A woman testifies in the trial of former Guatemalan military dictator.
Photo © Elena Hermosa/Trocaire

The links between justice and peace are strong. Properly pursued, accountability for atrocity crimes can serve not only as a strong deterrent, it is also key to successful reconciliation processes and the consolidation of peace in post-conflict societies. Impunity destroys the social fabric of societies and perpetuates mistrust among communities or towards the State, consequently undermining a lasting peace. The confidence that justice has been served and that those responsible for serious crimes are being held accountable helps prevent feelings of frustration, bitterness and the possible desire for revenge of victims, their families and those who share ethnic, religious, racial or national origins, which could lead to further violence and atrocities. In this way, justice and peace promote and sustain one another.

Just as States have the primary responsibility to protect their populations from atrocity crimes, they also have the obligation under international conventional and customary law to see that those responsible for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes are made accountable and that victims have a right to an effective remedy. Alongside other transitional justice mechanisms, prosecutions give recognition to the suffering of the victims and their families and contribute to the restoration of some of the dignity or integrity that they lost or was severely damaged.

Knowing what happened in the past, who was responsible and why it happened, paves the way to preventing a recurrence of violence, to putting in place early warning mechanisms and in general, to developing strategies for prevention. In this regard, the work developed in the pursuit of justice by national jurisdiction as well as international jurisdictions such as the International Criminal Court, the ad hoc international tribunals and the hybrid courts, has been instrumental in creating a culture of accountability throughout the world and in educating societies and influencing future generations on the importance of the respect for human rights norms and principles, as well as on the lessons we can learn from past crimes.

Learn more about the work of some of the international and hybrid courts: