Parusha Naidoo, Intern: Justice and Reconciliation in Africa Programme, IJR

From 30-31 March, IJR’s Justice and Reconciliation in Africa Programme in collaboration with the Life and Peace Institute’s Horn of Africa Programme hosted a policy seminar on Regional Reconciliation, Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice in Africa. Taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the meeting was centred on policy engagement intervention and the facilitation of capacity building among key actors. Bringing together key civil society members, AU ambassadors and other intergovernmental players, the policy seminar aimed to garner deep and sustained engagement on peace efforts with an African focus. With the prospective African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework (ATJPF) centring on these issues, it is within this context that the policy seminar provided a relevant platform for multiple players to engage.

Discussions and presentations that took place included some of the following topics: Women-Centred Initiatives to Promoting Transitional Justice (Ms. Semiha Abdulmelik), Legal Perspectives and Role of ICC in the Reconciliation Agenda in Africa (Mr. Don Deya), The African Union and Civil Society Partnership for Peacebuilding (Mr. Desire Assogbavi), Regional Reconciliation in Africa: Towards a New Framework for Intervention (Prof. Tim Murithi) and The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Initiatives to Enhance Transitional Justice ( Honourable Dr. Solomon Dersso).

Placing Transitional Justice at the centre of sustainable peace, the ATJPF is said to take a holistic and nuanced approach towards ending wars and rebuilding societies. Part of this approach must include rethinking our understandings of how conflicts play out and how their consequences are addressed. The clear-cut distinction between interstate and intrastate wars may seem plausible on the conceptual level, however, this dichotomy is called into question when we think through the current operations of militia groups such as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), M23, Al Shabaab and Boko Haram. The workings, from financing to implementation, are not determined by borders imposed on the African continent some 130 years ago and nor are the prevailing costs of these wars. This holds consequences for the mechanisms we engage in and the parties involved in peace processes.

The regional scope of conflicts resulting in a multifaceted crisis comprises of combatants, refugees, resources and weapons being unaccounted for across borders. These conditions not only produce a multitude of violations that are neglected but also create regional environments where cross-border violations are able to be reproduced. Furthermore, the structures that are able to maintain conflict systems remain intact, rendering the peacebuilding and transitional justice programmes as incomplete and further preventing reconciliation from taking place.

This indicates the need for a reconceptualisation of the strategies and infrastructure we use within the African context. Linking to the notion of African solutions to African problems, the implementation of regional reconciliation on an extensive scale will not be free of obstacles. Given that borders, natural resources and more specifically sovereignty are contentious issues, regional operations hold the potential to be met with suspicion between states that already hold difficult relations with their neighbours.

In addition, a culture of impunity and lack of accountability spurs the motives of states and other parties not wanting to fully commit to transitional justice and peacebuilding efforts with a regional outlook. This is placed on the most technical issues of who is responsible for the payment of reparations, who is held accountable for cross-border human rights atrocities and which account of the truth is taken as the official version.

However, despite these considerations, the value and potential of regional reconciliation should not be doubted. The structures that allow for continued violence are able to exist and are strengthened by the failure of governments, civil society and intergovernmental organisations, specifically the African Union. It is important to note that the failure does not lie within one of these parties but instead is located in the insufficient move towards a concerted effort to coordinate and operationalise strategies by all parties.

The very nature of African conflicts requires us to rethink the paradigms in which we currently operate. Informed by geopolitical and historical factors, the continental burdens of violent legacies are made clear in the contemporary conflict which should be understood along a continuum of violence where the past informs the present. Not confined by a country’s borders, the fluid nature conflicts and the subsequent effects point to a regional outlook necessary for sustainable peace. Regional reconciliation within the aims of peacebuilding and transitional justice represents a new and much-needed opportunity, vital for governments, civil society and the AU to work both separately and together towards a regional agenda.

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