Transitional Justice And The Transformation Of The Multilateral System

By Published On: 14th December 2023

The world’s institutions are ill-prepared and inadequately designed to effectively address global challenges such as major power conflict, pandemics, the climate catastrophe, refugee crisis, violent extremism, illicit profiteering from natural resources and the regulation of artificial intelligence systems. In particular, the United Nations (UN), which was created to address the problems of the world in 1945, is no longer fit for purpose in the twenty-first century. Previous efforts to reform the UN Security Council have exposed the limited imagination that is symptomatic of an international system that has confined itself to repeating and reproducing an outdated paradigm of international relations. In effect, the UN Charter has not undergone any meaningful review since the organisation was established almost eight decades ago. The case for a complete overhaul is therefore more urgent than ever. This article will assess the urgency of invoking Article 109 of the United Nations Charter, which calls for a review of the international organisation.

From the early decades of the UN, there was an asymmetrical relationship between the body and the African continent. Newly independent African were just beginning to establish their political, social, and economic footing, but were not in a position to influence policy at the UN, notably in framing how decisions were made in the institution. In most instances, post-colonial African were beholden, and still are, at least economically, to their former colonial powers and the contemporary major powers. This further contributes toward the perpetuation of a “paternal” attitude by the UN system toward Africa and its Diaspora. Since then, Africa has been trying to challenge and dispense with paternalistic attitudes from, and within, the UN system.

A transitional justice approach to transforming multilateralism recognizes that the UN system is un-democratic in its current design, and the P5 of the UN Security Council wield a disproportionate degree of illegitimate power, which undermines the peace and security of Africa and the rest of the world. The optics of the United Kingdom and France, both with populations of only 67 million people each, sitting on the UN Security Council, when Africa a continent of 1.4 billion people – which occupies 60% of the Council’s work – does not have a permanent seat, clearly illustrate the illegitimacy and lack of credibility of the current multilateral system. Consequently, when a transitional justice prism is applied to critique the un-democratic nature of the UN system, with a specific focus on the UN Security Council, then there is a strong case for the fundamental transformation of multilateralism to ensure the inclusion of societies, in the creation of new institutions that are reflective of the needs of the twenty-first century.

The founders of the UN recognized that the moment would arrive when it became imperative to transform the organization. For this, they included a practical mechanism to review the body’s Charter. According to Article 109 (1), a UN Charter Review Conference should have been convened 10 years after the signing of the document. While there was an initial effort to convene a conference in 1955, it was subsequently undermined by the geo-politics of the day. Given the current dissatisfaction of so many UN Member States with the structure and functioning of the UN and especially the Security Council, the procedural barriers to launch a Charter Review Conference seem more manageable than ever.

The transformation of multilateralism requires invoking a United Nations Charter Review Conference, through Article 109, which cannot be vetoed by the Permanent Five members of the United Nations Security Council. A UN Charter Review process would require extensive analysis, policy engagement and global civic education interventions. One of the prospective outcomes of a UN Charter Review process could be the establishment of a World Parliament, to broaden the multilateral decision-making processes and include a wider range of countries and global citizens in reflecting and deciding on how to address continental and global challenges, including ongoing peace, security and transitional justice processes that are being implemented in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, West Africa and Southern Africa.

The formal adoption of the AU Transitional Justice Policy, in February 2019, a policy shift labelled as a “game changer” has provided a framework to engage national governments, regional economic communities, civil society networks, analysts and other stakeholders on the importance of implementing processes that address the legacies of the past as a means to maintaining international and continental peace and security in Africa. It is necessary for governmental, inter-governmental, and civil society actors to utilize the provisions of the AUTJP and leverage them to inform policy debates relating to the transformation of the international multilateral system. to advance an improved understanding of the need to address the historical legacy of exclusion and the need to address the marginalization of the past. In this regard, we can draw upon the provisions of the AUTJP, to contribute towards promoting peace and security at a national, regional and continental level.

Prof. Tim Murithi, Head IJR Peacebuilding Interventions Programme, @tmurithi12

The views and opinions expressed in the article are solely that of the author, and not the IJR

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