This summer, I have embarked on a journey of archival research. Looking at peace agreements from the last 20 years, I have read the endless processes of peace and transition. Aside from guarantees for equal participation, freedom expression, and a process of “truth seeking,” peace agreements suffer from what I have categorized as the “paper syndrome.” The “paper syndrome” is a phenomenon which I characterized as the following: The vision of a Peace Treaty failing to accomplish its vision, since once it is put on paper, it does not translate into immediate action. Rather, it becomes faded as soon as its recommendations are put into practice. Governments and Commissions prepare endless amounts of reports with hundreds of recommendations of possibilities and resolutions to which few take effect. The endless agreements for participatory politics and the reign of human rights within the country become once again forgotten when power is obtained. I will say that in over the ten peace agreements I have read, the proposal for policies account for about 130 pages at their largest; yet, the results account for about 5% of these policies being adopted.
In a way, the paper syndrome is larger than the execution of policies. Transitional governments write extensive, detailed treaties of peace, and at the same time, create promises for the sustainability and longevity of their newly obtained democracy and yet they do not execute these promises. Because transitional governments, like many other governments, like the idea of pleasing the international community and complying with their standards, they believe that laying out a plan for the future will guarantee them a positive response from the United Nations and other major international NGOs. As much as they believe that the amount of paper will guarantee them liberties, it also creates a path for accountability. For instance, the 127 page treaty from Guatemala proposed reparations for victims in the 1990s and the creation of a Truth Commission. However, one of the stipulations is to not give formal culpability to the perpetrators of violence. How can peace be achieved if a Truth Commission cannot submit their findings as evidence for trial? How can a country guarantee the idea of Nunca Mas if they cannot support the idea of human rights?
It took about 20 years to put General Rios Montt on trial for his involvement in the extermination of indigenous communities. It has taken ten years to hold a trial for the civil war in Cambodia. In Peru, reparations recommended in the Final Report have still not been met in many parts of the country who still suffer from the aftermath of the armed conflict almost 25 years ago. In Brazil, a Truth Commission has yet to present their Final Report at the end of the year about the dictatorship. While thousands of hours of negotiations have taken place, and have culminated in the drafting of hundreds of pages, there is still a long road, and hopefully one with less paper treaties and more action focused on victims. Transitional governments and future governments need to address the lack of support they have given to help address the need for participatory democracy and provide victims the recognition and the assistance they deserve.
A Peace Treaty does not guarantee a complete restoration of society, but it does provide a guide for the possibility of reconstruction.
Posted by Vania Loredo-MA Candidate NYU