Project Highlight

Effective Justice Key to Lasting Peace

Legal experts at Nairobi event highlight peace dividends of criminal prosecutions for major crimes.
  • German Ambassador to Kenya, Margit Hellwig-Boette,  and ICTY Prosecutor Serge Brammertz at the debate at Strathmore University in 
Nairobi. (Photo: IWPR)

Prosecuting crimes against humanity is not just a matter of justice; it is essential for any society wishing to move on from a dark period in its past, speakers at an event held in Nairobi ahead of Kenya’s presidential election said.

The February 20 public debate at Nairobi’s Strathmore University was held by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and the Wayamo Communication Foundation, as part of a joint two-year programme called Generating Demand for Accountability: A critical reporting and media project in Kenya.

Post-conflict justice processes, and in particular the role played by the International Criminal Court, ICC, were central issues in campaigning for this election, since one of the leading candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his running-mate William Ruto are both due to stand trial in the Hague on charges of orchestrating months of bloodshed after the last presidential ballot in December 2007.

More than 1,100 people were killed and over half a million others displaced in the worst violence witnessed in Kenya since it gained independence in 1963. The abuses included murder, rape and forcible population moves.

As of March 11, Kenyatta had declared victory, although his main rival Raila Odinga, the current prime minister, was challenging the count data in the hope of forcing a second round of voting 

Drawing on examples from the Kenyan violence and from conflicts elsewhere in the world, panelists at the Nairobi debate discussed the link between justice and sustained peace.

The panel consisted of chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, Serge Brammertz; former director of legal and constitutional affairs at the Commonwealth Secretariat; Akbar Khan; German ambassador Margit Hellwig-Boette; Rwanda’s prosecutor general Martin Ngoga; and Kenyan judge Mohammed Warsame.

“Peace without justice cannot be sustained,” Khan said. “There must be concerted efforts and determination.”

Khan said failing to prosecute the perpetrators of mass atrocities could pave the way for further abuses.

“Chronic impunity can have a devastating long-term impact on society and can act as an underlying cause for [the] resurgence of violence,” he explained.

In Khan’s view, criminal prosecution is the key mechanism for achieving sustained peace in a country affected by conflict. The reason for this, he said, was that “individualised findings of guilt help to negate collective guilt, which allows marginalised groups in society to again reintegrate into national life without having to carry the guilt for [crimes] which they did not commit”.

While the ICC prosecutions focus on those individuals held to be most responsible for the 2007-08 violence, it is for the national justice system to tackle thousands of other lower-level cases.

In November, Kenya’s chief justice announced the formation of an international crimes section within the high court, but it is not yet clear whether the government will fully support this institution being used to investigate the abuses of 2007 and 2008.

In his remarks, Brammertz discussed the ICTY’s experience of cooperating with prosecutors in former Yugoslav states to lay the ground for successful prosecutions in domestic courts. He brought prosecutors from Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia into his own office, and international judges worked in Bosnia in 2006-12, hearing cases alongside local judges.

“Cooperation between international and national level is of course key. We have seen at our tribunal that it can develop over time. From the active cooperation over the years, it is a full partnership today,” he said. “Whatever the international level is doing, there is no doubt that the greatest part of the work will be with the national authorities.”

Rwandan chief prosecutor Ngoga focused on the importance of pursuing different models of justice in order to achieve peace and reconciliation after the 1994 genocide which killed more than a million people

While the United Nations- backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, operating in Tanzania, tries the most serious cases from the genocide, thousands of alleged perpetrators have been dealt with both by formal courts in Rwanda and by the traditional “Gacaca” courts.

If atrocities go unpunished, Ngoga said, “it creates the risk for further atrocities”.

IWPR’s Generating Demand for Accountability project is funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. As part of its two-year programme in Kenya, IWPR and the Wayamo Communication Foundation work with journalists to produce analytical reports on developments in the election campaign and on transitional justice issues, including the cases at the ICC. 

These pieces are published or broadcast on a special website, ReportingKenya.net, as well as by local media outlets.

As well as encouraging regular reporting, IWPR and Wayamo host regular meetings with local editors, in partnership with the Kenya Editors’ Guild. These meetings provide a forum for debate and reflection on the challenges facing the media during and beyond the elections, as well as during the ICC trials.

Bernard Momanyi is a reporter for ReportingKenya.net and News Editor at Capital FM in Nairobi.

This article was produced as part of a media development programme by IWPR and Wayamo Communication Foundation in partnership with Capital FM.


Also in this issue

Leaders seek to dispel tensions as country awaits election result.
Legal experts at Nairobi event highlight peace dividends of criminal prosecutions for major crimes.
Radio programme explains why development funding for the war-torn north stalled, and gives audience a chance to air forthright views.