Protecting Human Rights and Building Peace in Post-violence Societies: An Underexplored Relationship

Hadjigeorgiou, Athanasia orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-7324-9689 (2020) Protecting Human Rights and Building Peace in Post-violence Societies: An Underexplored Relationship. Human Rights Law in Perspective . Bloomsbury Publishing, Oxford. ISBN 9781509923434

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The book critically examines the relationship between protecting human rights and building peace in post-violence societies, and explores the necessary conditions that must be present, and strategies that must be adopted, for the former to contribute to the latter. Although peacebuilders have been operating under the assumption that a positive relationship exists between peace and human rights, this is largely underexplored. The book seeks to address this gap by adopting an interdisciplinary approach, drawing conclusions from legal, sociological, political science literature and peace studies, and through observations of four post-violence societies, namely Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cyprus, Northern Ireland and South Africa. Arguing that one of the reasons this relationship has been underexplored is the lack of a satisfactory definition of peace, it proposes a new account that strikes a balance between three interrelated, but occasionally contradicting elements, namely security, justice and reconciliation. This balance between the three elements requires that the conflicts dividing each post-violence society are resolved, both in an objective and a subjective sense. Objective conflict resolution views the dispute in question as an empirical phenomenon whereby the parties adopt diverse positions on a single issue, while subjective conflict resolution addresses the psychological divisions that arise from such empirical disagreements.

Human rights can contribute to the resolution of conflicts in both senses of the word through three distinct processes, each of which depends on the existence of a series of necessary conditions that the peacebuilding literature and practice have not explicitly articulated so far. First, they can contribute to objective conflict resolution by providing guidance to the judiciary, an institution that often plays a central role in this process. The extent to which this guidance can help, rather than hinder conflict resolution, depends on the nature and intractability of the conflict, the type of court that hears the dispute and the timing of its adjudication. Moreover, human rights can aid peacebuilding efforts when they result in the implementation of laws, policies and processes that help resolve empirical disagreements. In turn, these laws and policies are themselves dependent on the presence of political will, but also on the existence of institutions that have the independence, power, resources and expertise to protect human rights in a way that strikes the appropriate balance between the three elements of peace. Finally, when victims rely on human rights to articulate their grievance and the state responds by acknowledging this and providing a meaningful remedy, human rights can also contribute to subjective conflict resolution. However, the socio-economic and psychological changes that must take place before a subjective conflict is resolved, do not follow automatically from the pronouncement of human rights. Rather, these can only materialise when the population of the post-violence society itself perceives human rights as contributing to the promotion of security, justice and reconciliation, a condition that requires the adoption of both an effective communication strategy and a range of other peacebuilding tools that will supplement human rights.

This analysis suggests that the relationship between peace and human rights can be positive, but it is also a conditional one. Drawing on lessons learned from the four case studies, the book recommends a series of strategies peacebuilders should adopt, and considerations they must keep in mind, to ensure that human rights indeed become effective peacebuilding tools. In addition to providing practical guidance for operations on the ground, the book situates itself within, and helps develop, the more theoretical critique of the use of human rights as liberal peacebuilding tools.

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