Jordanian diplomat on Arab world & international justice & accountability

zeidCHAUTAUQUA, New York – Without the emergence of a genuine, contemporary Arab philosophy, a top Jordanian diplomat predicted today, stops and starts likely will remain the present and near future in the Middle East. To be precise, the diplomat, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told participants in the 7th International Humanitarian Law Dialogs here in upstate New York:

‘When we look at the Arab world, there is no authentic Arab liberal philosophy, and no authentic Arab liberal philosopher, at this moment.’

Citing developments in Iraq since 1968, Zeid said that an earlier such philosophy, the Baath movement, “a strong socialist Arab tradition,” fell apart. The “absence of a genuine drive to articulate something from within” has left a void:

‘If you don’t have an authentic Arab liberal philosophy … what you have in default is the Islamic ideologies which are authentic to the region.’

A new tradition rooted in Arab tradition is essential to “escape” from “mimicking” Western liberal philosophy, he said, noting that citations to documents like Rousseau’s Social Contract invite “the charge that these are important Western ideas. And so he urged liberals to “start writing,” to theorize liberal traditions “in Arab terms” and “grammar.” Until that happens, he predicted:

‘For a long time we are going to see this rather jerky movement backward and forward. … That will be the narrative for sometime to come.’

Zeid’s comments formed the opening lecture for a conference ostensibly devoted to accountability; after all, the centerpiece of the Dialogs is the coming-together of chief prosecutors from each of the international criminal tribunals and courts. Yet Zeid – who helped draft founding documents of the International Criminal Court and served as the 1st President of the ICC Assembly of States Parties – stopped far short of recommending a rush to judgment. Citing history in post-World War II Germany as his example, Zeid called for creating post-conflict “space” within which fighters might come to terms with the conflict, before the onset and investigation of trials. Having spoken of events in Syria, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, he said:

‘Many of us have been very passionate supporters of inserting courts into events where a tremendous amount of blood has been spilled. I really think we have to revisit this – not reduce support for the ICC, but we need to develop a more nuanced field.’

Given Zeid’s role in the establishment of the ICC, the comments seem to herald a new moment in the field accountability and transitional justice. Should that be, one hopes for a comprehensive, effective, and well-resourced mix of responses – not confusion that amounts to a retreat from the field.

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