BY ARUL LOUIS
United Nations–India has denounced the double standards of the western nations that now preach transitional justice in post-conflict situations but do not deal similarly with the historical injustices of colonialism from which they benefited.
India’s Deputy Permanent Representative Nagaraj Naidu told the Security Council on Thursday: “We note that the historical injustices inherent to colonialism are rarely the focus of transitional justice.”
He said that there is a perception that “transitional justice mechanisms have been providing ‘a form of ideological obfuscation’ that is intended to ‘divert attention away from those who benefited — and still benefit — from and in the system.”
Transitional justice is the way of dealing with injustices and crimes committed during a period of conflict after it is over. These can range from international courts to try those responsible for the crimes as in the case of the Balkans and Rwanda, to the truth and reconciliation commissions which helped South Africa move on mostly without punitive measures after the end of the apartheid regime.
“Reconciliation within any nation must be not only home-grown but also home-nurtured,” Naidu said.
The priority should be determining what what would benefit the people victimised by violence rather than “whether there should be a domestic or international trial, or a truth commission versus an international trial, or a cultural alternative as opposed to a traditional trial,” he said.
Transitional justice has become “steeped in western liberalism” and the involvement of external actors in the internal or quasi-internal conflicts has “not only become more frequent, but has also entailed increased levels of coercion,” running counter to the principles of national sovereignty.
A “technocratic, one-size-fits-all approach” that can be “distant and remote to those who actually need it most” and can be damaging to them, he said.
The essence of transitional justice should be “redefining relationships, promoting public deliberation, creating a healthy civil society, facilitating the healing process, as well as making institutions both trustworthy and effectively trusted,” he said.
The Council debate on transitional justice was called by Belgium, which holds its rotating presidency for this month.
Belgium’s Deputy Permanent Representative Karen Van Vlierberge, who presided over the meeting, said her country is of the opinion that fixing the responsibilities for human rights violations and serious crimes is essential to restore people’s confidence in institutions and achieve lasting peace.
But in contrast to her rhetoric, historically like all colonial powers Belgium has not had to deal with its brutal legacy in Congo, where even after its independence it used mercenaries to destabilise the country illustrating the double standards.
The effects of both the colonialism, one of the harshest in modern times, and the vicious effects of intervention continue to this.
UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet drawing on her experience as a former president of Chile, which returned to democracy after 17 years of repressive dictatorship and set up a truth and reconciliation commission, said, “Truth-seeking initiatives not only enable victims to recount their experiences; they also open new spaces within which victims and perpetrators can re-establish the connection.”
“My own experience in Chile convinced me that transitional justice processes that are context-specific nationally owned and focused on the needs and informed choices of victims can connect, empower and transform societies,” she said.