By Journalists For Justice
Victims of atrocities need to know the truth, however grim and appalling it might be, former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan has said.
In reference to conflicts in many places in Africa, Annan says countries cannot build legitimate institutions grounded in the rule of law and respect for human rights if latent conflicts and bitterness about the past remain unaddressed.
“Societies and individuals are entitled to know the truth about mass human rights violations. It is a human right and a value in itself. We should not silence the past. The past refuses to lie down quietly, in any case. It has an uncanny habit of returning to haunt one,” he says.
Annan spoke at a conference on Truth Commissions and Peace Processes in Africa held in Ethiopia in April.
Anna, who was the chair of the Eminent Persons that negotiated a peace deal between former President Mwai Kibaki and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga to end post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, said for stability, countries should pursue peace and justice concurrently.
“From my own experience, I can say that we have learnt that justice is not an impediment to peace – it is an essential partner,” he said in his keynote address.
The former UN secretary general was quick to point out that every conflict is unique and there is no a single formula.
“Every conflict has its own, particular characteristics and peacemakers, as they craft peace agreements, need to carefully balance the elements,” he said.
The conference was organised to deliberate on if peace and truth commissions have worked mainly in Africa. “Truth seeking and reconciliation has now become an accepted, if not universal, feature of the architecture of post conflict peacebuilding, but the systems need review to make them relevant and effective,” he said.
On his part, David Tolbert, President of International Center for Transitional Justice said: Peace cannot be founded upon a willed amnesia about the past nor a renunciation of accountability.”
“On the other hand, for this search to be meaningful, it cannot be a mechanistic response or yielding to an external imposition, but rather the result of a deep comprehension of the reasons for truth-seeking and justice rooted in the local context,” he said.
Tobert cautioned against attempts to substitute a truth commission with a judicial system or judicial processes.
“Each is independently important, with its own logic and goals,” he said.
During the conference a study: Challenging the Conventional: Can Truth Commissions Strengthen Peace Processes was released.