Commonwealth countries identify critical components for lasting peace after conflict
Moral leadership, financial support and the right balance between different mechanisms for reconciliation are critical for lasting peace, a Commonwealth roundtable concluded on Friday (3 May).
Representatives of Commonwealth countries that have experience of post-conflict reconciliation ended a three-day meeting in London on Friday by urging the Commonwealth Secretariat to facilitate further exchanges and support in this area.
Addressing participants at the Secretariat’s headquarters, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba said: “Given the diverse contexts and sensitive experiences our various countries bring to the table, it was important to create a secure and trusted environment where we could openly share Commonwealth journeys of national reconciliation.
“There is no one size fits all approach to transitional justice and reconciliation, each national context and situation is different and reconciliation processes need to reflect national specificity and local needs.
What did the delegates say?
During the meeting, experts led discussions on the roles of truth commissions, memorialisation, national human rights institutions, criminal prosecutions and restorative justice – focusing on the needs of the victims, offenders and the involved community rather than mere punishment of the offender – as mechanisms for reconciliation. Delegates included senior government officials and representatives of national human rights institutions and civil society organisations in the Commonwealth.
Referring to remarks at the opening of the meeting by the former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Lord John Alderdice, Ms Masire-Mwamba added: “Civility in our approach - that is key. A reconciliation process needs to be credible and respectful. It must be conducted within the relevant legal frameworks and be complemented by the necessary institutional support.”
Delegates emphasised that the desire to reconcile should come from the local population and that an inclusive, organic and traditional process of consultation may trigger such a process.
National human rights institutions (NHRIs) must be accorded the conditions to effectively carry out their roles of holding public institutions to account and educating the public about their rights. This includes a regional and local presence in the areas most affected by conflict, independence from government, financial support, staff training and the exchange of best practices.
Participants felt the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions and the Commonwealth Secretariat could facilitate these exchanges.
High Commissioner for Mozambique Carlos dos Santos said: “NHRI’s do not have enforcement capabilities. There may be a need to adjust the laws to bring in some form of enforcement.”
The educational aspect of memorialisation was highlighted as being central to reconciliation. Spaces where people can have access to healing, such as counselling, at the site of memorials was among the effective practices identified.
Referring to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Dr Jean Baptiste Habyalimana, Executive Secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, Rwanda, said one of the important aspects of memorialisation was to find a way to remember those killed and to educate people to prevent genocide.
High Commissioner for Seychelles Marie-Pierre Lloyd said: “If you can educate the younger generation about what happened and explain it in the right way, this can be at the centre of our efforts to ensure, if not guarantee, non-reccurrence.”
Participants said truth commissions must be “communicated, prioritised, targeted and implemented swiftly if they are to have impact”.
The best practices highlighted over the three days will be compiled into a publication to be made available to Commonwealth members.
The countries represented were: Kenya, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Uganda and United Kingdom (Northern Ireland).
The roundtable carries forward recommendations from Civil Paths to Peace, the 2007 report of the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding, chaired by Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen. It identifies the need for practical and positive responses to conflict to be rooted in the Commonwealth’s agreed values and principles.