Peace Processes

During peace processes, parties must consider fundamental questions about how to deal with massive and serious human rights violations committed during violent conflict. While justice demands are often among the most complex and controversial elements in negotiations, addressing those violations and, in particular, victims’ perspectives and needs is key to ensuring the credibility and legitimacy of resulting peace agreements.

Two boys hold white flags in Chocó, Colombia

Peace processes and political negotiations aimed at ending violent conflict must almost always deal with past human rights violations. In the peace processes that ended wars in Guatemala, South Africa, El Salvador, Sierra Leone, and Colombia, as well as in ongoing negotiations in countries such as Libya, South Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen, transitional justice has emerged as a critical issue.

Peace processes raise fundamental questions about how a peace agreement should tackle the legacy of massive and serious human rights violations committed during a conflict—questions about the kind of justice that is attainable; the treatment that should be afforded to victims; the nature of appropriate criminal accountability, redress, and reform processes; and the balance and complementarity that is needed among justice, security, and lasting peace.

Demands related to justice are frequently among the most complex and controversial elements in peace negotiations. Yet addressing past abuses and victims’ perspectives and needs are key to ensuring the credibility and legitimacy of peace processes and subsequent agreements. The frameworks established by peace agreements also shape the nature and extent of potential transitional justice measures for years or decades to come.

ICTJ’s Role

ICTJ prioritizes justice throughout the various stages of peace processes. We provide expert advice and recommendations based on our comparative experiences and serve as an integral partner to participating stakeholders.

In the Syrian context, for instance, we have offered technical advice to the formal opposition, represented by the Syrian Negotiations Committee, and have worked with Syrian civil society to help elevate the justice demands of Syrians through meetings, workshops, conferences, and strategic communication. In Colombia, ICTJ played a trusted and constructive role in the peace process leading up to the 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, providing actionable advice on best practices that could be integrated in the agreement.

After peace negotiations, ICTJ supports the effective, victim-centered implementation of any resulting agreements. In Colombia, for instance, ICTJ has provided vital support to key institutions—such as the Special Jurisdiction for Peace; the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Non-Repetition; and the Special Unit for the Search for Persons deemed as Missing—to ensure that they can effectively operate and withstand challenges.

ICTJ also highlights the issue of peace processes in its discussion and teaching forums, policy analysis, and research. At our 11th Annual Emilio Mignone Lecture in 2020, organized in partnership with NYU Law’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, for example, keynote speaker and former President of Colombia and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Juan Manuel Santos gave valuable insights on the Colombian peace process and lessons for other contexts. We also frequently offer intensive ICTJ courses for policymakers and practitioners on the topic.

In 2013, in collaboration with the Kofi Annan Foundation, ICTJ produced a major report exploring the role of truth commissions in peace processes. The report, Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Strengthen Peace Processes, examines cases from around the world to identify the most important lessons for future peace negotiations. And in 2005, ICTJ published an influential analysis of the implications of the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute for peace mediators and cohosted a conference on UN guidelines for mediators.