Secretary-General stresses accountability on role of reconciliation in maintenance of peace
Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council open debate on the role of reconciliation processes in the maintenance of peace and security, in New York on 19 November:
I thank the [United Kingdom] presidency for convening this debate, as reconciliation processes supported by the international community can have a critical impact on the lives of the people we serve.
Successful reconciliation contributes to preventing a recurrence of conflict and building more peaceful, resilient and prosperous societies, particularly in the aftermath of large-scale violence and human rights violations. From Cambodia to Rwanda, Northern Ireland and Bosnia and Hercegovina, reconciliation processes have played a crucial role in resolving ethnic, religious and political differences and enabling people to live in peace.
Reconciliation helps to repair fractures caused by an absence of trust between State and people, when institutions and individuals acknowledge their role in past crimes, and both victims and perpetrators muster the courage to face the truth. It is a process through which societies can move from a divided past to a shared future. Promoting reconciliation and breaking cycles of impunity are therefore integral to all our work. Resolutions passed by this Council have guided us, by stressing that reconciliation is part of a comprehensive approach to sustaining peace. We all acknowledge the vital importance of reconciliation. But our concept of reconciliation must evolve to keep up with the changing nature of conflict. It can no longer be confined to those directly involved in waging war.
Today’s conflicts are complex, drawing in neighbouring countries and great Powers. Social, economic and political inequalities are growing, amplified by the climate crisis and by new technologies. Democratic space is shrinking, stoking identity-based politics, discrimination, intolerance and hate speech. Today’s reconciliation processes must respond to these challenges by being broader, deeper and more inclusive than ever before. Reconciliation must have an impact at the individual, interpersonal, institutional and socio-political levels if it is to succeed.
There is growing awareness of the role of reconciliation in addressing the root causes of conflict, from the climate crisis to structural discrimination, inequality and impunity and the divisive narratives that play a part in radicalization and engendering violent extremism. We are currently witnessing a wave of protests around the world. While each is unique, they share some common features: a deficit in trust between people and political institutions; and the negative impacts of globalization and technological change which are deepening inequalities.
I urge Governments to respond to these protests with respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to address people’s grievances through dialogue and reconciliation to counter deep polarization. We need a social contract that is inclusive and equitable; that enables everyone, including young people, to live in dignity; that affords women and girls the same opportunities as men and boys; that protects the sick and vulnerable, and those living with a disability. Social and economic reform can play a central role in reconciliation, demonstrating the need to address corrupt practices and systems that serve the interests of a small elite.
Today’s reconciliation processes must fulfil two conditions. First, they must be based in the communities and societies affected by conflict. Reconciliation must come from within, with the participation of all — not only political leaders and organizations. Women representatives and civil society groups must be included at every stage. Religious leaders have the moral authority to mobilize local support and build trust. Young people and marginalized groups are critical players with an inherent understanding of the grievances that lead to conflict.
Peace agreements and reconciliation processes that ignore these voices are unlikely to succeed. Local ownership and broad participation are also critical to overcoming attempts by powerful elites to avoid accountability and exclude certain groups. Such manipulation can contribute to weak agreements that lack specific reforms and measures to bring communities back together. Successful reconciliation restores trust in the State and its institutions. When people deem their institutions legitimate, they turn to them — rather than violence — to address their differences.
Second, successful reconciliation processes address the pain and suffering of victims; understand the motivation of offenders; render justice; provide remedy; and ensure truth. There is no reconciliation without justice, and there is no justice without truth. Transitional justice mechanisms, including truth and reconciliation commissions, can be an effective way to achieve these goals, as we have seen in Guatemala, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste and elsewhere. They can help societies to unite around a shared narrative that affirms our common dignity and humanity.
But reconciliation cannot be a substitute for accountability or pave the way for amnesties for serious crimes under international law. This Council has rightly emphasized the importance of accountability for gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law. And while rendering justice, successful reconciliation mechanisms must advance equality and human rights — even when these did not exist prior to conflict. Human rights violations impact women differently. Transitional justice must be transformative justice that addresses gender imbalances, is rooted in local realities and based on broad consultation.