The importance of a reliable justice system and the rule of law is universally accepted. Nonetheless, controversy still surrounds the extent to which seeking justice for past war crimes and grave human rights abuses represents a precondition for-or an impediment to-the overall stability of post-conflict and transitional societies. Human rights advocates tend to regard the implementation of judicial norms and institutions as an omnipotent cure against war crimes and human rights abuses; diplomats and other peacemakers are far more skeptical, sometimes regarding justice as mere window-dressing or, worse, as a direct impediment to peace. Actual experience does not provide straightforward answers. Different societies have taken different paths to confront post-conflict and transition challenges-and have met with both success and shortcomings. Moreover "simple" transitions from a repressive regime to democracy (such as in Argentina, Chile, or El Salvador) should be distinguished from transitions following patterns of atrocity that had racial, religious, or ethnic underpinnings (such as in South Africa, Rwanda, Guatemala, or Bosnia and Herzegovina). This variety, however, should not discourage the international community from trying to identify possible patterns; to the contrary, richness of experience, if systemized, can illustrate more clearly the current state of international justice and, possibly, where it is going.
Attitudes and Types of Reaction Toward Past War Crimes and Human Rights Abuses,
Yale J. Int'l L.
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