posted on Wed 12 Feb 2020 1:07 PM
Transitional Justice Open Debate

Tomorrow (13 February), the Security Council will hold an open debate on “transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict situations” under the peacebuilding and sustaining peace agenda item. The meeting, initiated by Belgium as this month’s Council president, will be presided over by the country’s foreign minister, Philippe Goffin. The anticipated briefers are Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights (via VTC); Francisco de Roux, President of the Commission for the Clarification of Truth, Coexistence, and Non-Repetition of Colombia; and Yasmin Sooka, Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa, Trustee of the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre and Chair of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan. Ahead of tomorrow’s meeting, Belgium circulated a concept note (S/2020/98). No formal outcome is anticipated.

The open debate will be the first time the Council holds a meeting on transitional justice as a thematic issue. A 2004 report of the Secretary-General on the rule of law and transitional justice in conflict and post-conflict societies (S/2004/616) defined the term as the:

full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation. These may include both judicial and non-judicial mechanisms, with differing levels of international involvement (or none at all) and individual prosecutions, reparations, truth-seeking, institutional reform, vetting and dismissals, or a combination thereof.

In 2010, the Secretary-General issued a note providing the guiding principles and framework for the UN’s approach to transitional justice processes and mechanisms. It outlines key components of transitional justice and ways to further strengthen these activities.

The Security Council has referred to transitional justice on several occasions, including in resolution 2282 adopted in April 2016 on post-conflict peacebuilding, which stressed that a comprehensive approach to transitional justice was a key component of efforts to sustain peace. It has referred to the need to consider transitional justice processes in relation to thematic issues on its agenda, including women, peace and security; children and armed conflict; and protection of civilians. The Council has also referenced transitional justice in resolutions on several different country-specific agenda items. These include Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.

According to the concept note, the open debate “provides a forum for member states to take stock of the progress made in implementing the Secretary-General’s guidance note on transitional justice and to draw on practical experiences to consider best practices and factors that can contribute to a successful transitional justice process.” It is also intended to provide an opportunity to examine the role of the Security Council, UN peace operations and regional organisations in supporting nationally owned transitional justice processes. In this regard, the concept note invites participants to focus on several questions in their statements, including:

  • What can be done to ensure a more coherent and comprehensive UN approach to transitional justice?
  • How can the Security Council and the UN more broadly most effectively support transitional justice processes?
  • Which approaches and principles should guide UN peace operations supporting nationally owned transitional justice processes?
  • How can transitional justice be better integrated into the children and armed conflict agenda as well as the women and peace and security agenda?
  • How does transitional justice relate to security sector reform, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and rule of law processes?
  • Is there a role for regional transitional justice initiatives?

Council members are generally supportive of Belgium’s initiative and its approach, which seeks to facilitate a broad discussion of the issue. Some members may seek to build on the statements made during the open debate on reconciliation on 19 November 2019, organised by the UK (S/PV.8668). Belgium referred to the contribution of transitional justice to reconciliation efforts, as well as the possibility of conducting “a broader review in order to identify some key principles for guiding the Security Council in its future decisions in this area”. It added that “transitional justice is a tool that the Council should continue to consider as part of its mandate to maintain international peace and security”. The UK noted that “transitional justice mechanisms can support persecuted people and lay the foundations for peace”. It also emphasised the need to engage and involve women and for the Council to monitor reconciliation processes. South Africa said that transitional justice processes must respond to the specific context of the country concerned. It also underscored that “the whole spectrum of transitional justice needs to be explored, including truth commissions and reparations for victims”, as well as the need to take into account community-based or traditional justice mechanisms and to ensure that women and youth are represented. Germany also stressed women’s participation, and the Dominican Republic underscored the involvement of youth. While not referring to transitional justice specifically, Russia expressed the view that the UN should focus on cooperation with governments, that “ready-made solutions from outside” should not be imposed, and that the work of international criminal justice institutions in the context of post-conflict reconciliation “should not be considered the last word”.