Mr. Kofi Annan Delivers Keynote Address

Mr. Kofi Annan, in his Keynote Address to conference participants this morning, reflected on the compromises and trade-offs that must accompany a peace process. However, he stressed that justice cannot be traded for peace – in the short or long term.

“From my own experience with countries as different as Rwanda, Bosnia and Timor-Leste, we have learnt that justice is not an impediment to peace, it is an essential partner.”

“I believe that when we abandon justice to secure peace, we are most likely to get neither. My advice is that we must be ambitious enough to pursue both, and wise enough to know when and how to do so.”

Mr. Annan’s visit to Colombia this week has generated a great deal of attention, helping to bring to the fore society's broad, ongoing demands for justice in relation to the peace process.

In this regard, he expressed his support for Colombia’s “collective struggle” to close the long cycle of violence and foster the virtues of reconciliation, solidarity and peace.

“This effort has become an exciting national project, which should mobilize all sectors of society in the service of peace. For when peace comes, no Colombian citizen will be exempt from its impact.”

As the former UN Secretary-General and a Nobel Laureate, few international figures are as well-situated to address issues of peacebuilding and justice here in Colombia. Since leaving the United Nations in 2006, Mr. Annan has actively pressed for policies that will meet the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Mr. Annan recognized the more than 200,000 people who have died as a result of the conflict in Colombia, the great majority of whom were civilians. He reminded us that behind every statistic “there are families and friends who have lost loved ones.”

He stressed, “Victims are owed the right to the truth. They also want justice.”

Indeed, the Government of Colombia and the FARC guerilla group are now working to address the needs and rights of the many victims of the conflict as an essential element of the peace process in Havana.

Turning to an issue often raised in relation to official truth seeking in Colombia, Mr. Annan addressed the pursuit of criminal accountability for the many armed actors in the conflict.

In forceful terms, he cautioned that “truth seeking cannot substitute for criminal justice” because both are building blocks in the reformation of the state and the healing of society.

“Truth seeking should, of course, help determine the accountability of individuals. But truth seeking is not only about individual responsibility; it’s also about society, about the state and its institutions.”

As Mr. Annan explained, a truth commission has several functions, including giving society important facts. “With this truth you can move forward based on a shared understanding of the past and a common vision for the future.”

While recognizing that reflections on the experiences of truth commissions in other parts of the world can contribute to discussions on truth seeking in Colombia, he stressed that truth commissions must reflect local realities and “not blindly follow a global template.”

He made example of the Argentinian truth commission, which famously used the phrase “Nunca Más” (never again) as the title of its report. What is now so unique about Argentina's commission is that it dealt with only one issue: the disappeared.

Mr. Annan explained, “Since those days, the mandate and reach of truth commissions have expanded quite dramatically, sometimes creating unrealistic expectations and in, some cases, disillusionment with the peace process itself.”

Indeed, in recent years, truth commissions have tackled a wide variety of violations and scopes of inquiry – as is detailed in the joint report published last year by ICTJ and the Kofi Annan Foundation.

In as much as truth seeking is an ambitious national project, Mr. Annan emphasized that “expectations must sometimes be tempered by the painful compromises that underpin a peaceful society based on the rule of law.”

Mr. Annan closed by wishing Colombians “every success in your discussions and in your ambitions to shape a brighter and peaceful future for your country.”