New book: Reclaimative Post-Conflict Justice

“This book is an indispensable resource for the construction of peace knowledge and the initiation of peace action through the pursuit of justice.” – Betty A. Reardon

Reclaimative Post-Conflict Justice: Democratizing Justice in the World Tribunal on Iraq

By Janet C. Gerson and Dale T. Snauwaert

Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2021

This book presents an important contribution to our understanding of post-conflict justice as an essential element of global ethics and justice through an exploration of the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI). The 2003 War in Iraq provoked worldwide protests and unleashed debates on the war’s illegitimacy and illegality. In response, the WTI was organized by anti-war and peace activists, international law experts, and ordinary people who claimed global citizens’ rights to investigate and document the war responsibilities of official authorities, governments, and the United Nations, as well as their violation of global public will. The WTI’s democratizing, experimental form constituted reclaimative post-conflict justice, a new conceptualization within the field of post-conflict and justice studies. This book serves as a theoretical and practical guide for all who seek to reclaim deliberative democracy as a viable foundation for revitalizing the ethical norms of a peaceful and just world order.

Purchase the book via Cambridge Scholars Publishing

About the Authors

Janet C. Gerson, EdD, is Education Director at the International Institute on Peace Education, and served as Co-Director of the Peace Education Center at Columbia University. She received the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award in Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies and the 2014 Peace and Justice Studies Association Award for Public Deliberation on Global Justice: The World Tribunal on Iraq. She has contributed chapters to Human Dignity: Practices, Discourses, and Transformations (2020); Exploring Betty A. Reardon’s Perspective on Peace Education (2019); The Handbook of Conflict Resolution (2000, 2006); and Learning to Abolish War: Teaching toward a Culture of Peace (2001).

Dale T. Snauwaert, PhD, is Professor of Philosophy of Education and Peace Studies and Director of the Graduate Certificate Program in the Foundations of Peace Education and the Undergraduate Minor in Peace Studies at the University of Toledo, USA. He is the Founding Editor of In Factis Pax: Online Journal of Peace Education and Social Justice, and received a Fulbright Specialist Grant for peace education in Colombia. He has published on such topics as democratic theory, theories of justice, the ethics of war and peace, the normative foundations of peace studies, and the philosophy of peace education. His recent publications include: Betty A. Reardon: A Pioneer in Education for Peace and Human Rights; Betty A. Reardon: Key Texts in Gender and Peace; and Human Rights Education beyond Universalism and Relativism: A Relational Hermeneutic for Global Justice (with Fuad Al-Daraweesh), among others.


By Betty A. Reardon

Mort, “There is nothing so practical as a well-crafted theory.”

Betty, “Indeed, and there is nothing so practical for crafting theory than a well-defined concept.”

I recalled the above exchange from some years ago with the late Morton Deutsch, a globally respected pioneer in the field of conflict studies, as I reviewed this book, a theoretically and conceptually groundbreaking work. Janet Gerson and Dale Snauwaert offer the entire field of peace knowledge, research, education and action, an innovative and valuable contribution to how we think about and act upon the imperative of justice as the foundation of peace. That foundation, clearly articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and numerous other normative statements, thwarted and shaken as it is, remains the ethical ground from which to challenge the multiple forms of violence that constitute the peace problematic.

Reclaimative Justice: Democratizing Justice in the World Tribunal on Iraq embodies three essential elements that inform the most promising contemporary peace action; justice, law and civil society. It places an initiative of contemporary international civil society within the framework of the theories of justice integral to modern political philosophy. It assesses views of and attitudes toward the utility of law to the achievement of sustainable peace and democracy. Most significantly, it provides an innovative concept of “post-conflict justice.” Now, when justice is afforded little or no priority in public policymaking, and democracy is perceived as a dream of fools, this book presents a well documented case study, demonstrating that the pursuit of justice is not futile, and democracy is not a foolish dream.  It shows us that law and juridical processes, even with all their problems of challenged sources, interpretation and execution, remain useful tools for building a just world order.

Justice, the conceptual core of democracy, and its two fundamental and integral catalysts, law and civic responsibility, lies at the heart of multiple popular movements striving to reduce and, ultimately, eliminate the legitimacy of violence as a political strategy.  From national examples such as the US civil rights movement to international mobilizations such as that which achieved Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, a drive to overcome injustice has energized most organized, nongovernmental civic actions. Citizens from all world regions,   collaborating: to avert the ultimate ecocidal violence of nuclear weapons; to prevent and bring an end to the devastation of armed conflict; to hold back the destruction of the biosphere inherent in climate change; and to overcome the varied, systematic violations of human rights that deny human equality and dignity to millions of the human family, are engaged in quests for justice. Gerson and Snauwaert do them honor in recounting and assessing international civil society’s struggle with the multiple issues and conundrums to be resolved by the World Tribunal on Iraq (WTI). The process vividly manifested civic responsibility at the global level, the participants asserting themselves to be active citizens, rather than passive subjects of the international political order. The tribunal was one of the several outstanding achievements of international civil society that have marked this century, now entering its third decade, as one of increasing authoritarianism, spurred by the flouting of law and increasing repressive violence. Yet it has been, as well, one of unprecedented citizen action toward the reassertion of democracy through the agency of civil society.

One such action trend, the historic framework in which this case is situated is that of peoples’ tribunals, civil society initiatives undertaken when state and interstate juridical institutions offer no hope of just resolution of conflicts or restitution of harms to citizens for violation of commonly held norms, from repression of persons up to and including, the undermining of human security. From the 1966 convening of the Russell-Sartre international tribunal in Stockholm, to expose the illegality and immorality of the Vietnam War, and call to account those responsible for the multiple war crimes committed in the course of that futile and costly armed conflict, to the WTI, civil society has organized to call the responsible to account for injustices that violate the basic social contract that holds the state responsible to carry out the will of the citizenry. When states do not fulfill their responsibilities, trod upon the legal restraints on their power and deliberately thwart the will of the people, citizens have undertaken independent initiatives to – at the very least – establish the injustice of such situations, and declare the culpability of those responsible.  In some cases these citizens continue to seek legal redress within governmental systems at the national and international level. Some of these initiatives that have the caught the attention of policy makers have ranged, as the authors illustrate, from a series of public hearings on violence against women, such as that held at the NGO forum held in association with the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women, up to the meticulously constituted International Tribunal on War Time Sexual Slavery held in Tokyo in 2000, reported on Japanese television, and its findings filed with the UN Commission on Human Rights   (Now the Human Rights Committee.) Organized and conducted under a carefully constructed constitution, it asserted itself to be an extension of the original Tokyo war tribunal, constituted to establish responsibility for crimes committed by Japan in its military conduct of World War II. That tribunal was deemed one of those in which the state conducted process fell short.  The 2000 Tokyo tribunal sought justice for thousands of “comfort women,” ignored in the original trial, who were systematically and constantly subjected to rape in brothels run by the Japanese military during World War II. This civil society tribunal was a model of juridical expertise in the hands of a group of committed global citizens. While none of these procedures had formal state or interstate recognition, they had significant moral force, and illustrated both the utility of legal argument to illuminate and clarify the injustices they addressed. And, mot significant to the evolution of actual global citizenship, they demonstrated the capacity of civil society to make those arguments.

The WTI, as Gerson and Snauwaert recount, is certainly a land mark in the centuries old movement to replace the law of force with the force of law. As such, it should be familiar to all who consider themselves part of that movement, and all who work toward making the field of peace knowledge a significant contributing factor in contributing to its efficacy. WTI was not wholly guided by international law, the flouting and misuse of which had led some participants to reject the application of the relevant international standards. None-the-less, it should be given a significant place in the history of civil society actions that acknowledge – and in instances such as the Tokyo tribunal – invoke and apply international law. It should, as well, feature in the learning intended to make such citizen action possible.

However, without appropriate conceptualization, the learning cannot be cultivated, nor the actions designed and executed. For that reason, a peace educator’s concern with the requisite learning deems the conceptualization of reclaimative justice, the heart of this work, to be a major contribution to the field. From their review and assessment of this case, the authors have distilled a new concept, broadening the range of the forms of justice sought and sometimes encoded into national and international law over the centuries of the evolution of democracy. Their account demonstrates a civil society effort, arising from two essential political principles integral to the post World War II international order; public policy should be based on the will of the citizenry, and the pursuit of justice is a primary responsibility of the state. Both principles had been violated in the war the United Stated initiated against Iraq. In short, the WTI was an attempt to reclaim popular sovereignty, the germinal political concept of the modern states that in the mid twentieth century fashioned and undertook to govern an international order intended “to avoid the scourge of war.” By the beginning of the current century these very states had defied that purpose and egregiously violated both principles in this and other cases.

WTI, the authors assert, was a reclaiming of the fundamental norms encoded into the Post World War II international order, constructed on the United Nations as the institutional center of a world society committed to the achievement and maintenance of peace, and to the universal recognition of fundamental rights and dignity for all people. It should be emphasized that those norms, as noted, were rooted in the germinal idea of and struggle for democracy, that the will of the people should be the basis of governance and public policy.  The tribune itself arose from citizen outrage at the violation of that principle by most, and especially the most powerful, member states that comprised the international order. As the authors write, an emergent, committed and focused global civil society perceived injustice in this egregious and flagrant state defiance of the normative practices and the international law intended to maintain the hard won, (if still wanting in its intentions and capacities to enact justice and peace,) emerging global order. The organizers gathered around a common commitment to confront and seek justice in this case, engaged in a process observed by the authors to be a new form of “post conflict justice.”

The concept of reclaimative justice, however, holds the potential for a far wider application beyond post conflict situations. I would argue that it is applicable to other movements for social and political change. Especially because it has illuminated the practical reality of global citizenship, which is still largely an ill-defined aspiration as it appears in the present literature of international education. Within the framework of civil society or people’s tribunals, global citizenship is realized, as individual citizens of various nations, acting within a transnational arena, become enabled to take collaborative action toward a common global goal. In short, citizens empower civil society to act in instances of necessity to assure the public good, as states were intended to do within the Westphalian system.  As that system unfolded into modern states, aspiring to democracy, public good was to be determined by the will of the people.

Through the centuries the will of the people was repeatedly trampled by those who held state power, never more egregiously than by the dictatorships,   dismantled and brought to legal accountability in the wake of WWII in a process that to some extent inspired people’s tribunals, and established in the Nuremberg Principles, including the civic duty to resist unjust and illegal state action, the principle of individual responsibility to resist illegal and unjust state actions. Those years also saw the establishment of institutions and conventions designed to reinstate democratic principles and practices, and to extend them beyond their European origins. This post war international order was intended to assure a return to the idea of popular sovereignty as the political expression of the fundamental human dignity sought by individuals and by the associations they form, including and especially states. Since the founding of the UN and other interstate organizations, states, it was presumed as pronounced in the American Declaration of Independence, were formed to secure the same inherent rights that the UN declares to be the foundation of peace. Justice, read as the realization and protection of those rights has been recognized as the guiding purpose of democratic political orders. But justice, so defined, has also been perceived and repressed by the leadership of many member states who feared it as a threat to the holders of power. Reclaimative justice challenges the legitimacy of political orders that neglect the presumed fundamental purpose of states and confronts the consequences of that fear of justice.

This conceptual tool offers fresh hope to those who seek to free self-identified democracies from the grasp of the contemporary global rise of authoritarianism. No political concept is more relevant or more necessary at this time of extreme abnegations of governmental responsibility to citizenries. Its utility is especially relevant to the even more damaging trend of the degradation of juridical systems, courts and judges and legislative, popular representative institutions by those who hold (not always legitimately) executive power. Authoritarian regimes in various countries distort administrative and military institutions to uphold and extend their own interests. In the face of these injustices, relevant concepts as well as transnational civic actions such as those embodied in the WTI are urgent necessities. The idea of reclaimative justice responds to this urgency.

Above all, this newly defined concept is a valuable learning and analytic tool for practitioners of peace education and builders of peace knowledge. Concepts are our primary thinking devices. Conceptual frameworks are used in peace education to map out the substance of whatever problematic is being addressed in the multiple forms of reflective inquiry that characterizes peace education curricula. The utility of such curricula are to be judged by the degree of political efficacy they engender. Those outcomes, I would assert are largely determined by the relevance of the frameworks of the learning inquiries.  Frameworks cannot be constructed nor inquiries sequenced without relevant concepts from which to develop them. As the concept of conflict transformation, brought a whole new dimension to ways in which disputes might be framed and resolved, aiming toward a fundamental change in the underlying conditions which produced them, the concept of reclaimative justice brings a new, reconstructive purpose to movements to overcome and transform injustice, and to the education that prepares citizens to participate in those movements. It offers a basis through which to facilitate education for political efficacy. It provides a vehicle to deepen and clarify the theoretical frameworks of justice, so as to make them, as well as the education to enact the theories, more effective in devising the politics of justice. In so dong it will continue to empower citizens and call governments to responsibility. This new avenue to the restoration of democracy is that good theory that Morton Deutsch found so practical and that concept that I claimed made it possible to articulate that theory. This book is an indispensable resource for the construction of peace knowledge and the initiation of peace action through the pursuit of justice.

BAR, 2/29/20

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