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The Price of Peace

There is much debate over the relationship between peace and justice, with some arguing that the pursuit of justice impedes conflict-resolution efforts, and others asserting that justice is a prerequisite for peace. Ending Colombia’s 50-year-long guerrilla war will require a nuanced understanding of what justice demands.

MADRID – The relationship between peace and justice has long been the subject of polarizing debates. Some argue that the pursuit of justice impedes conflict-resolution efforts, while others – including International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda – contend that justice is a prerequisite for peace. As President Juan Manuel Santos leads Colombia through the most promising peace talks in five decades of brutal conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), he will have to consider this question carefully.

The Nuremberg trials, which followed Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender in World War II, provide an ideal model for post-conflict justice. But, in conflicts in which no side has been defeated, the peacemaker’s job becomes more challenging. Given what is at stake, a trade-off between reconciliation and accountability may well be inescapable.

Since 1945, more than 500 cases of amnesty in post-conflict transitions have been recorded; since the 1970’s, at least 14 states – including Spain, Mozambique, and Brazil – have given amnesty to regimes guilty of serious human-rights violations. In South Africa, amnesty was a key feature of the “truth and reconciliation” process that facilitated the peaceful transition from more than four decades of white-minority rule to democracy.

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