One of the key challenges in overcoming armed conflict is how to deal with the past. A variety of mechanisms have been developed and tested, ranging from truth commissions or commissions of inquiry that aim to establish the truth about past abuse, to special courts that hold perpetrators to account.

A seminar hosted by the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo (NCHR) and International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO) . This seminar is an open and public event. No registration is necessary.


0900 - 0915 Participants arrive

0915 - 0925 Welcome
Ole Petter Ottersen, Rektor, University of Oslo
Kristian B. Harpviken, Director, International Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)

0925 - 0955 Keynote speech by Lidia Yusupova(with Russian translation)

0955 - 1035 Panel with

  • Diego Arria
  • Jemima Garcia-Godos (NCHR)
  • Nobuo Hayashi (PRIO)
  • Jan E. Helgesen (NCHR)
  • Chair: Kristian B. Harpviken (PRIO)

1035 - 1050 Break

1050 - 1150 Panel discussion

1150 - 1200 Concluding remarks, by Director Nils Butenschøn, NCHR

Over the past decades, there has been an emerging international recognition that dealing with the past is a prerequisite to build a peaceful future. New institutions, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), have been set up.

There is tension here, however. The tension is expressed in different ways.

One concern is that whereas justice mechanisms may be useful in the long term, their short-term effect is to disencourage warring parties from coming to the negotiating table. A related argument is that even if peace is agreed, the prospects for being taken to court serves as an incentive to keep the conflict alive, albeit at lower intensity.

In some contexts it has also been argued that former violent leaders may be resourceful and entrepreneurial, and that it is for the common good to engage them in the building of a post-conflict society. The insight that justice is often meted out by the victors – disproportionally affecting loosers – is ethically troubling and raises the question about whether accountability mechanisms may produce new grievances.

While there are difficult dilemmas, there are ways to respond to them.

Analysts and practitioners alike grapple with these issues, and seek new ways of linking accountability to stability. There is a lot to learn from past experiences.

We have relatively successful settlements, such as the 1992 Mozambican peace deal, where post-conflict justice has barely been pursued.

We have other success stories, such as the more recent Sierra Leonian peace deal, where the key leaders of the armed struggle have faced charges in a special court.

In Colombia, the demobilization of the paramilitary was based on a deal that included accountability measures for perpetrator, albeit conditional amnesties.

Is this merely that different responses fit different conflicts, or can we derive more generic insights?

The question is critical, not the least for a resolution of many of today’s unsettled conflicts, ranging from Afghanistan to Sudan, as well as recently ended wars such as the one in Sri Lanka.