Posted on: August 19, 2020 Posted by: admin Comments: 0

Author : Rhea

Co-Author : Navika Bhandari


Peace and Justice are considered two sides of a coin implying that one action can only have one outcome. This can only be true if we live in a world where everything is either black or white but the reality as it is, that we live in a grey world where peace and justice are not two sides of a coin, rather they are two pieces of a puzzle that lead to one another just like justice leads to peace and peace leads to justice. Sadly, we live in a competitive era where the competition for supremacy has become a necessity if not expressly seen is implied. One such competition of supremacy has been developed through the debate ‘peace v. justice’. Peace v. Justice is a long-standing debate to decide which of the two is on the higher pedestal. Before we get further into this discussion, let’s firstly understand what do we mean by peace and justice.

Peace and Justice are two very distinct ideas that prevail and guide society. King Martin Luther broadly defined peace as “True peace is not merely the absence of tension but it is the presence of justice”. (Haga, 2020)  In literal terms, peace is a Latin word meaning ‘a pact’. Peace has different meanings in different spheres where peace for one can be violence for others. American history defines peace as ‘absence of war’ whereas according to Albert Einstein ‘peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice, of law and order’ however Nehru defines peace as ‘a state of mind’. (Concept of peace, n.d.) In a broader understanding peace can be defined as ‘a social relationship where physical violence is not used as a tool to achieve political objectives. (Muller, 2010)

On the other hand, justice can be understood as ‘a situation where everyone gets what they are entitled to’. Understandings of justice differ in every culture, where the notion of justice is influenced by culture’s ethics and values. Although there exist some basic justice principles which are common in all or most of the cultures, they are insufficient to build a unitary justice apprehension. So it can be said that justice for one may be an injustice for another. (Concept of peace, n.d.) Though both the concepts are subjective, the meaning of both comes from a common ancestor ‘satisfaction’ where peace is the inner satisfaction while justice is external satisfaction.

Peace has been broadly divided into two categories, positive peace, and negative peace. The latter term implies only a lack of violence whereas positive peace means the elimination of physical as well as structural violence which is the realization of actual human happiness and satisfaction. (Muller, 2010) The world today is more focused on achieving negative peace rather than positive peace. In the present era, peace seems more important than justice. The debate peace v. justice has long been a “hot potato”, an issue that is divided between opinions on whether impunity to preparators is a violation of human rights or not. The origin of this debate on “restorative justice” can be traced back to the mid-1990s where scholars are facing difficulty in balancing a peaceful settlement with punishment and compensation. (Hazan, 2007) Initially, peace negotiations took place during a military or a political resolution of conflict where criminal responsibility and impunity were not a major concern but the expansion of the human rights movement made it very difficult for the international community to ignore crimes & brutality committed during wars. For most parts, brutality during the wars was not a major issue, except in few cases where horrifying crimes were committed for which special tribunals and court-martials were put in places like the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials. Apart from a few rare cases, most of the atrocities committed by military or under dictatorship were accompanied by amnesties in exchange for relinquishing power to the civilians i.e. restoring democracy. The contempt over the blanket amenities to the preparators of atrocities has led to the production of more nuanced commissions, for example, truth and compromise commissions. (Arsanjani, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid, & Wierda, 2006)

These commissions are required to create a historical record of events occurred by taking into account the statements of both the victims and preparators from which they recommend compensation, methods of reconciliations and measure to prevent such crimes in future. Some of the examples of such commissions are the South Africa truth & reconciliation commission and the Sierra Leon truth and reconciliation commission which were established to address the human rights violations while determining the scope and further consequences of amnesty. (Arsanjani, Zeid Ra’ad Zeid, & Wierda, 2006) While truth commissions have a long history, there have been some conflicting opinions as to whether such commissions are successful for striking the balance between peace and justice. Most of these commissions were established to achieve accountable amnesty where there is truth-telling while addressing the suffering of the victims i.e. combination of restorative and rectificatory justice. (Pillay & Scanlon, Concepts of Peace and the Politics of Justice in Africa, 2008)

The development of this approach also requires the analysis of criminal trials as opposed to truth commissions. Globally many critics have argued that blanket amnesty was created to improve deterrence but it can be noticed that such amnesty is nothing more than a form of impunity. These truth commissions were not created to establish lasting peace in the divided societies nor they were equipped to deal with mass atrocities due to which we can see conflicts resurfacing like lawsuits filed against Augusto Pinochet, Chilean dictator who was granted amnesty for his crimes. (Pillay & Scanlon, Concepts of Peace and the Politics of Justice in Africa, 2008) Another concern that arises with this new approach is transparency and accountability as most of these commissions are not subject to international scrutiny. As these preparators are given amnesty their victims still await justice, still live in the instilled fear where the victims are forced to accept such reconciliation. Criminal justice was formed on the idea of fairness, where peace is established based on the rule of law and democracy. (Hazan, 2007)

Where there is concern about these, some positive effects also have been observed such as these commissions are able to extract the truth where many undiscovered aspects of apartheid were revealed like widespread torture instances, murders, rapes, abductions, etc. Through these discoveries, the institutional fragility and defects were observed which helped further in creating reparation policies. (Pillay & Scanlon, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Africa: South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, and Sierra Leone, 2008) The people in favor of these commissions believe that the results produced by the commission which otherwise would have been impossible to uncover offer a broader view of the society enabling legislatures to form better and improved prevention measures. Apart from this, it is claimed these commission also help in restoring the dignity of the victim as they are extricated from the rigorous and harsh cross-examination during the trial by the prosecutor. The truth commissions are not expensive and have proven to process the outcomes much faster than other forums of justice like the International Criminal Court (ICC). (Hazan, 2007)

Recalling the Uganda atrocities in 2000, where blanket amnesty was provided to the members of the rebel group who had denounced rebellion and returned to the country i.e. the perpetrators were able to escape justice, and to date have not been held accountable for the crimes committed by them. This shows how putting peace on a higher pedestal than justice is causing injustice in society. Therefore, it can be said that both peace and justice should be balanced together to achieve lasting solutions. (Peace and Justice Linkage, n.d.) As most of the peace negotiations have failed to eliminate the conflict entirely, as the conflict remains on the ground level.

Now the question that arises from a holistic approach is how can a right balance be struck between commissions and criminal trials. What criteria should determine where which approach is to be applied? For this, we need to analyze which is on a higher pedestal peace or justice? Harmony, which is a definitive objective of human life, the way to which goes through equity. The failure of international law to provide timely justice has pushed many to take a short cut for achieving peace as we live in a world where no one has time to wait, a world where people prefer unhealthy instant noodles rather than waiting for a time-consuming home-cooked healthy meal. The emphasis on “justice delayed is justice denied” has developed a scenario where people are congenial to all together eradicating justice, as it has become acceptable that war criminals can bargain their way out of criminal prosecution through the way of truth or reconciliation commissions. It is also imperative to understand that “justice hurried is justice buried” rather than only emphasizing on “justice delayed is justice denied”


International Criminal Court, which is at the heart of the conflict between the legal imperative of justice and the political imperative of reconciliation. Where the ICC should have been making a legal decision, is making political decisions about the prosecution of war criminals. UN commission of inquiry, to end this conflict suggested that prosecution shall take place after which the reconciliatory process can be applied to assist peacebuilding. (Pillay & Scanlon, The International Criminal Court, 2008) Thus, we can conclude that the negotiated peace is neither sufficient nor is systematically explored where peacekeeping process has become a political move than a legal process that results in achieving negative peace only. Hence, transitional justice is not a one-sized instrument that fits all. (Bogner & Neubert, 2013)

One of the alternatives suggested by scholars is criminal trials that essentially emphasizes on peace through accountability. As criminal trials not only include the truth as a material component but also acts as a deterrent tool. This not only punishes the preparators for their crimes but also fulfills the desire of a victim for retribution along with the restoration of their dignity. Criminal trials establish direct responsibility for the crimes but saying that we can’t ignore the fact that not all preparators are held accountable. So, to address this issue many institutions have adopted a combination of both approaches; trials and truth commissions eliminating the major flaws of both the approaches. To achieve lasting peace, it is imperative for the international community to understand that peace and justice go hand in hand where peacebuilding is a long process that requires both justice and peace. (Pillay & Scanlon, Concepts of Peace and the Politics of Justice in Africa, 2008) “The world suffers a lot not because of violence but because of silence that justice breaks”.

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