Statement by Ambassador Jerry Matjila Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, during the Security Council Debate on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace: The Role of Reconciliation in the Maintenance of International Peace and Security, 19 November 2019
Mr President, I wish to begin by thanking the Secretary-General, Professor Alpaslan Özerdem and Ms Ilwad Elman for their briefings on this very important topic on the role and value of reconciliation in the maintenance of international peace and security.
South Africa recognises and values the importance of national reconciliation processes in achieving sustainable peace, especially in countries transitioning from conflict to post-conflict situations.
As you will be aware, South Africa went through its own process of reconciliation after having dismantled the oppressive system of apartheid. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established with the aim of:
- Granting amnesty from criminal and civil liability to people who made full disclosures of acts committed with a political objective during the course of conflicts of the past;
- Affording victims an opportunity to relate the violations they suffered;
- Taking measures aimed at the granting of reparations to victims;
- Restoring the human and civil dignity of victims of violations of human rights; and
- Making recommendations aimed at preventing the commission of gross human rights violations.
Many South Africans had the opportunity to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in a series of public hearings, either as victims or as perpetrators of acts that violated human rights. State institutions, political parties, organizations and the business sector were also required to elaborate on their respective roles in the past.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission had to deal with the question of reconciliation and the future, on the one hand, and the necessity to establish the truth in relation to past events and ensure reparation to the victims of gross human rights abuses, on the other hand. These issues had to be carefully considered and balanced, both during and after the historic transition from apartheid and oppression to a constitutional democracy. The compromises were sometimes painful, as was confronting the truth of past oppression. However, for us, based on our own national circumstances and history, it was our way to reconcile decades-long oppression and proceed with nation-building.
Reconciliation measures during transitions from post conflict situations are crucial in ensuring long term stability however; it is equally important to realise that one size does not fit all. Transitional justice processes must respond to the specific context of the country in transition. The creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in our own country was the manner in which we chose to deal with our own past and future. Countries emerging from conflict have to find their own ways of bridging the past with new possibilities for the future in the context of their own unique circumstances.
The debate between peace and justice still continues and each State needs to take broad ownership of their particular transitional processes and find their own balance in the sequencing of peace, justice and reconciliation. While human rights norms have strengthened transitional justice, as it has developed into an accepted response to political transitions, they have also shaped it into a largely legalistic field with an often narrow accountability and justice based focus. It is further necessary to consider that there is a political necessity of promoting alternative means of accountability. Focusing on prosecutions alone can destabilize transitions. Thus, the whole spectrum of transitional justice needs to be explored including truth commissions and reparations for victims.
In addition it is important to recognise the value and importance of community-based or ‘traditional’ justice mechanisms, where local conflict-resolution and healing practices are adapted to address grave violations. Equally important are efforts to ensure the representation of women and the youth not only in transitional justice processes but also at the negotiating table beforehand.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, has written, “The establishment of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a pioneering international experiment, with a potentially far-reaching effect on the way we all deal with conflict. Normally, when countries move through the difficult transition from oppression to democracy, they deal with the past in one of two ways: either the leaders of the old order are put on trial or dealt with summarily, or previous events are swept under the carpet and the suffering of those subjected to violence is ignored. South Africa followed a third, unique, way when it ended apartheid. To those who had committed grave violations of human rights, it offered amnesty in exchange for public disclosure of the truth about their crimes, and to the victims, it gave an unusual opportunity to be heard, as well as hope for reparations.
The international community, and the United Nations in particular, has an important role to play in creating an enabling environment in which reconciliation can occur. Durable peace is not achieved simply through the signing of peace agreements, it also requires a comprehensive approach that involves the active participation of the broader multilateral system to address peace and security as well as sustainable development needs. As in peacekeeping operations, different situations would require different responses to deal with post conflict reconstruction and reconciliation.
The role of the United Nations in peace and security continues to be redefined, requiring more extensive involvement in bringing about peace and security as well as nurturing and maintaining it, once the parties have ceased hostilities. Enabling environments for reconciliation and sustainable outcomes are further strengthened through collaborative efforts between the United Nations and regional organisations such as the African Union.
On our own Continent, the African Union seeks durable peace and sustainable development through the mechanisms and structures it has put in place for conflict prevention, peacemaking, peace support operations and intervention, as well as peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction.
It is important to strengthen the linkages between regional and global mechanisms, if we wish to ensure that the UN System, and in particular the Security Council, is able to help establish enabling environments in countries plagued by conflict, in order to support nationally owned reconciliation processes and bringing about sustainable peace and security.
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