Peace, justice a ‘tug-of-war’

Speaking at the Yale Law School on Monday, a former U.N. high commissioner for human rights called upon the international community to break the link between peace and justice.

In front of approximately 120 law students and faculty members, Louise Arbour reflected on what she described as the “ongoing tug-of-war” between the relative importance of peace and justice in international law. Arbour — also the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda — weighed the pros and cons of two potential frameworks for structuring the relationship between peace and justice and ultimately argued for a model that places peace and justice on “parallel tracks,” as she put it.

Lousie Arbour spoke at the Law School on Monday about the relationship between peace and justice.
Charles Francis
Lousie Arbour spoke at the Law School on Monday about the relationship between peace and justice.

Arbour first explained the “sequencing model,” which she said most closely represents how peace and justice function today. In this framework, justice is subordinated to peace in the political process, she explained.

“This model puts justice in the toolbox of peace negotiators,” Arbour said.

Because justice is viewed as a tool for peace, Arbour argued that the sequencing model implicitly favors peace. Both peace and justice are desired, she said, but justice is only pursued if it facilitates peace.

Arbour then explained the alternative “parallel tracks model” where peace and justice are separate but related processes. By viewing peace and justice as independent, Arbour said, this framework rejects the idea that the judicial process should be controlled by peace negotiators and instead gives prosecutors more discretion.

“The parallel tracks model removes justice as a tool of peacemakers,” Arbour said. “This model insists that justice follow its own course.”

Linking justice and peace can complicate rather than facilitate the peace process, Arbour argued, so this latter model is preferable. But, Arbour added, it may not be easily implemented in the international community.

“It will be a long time until international justice finds its place alongside international peace negotiations,” she said.

In the question-and-answer session that followed the lecture, James Silk LAW ’89, a professor at the Law School and the executive director of the Orville H. Schell Jr. Center for International Human Rights, disagreed with Arbour’s assertion that peace and justice should exist as separate processes. Peace and justice are intertwined, he argued, and in some situations justice cannot be pursued if peace is not achieved first.

“You must consider circumstances where peace does take priority over justice,” he said.

But Frank DeFina, a literature professor at Gateway Community College, agreed with Arbour’s assertion that justice should not be subordinated to peace. Arbour’s proposed model is innovative because it demands that justice be expanded even further, DeFina said.

“I’ve always thought people in the legal profession stay within a box,” he said after the lecture. “Arbour impressed me because she wants to break out of the box.”

While serving as chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia, Arbour indicted then-president of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes, which was the first time a serving head of state was brought before an international court.

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