions on reconciliation and the restoration of civic trust in society, and to evaluate the effectiveness of regional organizations, such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in establishing accountability in post-conflict or post-dictatorship countries.