Issues of post-conflict justice and forgiveness discussed at UN meeting

5 March 2002

Addressing senior United Nations political officers from across the globe today, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged them to consider the need to reconcile justice with forgiveness in post-conflict situations.

"How do we help a war-torn or newly democratizing society to achieve reconciliation while ensuring that grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law do not go unpunished?" he asked participants attending the first annual meeting of heads of UN political and peace-building offices. "And how, ultimately, can such a country equip itself with the laws, institutions and other safeguards it needs to stop it from falling back into instability and conflict?"

The Secretary-General pointed out that while some surviving victims may be eager to testify, "others dread having to re-live the horror and humiliation by describing it in public." He further noted that those opting for "truth and reconciliation rather than justice" may unintentionally let offenders avoid answering for their actions, "thereby perpetuating the culture of impunity that allowed the atrocities to occur in the first place."

"We cannot escape these tensions and dilemmas," he said. "Somehow, they have to be managed."

Mr. Annan called on participants in the closed meeting, which was also attended by members of the UN Security Council, to consider the timing of efforts to achieve justice, as well as the role of outsiders in the process and the choice of approaches involved.

"Given our limited resources, and the political constraints under which we operate, we cannot help in all the situations we should like to, and often the only choice we can make is the choice of whom we disappoint most," the Secretary-General acknowledged. "However," he added, we must at least aspire to moral clarity, and I hope today's discussion will bring us a bit closer to it."