In July 2015, the Washington-based International Peace and Security Institute held its third Hague Symposium on Post-Conflict Transitions and International Justice at Clingendael. The symposium is three weeks filled to the brim with interactive educational simulations, peer-to-peer learning, and site visits to some of the institutions of international justice. Over 45 emerging peace leaders from dozens of countries, from Syria to Australia and Colombia to South Sudan, were gathered together in The Hague with world leaders, both academic and practitioners, in peacebuilding, post-conflict transitions, and international law. Broad ranges of discussions were had and various skillsets sharpened over those 21 days, including bicycle riding without helmets in rush hour! Nevertheless, for me, attending as a participant, there were two main motifs, however paradoxical they may appear within the same sentence: politics and humility.
We were introduced to the first almost immediately. Justice Richard Goldstone, a key figure in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa as well as the former Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), declared in his opening keynote speech that, “If you don’t understand politics, you don’t understand international justice.” This spoke to many of the frustrations that we were to analyze: such as the inability of the International Court of Justice to operate in many countries where they are ostensibly needed and its lack of an independent enforcement mechanism.
To elaborate upon the first, ultimately, the International Criminal Court (ICC) can only operate within the territory of State Parties to the Rome Statute, by which they have given their consent to the jurisdiction of the court, and even then they can only practically operate to the extent that the State Party cooperates. The ICC may also gain jurisdiction through referral by the Security Council of the United Nations, but the Security Council itself is plagued with politics that make certain countries essentially impossible to refer. Furthermore, the ICC may also lose jurisdiction in much the same manner: through the intervention of the Security Council should such interference be deemed in the interests of international peace and security.
The problem of a lack of an independent enforcement mechanism for the ICC was timely, as it was exemplified in the news this summer when South Africa did not arrest Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese President, in accordance with an ICC arrest warrant for him so that he may stand trial for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in The Hague. As a State Party to the Rome Statute, South Africa failed to meet its international legal obligations under that Statute. This (in)action on the part of South Africa has sparked considerable debate about whether this is the beginning of the end for the ICC project. For its part the ICC has given South Africa until October 5th, 2015 to respond to its request for an explanation from the country.
It is well known that the lack of an independent enforcement mechanism means that the ICC cannot itself arrest those indicted and it must rely on States Parities to execute its warrants and facilitate its investigations. This greatly limits the scope of its work, however the problem is one of political will rather than institutional deficit. Paradoxically, should the political will exist in the international community to create an independent enforcement mechanism for the ICC (say, its own police force), than the creation of that mechanism would also be largely unnecessary because states could simply donate their enforcement capacities as per current Rome Statute guidelines.
The second lesson-motif of the Forum can be summarized in two words: Be humble. This was expressed by multiple presenters, but perhaps but notably by David Crane, Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He stressed that the work that is done in the field of international justice is not done for ego, reputation, money, or even abstract principles, but for the victims. If you forget about the victims as a practitioner or an academic in the field, you have forgotten your purpose.
Dr. Robert Lamb (U.S. Army War College) chimed in that not only do we forget the victims, we also forget our own ‘lessons learned’ and repeatedly reproduce failure in post-conflict and development interventions. He suggests we forget about ‘the state,’ and instead of privileging this Western concept of governance focus on working with existing governance structures in interventions. Lastly, coming from the field Audra Dykman (USAID), Kevin Melton (USAID, NATO), and Justin Richmond (IMPL) drove us through a series of intense simulations that showed us how much we thought we knew and just how wrong we were. Audra’s simulation started from the premise that our ideas for post-conflict reconstruction were good, but that our implementation strategies were horrendous. While Kevin and Justin orchestrated a data-driven interactive simulation in a sector of Afghanistan to prove that our ideas were equally as flawed as our attempted implementation. The ultimate lesson? Be humble and curious; remember that no amount of international ‘expertise’ makes you more qualified to ‘fix’ a problem in a post-conflict context than the people who actually live in that context.
The International Peace and Security Institute’s Hague Symposium is a frustrating, and simultaneously enlightening, foray into the political intricacies that shape our current field of international justice and post-conflict transition. It counsels awareness of these political puzzles and trains in skills that allow young and aspiring peace leaders to navigate these murky waters. Ultimately, something much more important is also counseled: humility and the ability to critically reflect upon oneself and the institutions into which one is embedded. It is in the process of learning about changing the world ‘out there,’ that one also embarks upon a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement.
To learn more about the International Peace and Security Institute and its programming, visit their site here!
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Sarah Littisha Jansen is in her second year of the PhD program in International Conflict Management and Resolution at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. She completed her B.A. Honours at Glendon College of York University in International Studies and Études françaises and did undergraduate research in Kosovo/a on Serbian-Albanian bilingualism and its implications for building sustainable peace
Featured Photo By Sarah Littisha Jansen.