The third African students conference took place at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague under the theme: "Peace Through Justice - The Role of International Law in Conflict Transformation and Peace Building in Africa"
It was co-organized by the African Students Committee and the Hague Appeal for Peace as part of the Global Coalition for Africa. Here is an address delivered by Mr. Roel van der Veen, an official of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has indispensable relevance to the current socio-political developments in our dear continent.
"Basically, there are two reasons why "Peace through Justice in Africa" merits to be at the center of our preoccupations and our endeavours to support African. In the first place, ‘peace’ is a sine qua non condition for happiness, development and prosperity. Without it, there can be no happiness because of the unnecessary suffering of innocent citizens, victims of armed actions, unscrupulous political ambitions, abuse of power, anarchy and lawlessness. Without peace, there can be no development because no private investor is willing to make long-term investments in a climate of insecurity, political chaos or war. And finally, without peace and development there will be no significant progress or prosperity, regardless the existence of abundant natural resources or the hard work and commitment of the African people.
The examples are only too well known. Botswana is a good example of a country, well endowed with natural resources, where the prevalence of peace throughout its modern history - in combination with stimulating and supporting macro-economic policies - has enabled the Government and people of this southern African country to reap the benefits of a climate of political stability. In deed, a remarkable achievements for a land-locked country! And there also exists the example of Mauritius, an island-state, not blessed by nature with oil, minerals or other valuable natural resources. But the hard working population of Mauritius has benefited from peace and stability, which characterize this country and the resulting involvement of private investors. In contrast, we also know the dramatic consequences of war and civil strife in other countries: the Democratic Republic of Cong, Somalia, Sierra-Leone and Liberia. Despite their relative advantages - coastal countries often well end! owed with natural resources - their peoples live in misery and fear.
The second reason for wholeheartedly supporting the theme is the growing awareness that without Justice, without the Rule of Law, no positive development will take place. In countries recovering from armed conflict, peace will be fragile if there are no appropriate laws and no independent judiciary system. The laws, the legal framework and the judiciary form the heart of modern societies. The enactment of appropriate laws and their non-discriminatory enforcement are an indication of the level of tolerance and among the most important criteria to judge a country’s democratic performance. The assurance and predictability they provide are the foundation of a flourishing private sector, indispensable to achieve economic development.
A country’s judicial system is a complex matter. There is a need for a Judiciary that is independent from the executive and from legislative branches of government. The three need to work together, but their power should be separated. We also need independent judges, free from fear or from repression. And we need sets of laws to organize our lives, our societies, our economies, our private sector. We also need treaties and conventions to regulate relations between individuals, corporations and states: International laws. Moreover, we need laws to prevent or govern (armed) conflicts and their consequences (prisoners, refugees, internally displaced persons) and to restore peace in war-torn countries.
The focus is on the International Court of Justice - and its specific tribunals (here) in The Hague and in Arusha, Tanzania. There is also a focus on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that exists in South Africa and Latin America and on the International Court established in Rome, in 1999 and yet to be ratified.
All these instruments are connected to the crucial subject of Impunity. During the Cold War, many governments in the North turned a blind eye on human rights abuses and the economic crimes of African and other leaders. Since 1990s, due to the change in geo-political interests of the major developed countries, issues that once were taboo became the subject of open and frank discussions. Impunity is a major one. In reality, impunity is one of the causes of conflicts and of their perpetuation. Fighting impunity is promoting peace.
Another issue is corruption which the Global Coalition for Africa always had high on its agenda. This resulted in the adoption of "25 Principles to Combat Corruption in Africa", in 1999 by representatives of eleven African countries. Also, the Global Coalition for Africa was among the co-organizers, with the Dutch Government of a major International Anti-Corruption Conference.
We all are familiar with the pervasive impact of corrupt dictators on the development of their countries. Human rights abuses have contributed to the increase of a brain drain which already was having a negative effect on the development of African countries. It contributed to an increased flow of migrants fleeing the bad conditions in their country. In addition, ten of billions of dollars fled these countries. Unscrupulous political leaders illegally transferred large amounts of money, often to banks in developed countries. This is a consequence of impunity, corruption and abuse of power.
Fortunately, recent improvements have been witnessed. There has been an increase in the condemnation of corrupt practices by international and civil society organizations. Also, at national levels, law-makers have made an important contribution to redress this situation by revising banking laws. Moreover, spectacular developments such as the arrest of former Chilean dictator Pinochet became front-page news the world over. Africa this time did not stay behind and in Senegal, legal procedures have successfully started against Hissane Habre, former Chad dictator.
Now, at the start of the 21st century, the international community including Africa has more instruments to enforce the rule of law than ever before. But a basic element of law enforcement is its non-discriminatory character. Therefore, one question: Is the extradition of former Serbian President Milosevic to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague a sign that abuse of power and human rights violations are no longer condoned by the international community? Or will it turn out to be an exception?
The climate of impunity, which prevails in a number of African countries has resulted in a loss of confidence in government, in authorities - which already had little to lose in this respect. How can we expect people to identify themselves with the development goals and other important objectives of they see that their leaders get away with corruption and human rights abuses? To make things worse, the culture of impunity and of corruption contribute to a growing informalization of the economy and society, which in itself becomes another major constraint to economic development and a source of conflict.
A word of precision may be appropriate. My plea is one of Justice and the Rule of Law. Not one of Revenge and Destruction. It is for this particular reason that I very much respect South Africans who impressed many all over the world with the work of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If - in accordance with the law people and governments decide to publicly discuss, reveal, confess and ask for forgiveness - we can draw lessons for a world without impunity. With Chile, Argentina and Guatemala, South Africa has taught us the lesson that there are no fixed templates or uniform models but that there is only one basic principle: the rule of law and its non-discriminatory enforcement. This applies to both Domestic and International Law. Without justice there will be no progress in Africa or elsewhere.