Justice should never be sacrificed by granting amnesty in ending conflicts, the United Nations Legal Counsel told the Security Council today, stating that ending impunity for perpetrators of crimes against humanity is one of the principal evolutions in the culture of the world community and international law over the past 15 years.
“Justice and peace should be considered as complementary demands,” Nicolas Michel told an open debate on strengthening international law.
“There can be no lasting peace without justice,” he stressed. “It is not an issue of choosing between peace and justice, but of finding the best way to exercise one with regard to the other, taking into account particular circumstances, without ever sacrificing justice.”
Mr. Michel pointed out that amnesty for international crimes was now considered unacceptable in international practice, citing the recent transfer of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to the Netherlands to stand trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone on charges related to devastating civil wars in West Africa.
“It is now a matter of ensuring that this standard is respected,” the Legal Counsel added.
The question of granting impunity in an effort to restore peace and freedom to countries in conflict has become a major issue in UN human rights forums. In April, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said the battle against impunity was a vital element for bringing true peace.
“Many continue to argue that undue concentration on human rights jeopardizes the possibility of either concluding a peace agreement in the first place, or of a peace agreement that has been concluded proving durable,” she stressed. “To the contrary, I suggest that human rights are central to and indispensable for both peace and justice.”
Like Mr. Michel today, Ms. Arbour hailed the detention of Mr. Taylor as “a powerful and welcome affirmation of this basic principle.”
The President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the supreme UN judicial body also known as the World Court, was among the approximately 30 speakers who participated in today’s debate.