Peace versus Justice?: The Dilemma of Transitional Justice in Africa / Tracy Fehr

African Studies Quarterly, Volume 12, Issue 1, Fall 2010

Chandra Lekha Sriram and Suren Pillay (eds). Peace versus Justice? The Dilemma of Transitional Justice in Africa. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2010.387 pp.

There has been an ongoing dichotomy between retributive and restorative approaches to transitional post-conflict justice in modern Africa. Scholars and practitioners from within Africa and beyond participated in the May 2007 "Peace versus Justice? Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and War Crimes Tribunals in Africa" seminar, organized by the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The volume Peace versus Justice? The Dilemma of Transitional Justice in Africa is based on a collection of essays that were originally presented at the 2007 seminar. The co-editors—Chandra Lekha Sriram, Professor of Human Rights at the School of Law, University of East London, and Suren Pillay, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Studies at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa—worked in conjunction with the CCR to develop this book as a comprehensive examination of previous and existing transitional justice mechanisms in the African context. It contributes toward the restorative vs. retributive justice debate by discussing challenges and prospects of accountability through expert and insider critiques of both specific African case studies, and of the continent as a whole. In addition, many of the authors refer to previous transitional justice experiences in Latin America and Europe that have influenced similar African initiatives.

The volume offers a unique insider analysis by practitioners who have participated in developing or implementing the justice mechanisms discussed. Authors such as Kenneth Agyemang Attafuah, who served as Executive Secretary of the Ghana National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), and Alex Boraine, who served as Deputy Chairperson of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), explain the challenges of establishing transitional justice within the realities of modem Africa. Other chapters provide critical analyses from leading transitional justice scholars, such as Ambassador John L. Hirsch who offers a comparative analysis between the reconciliation processes that took place in Sierra Leone and Mozambique, and Charles Villa-Vicencio, who examines limitations of implementing either trials or truth commissions as solitary justice mechanisms in the African context. The majority of the book's authors are Africans, which provides critical perspectives into the actual challenges and needs of the local people.

In the introduction Sriram establishes the existing "peace versus justice debate" but argues that it has become an over simplistic dichotomy. "In reality the choice is seldom 'justice' or 'peace' but rather a complex mixture of both" (p. 1). She explains that often African states have implemented a hybrid of both restoration and retributive justice approaches through a combination of truth commissions, domestic trials, international and/or hybrid tribunals, and traditional justice mechanisms. The determination of what type of mechanism is used, and at what time it is implemented remains context-specific.

The book consists of seventeen chapters, including experiences and lessons learned from case studies in South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Mozambique, Sudan, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. It is structured into five sections, first looking at the broad debate of peace vs. justice in Africa, and then more narrowly focusing on specific justice mechanisms.

Section one discusses challenges to African peace and justice through a political and theoretical framework and considers the context of transitional justice in Africa through a comparative approach. Section two is about truth and reconciliation processes that have taken place in Africa. It mainly focuses on the significant impact the South Africa TRC had in establishing a model for the rest of the continent, but it also includes insider analyses of the Ghana and Nigeria truth commissions. Section three focuses on war crime tribunals in Sierra Leone and Rwanda. Section four looks at traditional justice practices, specifically Mozambique's spiritual rituals and healings, and Rwanda's Gacaca court process. Section five discusses the emergent role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Africa briefly touching on the four existing investigations in addition to a closer examination into the case of Darfur.

Overall the structure of the book seems to have a fluid flow from the general debate into the restorative and then retributive justice approaches. However, it would make sense to have the war crime tribunals section directly prelude the ICC section instead of skipping from tribunals to indigenous practices then back to international criminal trials.

A reoccurring theme throughout the volume is the significance of local participation in developing transitional justice mechanisms. This is particularly evident in the case analyses of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, the Ghana NRC, the Rwanda Gacaca courts, and the South Africa TRC. A reoccurring question, which remains unanswered, is if international justice through hybrid courts or the ICC is perceived as an external imposition or valid justice by local Africans?

The insider analysis in many of the essays adds a unique perspective to the volume, but at times is also limiting. This was most problematic in Chapter eight, "Peace vs. Justice? A View From Nigeria," written by Matthew Kukah who was a member of the Human Rights Violations Investigation Committee (HRVIC) in Nigeria. Although he did provide some interesting insight about the challenges of the Human HRVIC, in the conclusion he becomes somewhat defensive of the investigation, and fails to have an objective view of the committee's work. Fortunately this was a rare weakness in the essays—most of the insider analyses provide unbiased critiques and feedback.

The editors' hope to contribute toward "... the understanding among both specialists and the general public of the importance and role of truth and reconciliation processes and truth commissions in Africa" (p. xii). Overall, Peace versus Justice: The Dilemma of Transitional Justice in Africa offers a comprehensive look at transitional justice mechanisms in the African context and provides adequate background as well as critical analyses that could be informative to both the general public and experts alike. It proves to be timely due to the rising number of transitional justice mechanisms in Africa as well as the overwhelming attention the ICC has focused on Africa since its inception in 2002. The more recent ICC indictment for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, as well as the recent investigation into the 2008 Kenya election violence, could provide the editors with a basis for a second edition.

Tracy Fehr
North Carolina State University

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