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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 1 .


Peace Agreements and Human Rights
Christine Bell

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000
416pp. Biblio. Index. Hb.: 45.00; ISBN 0-19-829889-7.



This is an important book. It examines the human rights component of peace agreements reached in four conflicts with an ethnic dimension: South Africa, Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland and Bosnia Herzegovina. The book is detailed, scholarly and authoritative, yet maintains an engaging narrative style and concentrates on the moral dilemmas associated with contemporary peace accords. Chapters on negotiations; human rights institutions; refugees, land and possession; and prisoners, accountability and truth follow the case studies mentioned above.

The conceptualisation of peace processes (pp. 16-19) is a little brief and rests on the view that peace processes are value judgements of attempts to end/win a conflict. In other words, they are heavily dependent on perception. This much is true, but a more detailed framework of contemporary peace processes, perhaps resting on objective criteria such as longevity of a peace process and the inclusion of key actors, may have sat more easily with the detailed consideration of the content of peace agreements that follows. This is a minor point and the book views peace accords as transitional constitutions - a useful starting point.

The book is not a dry legal tome, Instead it places peace accords in their human context and is aware of variegated and simultaneous pressures that contribute to the development of accords. So, for example, increased legal trends towards individual accountability and punishment are juxtaposed with prisoner releases. Noting the international community's often contradictory attitudes to self-determination, Bell reasons that 'An alien from Mars (with an interest in political science) would be hard pressed to understand why "bantustanization" was internationally unacceptable in South Africa, but perhaps acceptable in Palestine; or why consociational government was considered vital internationally in the divided society of Bosnia Herzegovina, permissible in Northern Ireland, but unnecessary in South Africa.'(pp. 189-90).

Bell concludes by highlighting the importance of comparison and cross-fertilisation between agreements: 'The stories of peace processes should continue to be told.'(p. 321) True to her word, this is followed by a lengthy appendix of peace agreements reached in the 1990s: from Afghanistan to Yemen. This in itself is a magnificent resource and I would recommend this book for graduate courses on peace and conflict.



Roger Mac Ginty
Department of Politics




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