IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Reconciliation: a wonderful idea (but)

I am currently teaching a course on approaches to dealing with post-conflict societies, and we always talk about reconciliation, or “truth and reconciliation”. I’m sure you’ve heard about this, particularly in connection with the “TRC” in South Africa. The basic idea is that when a society has been torn apart by prolonged violent conflict, healing is necessary. That healing can be promoted through a public process of reconciliation, which requires first telling the truth about what happened. Once the truth is made known (usually through the work of a high profile commission–either internal to the country, or made up of outside experts), perpetrators are invited to acknowledge what they have done and to express contrition for their acts. Victims are then encouraged to forgive the perpetrators, and thereby the two previously alienated groups are reconciled.

This is a wonderful concept, and it has proven very useful in assisting many countries to come to terms with their brutal pasts and to move on toward a better future. However, one needs to remember that this is something originally formulated in small scale conflict workshops, and when you try to use it on a national scale it becomes a bit ambiguous. The criticisms about the TRC found on the Wikipedia page provide useful insights in this regard.

There have been, btw, many truth commissions in many countries, with quite varied results.

I guess the biggest problem I have with the idea of reconciliation (as distinguished from truth commissions) is whether you can really oblige (even if just morally) victims to forgive. It always seemed to me that some would, and some wouldn’t.

Thoughts? I might write a bit more about this soon.

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October 2, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

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