Human Rights and Peace: To prosecute or not

The international community is facing a relatively new dilemma in its attempts to resolve civil wars. Should it negotiate peace agreements with leaders it suspects of gross human rights violations or should it attempt to prosecute them? What if calls for justice seem irreconcilable with the search for peace? This is a current dilemma in Sierra Leone, where rebel leader Fodey Sankoh was pressed to join a government, despite accusations of human rights abuses. His failure to keep the bargain highlighted the problem.

The World Today Published 1 August 2000 Updated 28 October 2020 5 minute READ

Stephen Hill

Teaches in the Department of Political Science, University of Georgia, US

Is the prosecution of alleged human rights violators the most appropriate means to bring peace to war torn societies? In the former Yugoslavia, the widespread reporting of atrocities left the international community little moral room in which to manoeuvre. How could the leaders of civilised states sit down and discuss the future with people who only months before had organised and instigated the rape, torture and murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians?

So abhorrent was such a scenario, the negotiators at Dayton refused to talk to Radovan Karadic and General Ratko Mladic, the two most prominent leaders of the Bosnian Serbs. Instead they preferred to direct their suggestions to Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic. All three are now indicted war criminals.

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