posted on Mon 27 Jan 2014 5:04 PM
Open Debate on War, History, Reconciliation and Peace

On Wednesday, 29 January, the Security Council will hold an open debate on “War, its lessons, and the search for a permanent peace”. Jordan, the president of the Council for the month, has initiated the debate and proposed in a concept note (S/2014/30) that the principal focus of the meeting be on issues related to national reconciliation, particularly the importance of working toward documentation of an historical narrative to facilitate durable peace within post-conflict societies. The Council will be briefed by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. It seems there will be at least 50 speakers, which might lead to some member states choosing to raise wider issues related to war and peace. An outcome for the open debate is not anticipated.

It has been 10 years since the Council held an open debate on a similar subject. On 26 January 2004, under the presidency of Chile, the Council discussed “Post-conflict national reconciliation: role of the United Nations” (S/PV.4903 and S/PV.4903 Resumption 1). The open debate was broadly defined to include a wider range of political, economic and legal dimensions. Following the debate, the Council adopted a presidential statement affirming the importance of continued cooperation within the UN system toward assisting national reconciliation in post-conflict contexts (S/PRST/2004/2). In contrast, tomorrow’s open debate will likely be more narrowly focused on how group perceptions of history influence national reconciliation, and hence the significance of facilitating a shared understanding of ‘the’ truth.

It has long been accepted in policymaking and academic circles that states that have recently experienced intrastate conflict are at a higher risk of future conflict than other states. This recurring reality has constituted much of the rationale for the creation and expansion of the peacebuilding architecture within the UN system, including efforts toward assisting political and economic development and establishing institutions for the rule of law. One of the areas Council members may choose to focus on is why in spite of the UN making great progress in providing much of the “hardware” required for post-conflict peacebuilding transitions, its efforts to address the necessary “software” have been lagging, particularly after conflicts related to ethnic or national identity.

According to this line of thinking, what is needed is more focus by the UN on addressing the sociological and psychological aspects of national reconciliation. Perhaps the most critical factor in this equation is the significance of documenting history in order to move toward a shared narrative in contrast to the differing group perceptions of a civil conflict which often persist well into the post-conflict phase. One option proposed in the concept note for the open debate is that the Council could mandate a small historical advisory team to assist national authorities with the recovery, protection and preservation of documents in an immediate post-conflict context. This team could then also assist with the creation of a national archive or the establishment of a national historical commission. Some Council members may wish to discuss how these ideas could be applied to current situations on the Council’s agenda such as Mali, where the Ouagadougou peace agreement of 18 June 2013 calls for the creation of an international commission of inquiry and the government recently established a national truth commission in December 2013.

Council members may also choose to focus on a relevant institutional mechanism that the UN has already developed: the commission of inquiry. Examples of commissions of inquiry into intrastate conflicts, political violence, or human rights violations established by the Security Council, Secretary-General or Human Rights Council include:

  • Commission of Experts concerning the former Yugoslavia established by the Council on 16 November 1992 (S/RES/780);
  • Commission of Experts concerning Rwanda established by the Council on 1 July 1994 (S/RES/935);
  • International Commission of Inquiry on Burundi established by the Council on 28 August 1995 (S/RES/1012);
  • International Commission of Inquiry for Darfur established by the Council on 18 September 2004 (S/RES/1564);
  • Independent Special Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste established by the Secretary-General on 18 January 2005 (S/2005/96);
  • International Independent Investigation Commission concerning Lebanon established by the Council on 7 April 2005 (S/RES/1595);
  • International Commission of Inquiry on Libya established by the Human Rights Council on 25 February 2011 (A/HRC/S-15/2);
  • International Commission of Inquiry on Côte d’Ivoire established by the Human Rights Council on 25 March 2011 (A/HRC/RES/16/25);
  • International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic established by the Human Rights Council on 22 August 2011 (A/HRC/S-17/1); and
  • Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea established by the Human Rights Council on 21 March 2013 (A/HRC/RES/22/13).

Most recently, on 5 December 2013, the Council requested the Secretary-General to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in the Central African Republic (S/RES/2127). The formation of the commission, which will submit an interim six-month report and a final one-year report, was announced by the Secretary-General on 20 January (S/2014/43). Council members may also wish to discuss what technical assistance the UN may be able to provide to the upcoming AU commission of inquiry on South Sudan.

Another way that the UN system can facilitate national reconciliation processes is supporting truth commissions. There have been more than thirty truth commissions thus far—primarily in Africa, Asia and Latin America—several of which have received UN assistance. For example, the UN played a key role in the creation and administration of truth commissions in countries such as El Salvador and Guatemala, where the UN had been involved in mediation of the peace processes. The truth commission in East Timor was established by the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor, which then appointed commissioners in consultation with civil society. Similarly, in Sierra Leone the Special Representative of the Secretary-General functioned as a selection coordinator for the appointment of a truth commission, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights appointed international members. Currently, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is assisting Burundi and Nepal with drafting legislation for the creation of truth commissions. Finally, UN efforts have also been reinforced with the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, Pablo de Greiff (Colombia), in May 2012.

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