by Larissa Alles, Germany

Coming mostly from Western countries, few of us have ever thought to differentiate between peace and justice or vice versa. Why should we, since we often have both? Yet, when listening to Betty Bigombe, this question appears to be the elephant in the room. This is due in part because Bigombe is not part of a government in the Western world, but in Uganda. As well, she has long been involved in the negotiations with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) since the early nineties. Her abilities to build trust reached as far that some of the rebels called her respectfully “mother”. All of a sudden, one has not only to differentiate between peace and justice, but also to prioritise one over the other.

This question might be nothing new for an experienced negotiator, however, it is certainly not easier to deal with. Is there justice if warlords receive an amnesty after years of war, whilst their victims will struggle with their sufferings for the rest of their lives? Can there be durable peace without the reintegration of former child soldiers? Often enough, the victims and their needs are forgotten in peace negotiations as all parties try to accommodate the demands of the fighting factions in order to end violence. However, sustainable peace needs some sort of justice in order to prevail. In addition, we also learned that priorities of a negotiator must be adapted in accordance to the conflict. One has to be ready talk even to those who are responsible for mass-atrocities.

There are more questions than answers, and, as Betty Bigombe acknowledged, there is no perfect answer. One can argue that peace is often needed first in order to pave the way for justice. Yet again, what looks reasonable on paper in a ones office is often far from what can be implemented on the ground.