Shaping Peace- and Justice- Together: Celebrating the World Peace Day 2020 amidst COVID-19

Today the world celebrates the International Day of Peace. The 2020 theme is “Shaping Peace Together.” The International Peace Day 2020 comes during a time when the world faces the coronavirus pandemic. As we mark this auscpicious day,  it is important to celebrate life, compassion, kindness and hope that has been demonstrated in the world and in Kenya in the face of a pandemic that has sought to completely changed our way of life and social interaction.


The importance of the International Day of Peace cannot be understated. The United Nations has recognized and acknowledged peace as essential to sustainable development. In fact, Sustainable Development Goal No. 16 provides that member states, Kenya included, are “to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” SDG 16 draws the close link between peace, inclusivity, development and justice. But how do we define the term “peace”?


Scholars argue that there are two forms of peace: negative peace and positive peace. Negative peace is the absence of violence e.g. when there is a cease-fire. It is what most of us would define as being “peace”. On the other hand, positive peace requires more than just cessation of violence. It is a state of reconciliation, restoration of justice, and the use of law to mediate and resolve inter-social and inter-personal disputes. In other words, peace must be understood as being more than simply an immediate cessation of violence; it constitutes reconciliation and restoration of inter-social and interpersonal relationships.


The concept of justice is equally complex. We can broadly speak of two aspects of justice i.e. retributive and restorative. Retributive justice is dependent on culpability and accountability yet paying more attention towards ensuring punishment and rehabilitation of the offender and deterrence of acts considered as criminal and deserving prosecution. Retributive justice is founded on vengeance; “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Retribution can be counterproductive and disruptive of restoration and maintenance of peace. For instance, the prosecution of perpetrators may actually disrupt peace. Retributive justice is hard, masculinised justice. It is seen in prosecutions of perpetrators of violence within local and or international tribunals. On the other hand, restorative justice is argued to be “soft, feminised justice”. It is seen in trade offs by warring sides during peace negotiation. E.g. amnesties, truth-telling processes, reparations for victims.


The complexities of the concept of justice and peace problematize a dilemma. In fact in 2009, the Secretary-General of the UN stated that “the debate is no longer between peace and justice but between peace and what kind of justice.”


The pursuit of peace may mean resigning oneself to some injustices. That notwithstanding, the facilitation of peace should not be equated to acceptance of impunity. The pursuit of justice e.g. through prosecutions may extend hostilities. Prosecutions may become a bargaining chip i.e. by defining crimes which will be prosecuted and those that will be granted amnesty, whether amnesty will be blanket or conditional



In Kenya, the implementation of justice initiatives has been shrouded with strong resistance, lack of transparency and accountability. Restoration, reconciliation and national cohesion has not been holistically achieved. The peace process in Kenya has been clouded by political interests of the elite who set the reform agenda including what form of justice should be executed. Changes are instituted and controlled by the incumbent political party and its leaders to the detriment of the less powerful. Also, the leaders can choose to undo the changes they have made when they are not  convenient or committed to democratic change hence limiting the success of achieving sustainable peace. Kenya has hence experienced piecemeal changes with a focus on “safe areas”.



Kituo cha Sheria-Legal Advice Centre (KITUO), a non-governmental organization, has for forty-seven years now been propagating for access to justice of poor and marginalized communities in Kenya through legal empowerment programmes. KITUO has individually and collectively conduct initiatives that contribute towards the implementation and monitoring of SDG 16.  Through the work of KITUO, we have found that for sustainable peace and justice to be achieved, there must be equal and meaningful engagement of both women and men. Sustainable peace requires connecting social and political process at all levels i.e. nationally and community-based. Reconciliation is a long-term process. It cannot be achieved without reparations and a genuine and authentic confrontation of a repressive/authoritarian past including holding accountable of perpetrators of violence through either formal or informal justice systems. We applaud the incorporation of an alternative justice systems framework within our formal legal system as community driven justice mechanisms are key in contributing towards sustainable peace.


Finally, the two concepts of peace and justice are not mutually exclusive. We cannot have peace without justice; we cannot have justice without peace. They are interdependent. Justice reinforces sustainable peace and respect for the law. The dilemma is a falsified notion that has been politicised.  Justice and peace ought to be defined by the people rather than the elite political class i.e. by Kadzos, Wanjikus and Atienos. Justice and peace are not suspended during a pandemic such as COVID-19. Irregardless of the context, we must continually shape peace together; the rich and the poor, women and men, duty bearers and right-holders.




Dr. Annette Mbogoh

Executive Director, Kituo cha Sheria

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