Jus Post Bellum Symposium: Towards an Alternative Paradigm–Jus Post Bellum as Transitional Justice

by Ruti Teitel

[Ruti Teitel is the Ernst C. Stiefel Professor of Comparative Law, New York Law School, Visiting Fellow, London School of Economics, www.securityintransition.org.]

I am delighted to participate in the discussion regarding Jus Post Bellum: Mapping the Normative Foundations.  The book’s publication on the 100th anniversary of World War I and its aftermath set out in the Treaty of Versailles reflects the growing appreciation of the importance of the area of the law of war known as jus post bellum.  Yet the relationship of law to conflict today is a complex one, and contemporary circumstances hardly reflect utopianism. There are important changes in post bellum expectations beyond the return to the status quo ante and I regard these as best captured by a more comprehensive concept and vocabulary associated with these periods of political flux: transitional justice.

Getting Beyond the Restoration of the Status Quo Ante

What is owed to Iraq or to other peoples who are the ‘beneficiaries’ of wars of supposed liberation? This is the burning question of the last decade in Iraq, Afghanistan, and most recently Libya. With the end of the Cold War we have seen a return to wars of intervention, with implications for the scope and character of jus post bellum. Where a war is justified on humanitarian grounds, i.e., a just war, what are the implications of this justice in the ad bellum for jus post bellum?  Might the injustice of a war’s beginning imply greater post-war duties? Or does the logic work the other way around? In the event that a war is initiated for humanitarian reasons might that well imply added duties, whether during or after the conflict? Just how does post-war justice relate to the broader questions concerning the meaning and direction of the justice of war?  And to what extent does the contemporary iteration of the just war tradition, its principles and values guide the question of what must be done following a conflict?

There is a need to rethink the earlier classical approach to post-war justice as being fundamentally restorative. Posing the question today of what values and related principles regarding rights and duties should apply, as this book does, jus post bellum inevitably constitutes a departure from a focus on restoration (which takes implicitly or explicitly the pre-war status quo as a decisive normative benchmark). Historically, this area was dominated by a preoccupation with unjust wars and the settlements that followed those wars, focusing on restraining or regulating the punishment of the aggressor for disrupting the status quo ante.

This view of post bellum is in historical or retrospective terms – where what is at stake is responsibility in a backward-looking way, as guided by the justice of the war purpose itself and the goal of returning to pre bellum conditions.

In this context, victors were free to punish, within determined constraints – limits on collective punishment, spoils of war, plunder, return of prisoners of war, occupied territory, etc. This was often complemented by amnesties and reparation schemes animated by restorative objectives. The post-World War I settlement at Versailles, the current anniversary of which we are currently marking, was widely regarded as an instance of failed justice and, even worse, as having the effect of promoting the return of war.

Now, however, we can see that we are moving away from this traditional approach to jus post bellum in a number of ways: first, there is a move away from the dominant concern of jus post bellum conceived as a backward-looking, often retroactive enterprise, and as restraint on retribution, to a broader framework involving a host of duties that relate not just to the past but also to an often protracted present, as well as forward-looking goals for a peaceful future. The aegis or subject of post bellum norms has become greatly expanded.

Many questions today concerning what obligations attend aftermaths are being raised in the context of transition, sometimes following conflict, often not.  For a number of reasons, this view increasingly overlaps with conflict. At a time of persistent smaller conflicts, i.e., of pervasive violence, often of ongoing internal conflicts where there is no clear end, and which are not even clearly about state-building or democratization, this inquiry leads to a questioning of the meaning of ‘post bellum’ in jus post bellum. As some of the authors in this volume concede, the parameters of post bellum have become murky.

Moreover, there is a related shift in our understanding of responsibility away from the state-centric view as the singularly relevant subject of jus post bellum, as the older view of restoration assumed the state to be the relevant object of restoration. At the same time, there has been a move away from collective sanctions levied upon a state or its people. Individualized punishment is clearly on the rise, most dramatically through international criminal justice.

Towards an Alternative Paradigm: Jus Post Bellum as Transitional Justice

In the current context, one can see that justice considerations enter the picture from the outset, taking into account that humanitarian considerations have been invoked as a justification for war itself. In today’s wars of liberation, internal ethnic conflicts are often involved; the issue is as much or more to do with settling scores with fellow citizens as punishing a foreign aggressor. Clearly, this brings transitional justice to the fore.

Insofar as the new wars are often conflicts animated by the values of liberalization, freedom, and so on, we can see ways in which the aegis of jus post bellum overlaps with the aims of transitional justice. Justice is not conceived as strictly punishment oriented, as assumed in the legalist paradigm. Nor is it confined to restitution and the restorative dimension implied by the earlier understanding of post-war justice. Indeed, it could well take in the full context and modalities of transition and transformation. The issue is being reconceived in terms of justice as security. Within the evolving framework, there is a concern to identify responsibility beyond the state to private actors as well. There are duties that follow even when a war is just.

Thus, ‘post bellum’ seems too limited or inappropriate today because of the unstable or undetermined boundaries between conflict and post-conflict situations. Transitional justice is arguably more capacious because it allows for advancing goals beyond those associated with a war’s beginning, such as transformation, namely purposes going beyond retributive or restorative justice.

I invoked the term ‘transitional justice’ in 1991 to represent a move away from the discourse that associated such phenomena purely with the law of conflict. The idea was that the aims of such processes were in part forward-looking – involving democratization – and not merely backward-looking and enmeshed with war. Moreover, the use of the term ‘transitional justice’ also addressed the central issue of the time: the extent to which the relevant democratization processes seemed less revolutionary and more gradual, more transitional, often taking decades, for example in post-dirty war Latin America. We now have a rich set of illustrations from the post-Soviet bloc, Asia, and the Middle East.

The increasingly pervasive involvement of courts and tribunals in matters of post- conflict justice demands a conception of proportionality that is not simply political but also jurisprudential. This is far from being limited to criminal trials. One also thinks of Alien Torts Claims actions in the United States and the role of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights in post-conflict accountability. We can see that justice today has gone from a prerogative of the victor, which needs restraining, to a shared international obligation. This development in and of itself informs the meaning of the new proportionality.

With renewed demands for military intervention, interest in post bellum justice has never been greater. Given the human rights revolution, to be sure, interventions are being justified on human security grounds but also waged in the context of new constraints, of human rights and international humanitarian law, as well as democratization. This goes some way to explaining the extraordinarily high demands for post bellum justice, which has now expanded to cover a broader period associated with conflict and to address the security, not just of states, but of persons and peoples.

http://opiniojuris.org/2014/05/06/jus-post-bellum-symposium-towards-alternative-paradigm-jus-post-bellum-transitional-justice/

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