Desmond Tutu's Renewed Call for Peace

[Editor's Note: Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. He recently spoke with Nathan Gardels about war crimes, September 11, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war against terrorism]

NATHAN GARDELS: South Africa was able to heal the wounds of hatred and achieve justice after apartheid through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission you headed. Is that a better way to achieve justice than the kind of international trials going on now in The Hague for war crimes in the Balkans and in Arusha for genocide in Rwanda?

ARCHBISHOP TUTU: These trials by the U.N. tribunals are steps along the way to establishment of an International Criminal Court. My reservation about this approach is that it risks disrupting fragile situations of transition from repression and conflict to a more democratic dispensation.

To try to take this concern into account, a statute of the proposed ICC states that its jurisdiction would apply only if a country had not dealt effectively on its own with the atrocities of the past. Those who support the ICC are mainly concerned with accountability and putting an end to impunity for human rights crimes. They have said they would avoid intervention, as in the case of Chile, when it might disrupt an ongoing process of reconciliation if, at the same time, accountability for crimes is established.

In the case of the Arusha tribunal, I am fearful that the Hutu will say that, although they have been found guilty in open court, their trials were instigated by the Tutsis. Far from ending the spiral of hatred, revenge and violence between the Hutu and Tutsi, the trials there may fuel yet another cycle.

GARDELS: In other words, international tribunals may hinder, not help, reconciliation?

TUTU: Such tribunals may well ensure accountability and show there will be no impunity. That is fine as far as it goes. But you need something other than retributive justice for healing. In and of itself, the judicial process is handicapped. It alone cannot be effective in reconciling a society divided by hatred.

What we found with our Truth and Reconciliation Commission was that it was enormously therapeutic and cleansing for victims to tell their stories. In a judicial process you have to prove guilt of the perpetrator by cross-examining witnesses on specific acts. The court must be objective and, legally speaking, equally hostile to the victim and the perpetrator.

In our commission, the sympathy for the dignity of the victim was assumed. And instead of being proven guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt, the perpetrator had to confess in order to get amnesty. That was the beginning, not the end, of the process. This combination of storytelling and confession put it all out in the open. With full disclosure, people feel they can move on.

GARDELS: The South African reconciliation and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process began about the same time. Yours succeeded, but the process in the Middle East has totally collapsed.

You have said that "there is no future without forgiveness," prompting the suggestion that what the Old Testament antagonists of the Middle East might need is a little dose of the New Testament -- that is, forgiveness instead of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

TUTU: There is no way peace and stability can come to the Middle East through the gun of vengeance. That is true. The Christian notion of forgiveness, let's not forget, arises out of a Judeo-Christian tradition. In the book of the prophet Hosea, God asks him to take as his wife a woman who had become a prostitute. This was a parable illustrating that God would not abandon even the unfaithful, but would keep them and cleanse them. This idea of forgiveness is central in the Biblical faith.

One reason we succeeded in South Africa that is missing in the Middle East today is quality of leadership -- leaders willing to make unpopular compromises, to go against their own constituencies, because they have the wisdom to see that would ultimately make peace possible.

In our case, F.W. De Klerk showed remarkable courage in his reforms, but he was blessed not with an intransigent, bitter and vengeful counterpart, but with the almost saintly magnanimity of Nelson Mandela. The whites wanted to dig in their heels and the liberation movement was hellbent on demanding every pound of flesh through retributive justice akin to the Nuremberg Trial. Neither leader heeded these calls.

After 27 years in prison, no one could challenge Mandela when he said, "Let us forgive these guys." Like De Klerk, he acknowledged the humanity and the anguish of his adversary. Any process of peace is bound to collapse if this is missing.

De Klerk and Mandela also knew they couldn't get everything they wanted. They had to compromise. Unless there are concessions, there is no negotiation. All or nothing is not a negotiation. So, too, in the Middle East. Israelis must have sovereign security, but they must abandon settlements and grant the Palestinians their own state.

In the end, though, it must be said, it is not the weak who can be magnanimous, but the strong.

GARDELS: Do you worry that the United States is headed into "unilateral overdrive" in its war against terrorism?

TUTU: What happened in New York was not an act of war, but a crime directed against the entire international community. As such, I believe fervently that the response should not be driven by one country, but by the United Nations. It should seek to apprehend the suspects and bring them to trial before the world community -- this would be the perfect case in point for the International Criminal Court (though the United States, of course, has not yet agreed to the establishment of such a court).

The awfulness of the innocent civilian casualties in New York and Washington should not be matched by the outrage in response of killing innocents in Afghanistan or elsewhere. One, too, hopes very, very much that one of the elements that makes America so great and admired -- respect for the rule of law -- will not be disregarded in fear, that innocents will remain that until proven guilty.

As for the source of terrorism, there can be no doubt that it comes from the enormous gap between the haves and the have nots. Unless prosperity is shared and ignorance and poverty eradicated, in the long run we will not win this war against terrorism. In all this, once again, it is the strong who must be magnanimous.

Nathan Gardels is the editor of New Perspectives Quarterly, where this interview first appeared.


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