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Reconciliation and forced migration

Reconciliation and forced migration

Theoretical and political issues

Reconciliation is a complex and controversial prospect, both for the members of divided communities and for researchers studying the process. Since the 1990s, a burgeoning collection of research has probed the nature and meaning of reconciliation for individuals, communities and states. Efforts to define and describe reconciliation as a psychological, social and political process naturally cannot yield definitive answers; nonetheless, these efforts have opened up important new avenues for research and practice. Principal areas for research include the religious and cultural roots of reconciliation, the political impact of reconciliation initiatives, the compatibility of reconciliation and justice, and other moral concerns associated with the pursuit of reconciliation.

Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs Reconciliation E-Library
D. S. Sengulane and J. P. Goncalves (1998) 'A Calling for Peace: Christian Leaders and the Quest for Reconciliation in Mozambique', in Armon, J., Hendrickson, D. and Vines A. (eds.) The Mozambican Peace Process in Perspective, London, Conciliation Resources.
IDEA (2003) Reconciliation After Violent Conflict.
Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies
Rosenthal, J. (2001) Making Peace: Dilemmas of Reconciliation.
Templeton Foundation- Forgiveness and Reconciliation: Religious Contributions to Conflict Resolution

Truth and reconciliation commissions

The first national truth and reconciliation commission (TRC) was established in South Africa to address some of the most grievous abuses of the apartheid regime. The creation of the South African TRC sparked the instigation of truth and reconciliation commissions in a wide range of countries such as East Timor, Sierra Leone, and in various Latin American countries. While it is not possible to go into detail here about the diverse range of reconciliation commissions that have been formed in the context of national transitional justice processes, it is safe to say that from the start, the truth and reconciliation commission model has had both impassioned supporters and fervent critics amongst the public, researchers and policymakers. The large and growing literature on truth and reconciliation commissions has raised and investigated a plethora of criticisms of the TRC approach, from the lack of cultural relevance of reconciliation commissions to the morality and political advisedness of 'swapping' truth for justice. Various researchers have compared and evaluated the mandates held by different commissions. For example, the South African TRC focused on the crimes committed by individuals, and was a relatively powerful commission insofar as it could 'name names' and instigate legal proceedings in the event of non-compliance. In contrast, the Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) was criticised as a structurally weak body, as it could not identify or investigate the individual perpetrators of the crimes carried out during the country's civil war. However, the Guatemalan CEH arguably met with more success than its South African counterpart in highlighting the social forces that fostered impoverishment, conflict, and unchecked abuse from government and military forces. The Guatemalan CEH is notable as it was perhaps one of the more successful TRCs in terms of integrating the perspectives of displaced persons. CEH investigators hiked into remote areas of the country to interview thousands of civilians who were displaced by the war. Although the CEH was unable to interview all those who wished to give testimony, many of the formerly displaced persons who testified indicated that they found the experience to be an affirming one. The Commission concluded that the murder and forced displacement of thousands of Mayan civilians during the Guatemalan civil war was genocide, and deemed the Guatemalan state and its paramilitaries responsible for 93 percent of the atrocities committed during the war (Guatemala: Memory of Silence - Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification).

Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs (2005) Genocide and Aftermath: Rationalizing the Process of Truth and Reconciliation.
East Timor Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation
Guatemala: Memory of Silence-Report of the Commission for Historical Clarification
Murdoch, L. (2006) 'Timors truth time bomb', Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February.
Sanchez-Garzoli, G. (2004) Internally Displaced Persons in the Peruvian Truth Commission Report and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
TRC: Commissioning the Past Workshop Page
Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission

Local reconciliation and coexistance initiatives

Following the genocides in the Balkans and Rwanda, the centrality of reconciliation to return and reintegration processes was made clear. Although complete reconciliation in the aftermath of such atrocities is clearly out of reach, some degree of reconciliation or an openness to coexistence is central to enabling refugees and IDPs to access durable solutions. Local-level reconciliation initiatives were launched in Bosnia and Rwanda by UN agencies and international, national and grassroots NGOs. Many focused on encouraging members of conflicting ethnic groups to undertake cooperative agricultural or entrepreneurial activities, or share public spaces such as schools and sports clubs. In countries such as Mozambique and Sierra Leone, even more informal routes to reconciliation have been pursued, drawing on local cultural resources such as traditional healing ceremonies. While some researchers and practitioners have wholeheartedly advocated the use of traditional cultural practices to promote reconciliation, other scholars have been more cautious, questioning the relevance of some of these practices for younger generations, their association with the subordination of women, and their ability to address the injustices at the root of conflict and displacement (for e.g. Nordstrom 1997, Honwana 1998).

In cooperation with Tufts and Harvard Universities, UNHCR sponsored a multi-year programme in return communities in Bosnia and Rwanda entitled Imagine Coexistence, through which UNHCR supported locally-led initiatives intended to promote the reintegration of minority returnees into communities struggling with persistent ethnic divides. The analysis of Imagine Coexistence and similar programmes have provided practitioners with valuable insights into the design and implementation of locally relevant reconciliation and coexistence activities that may translate into improved conditions for returnees and their neighbours.

Another major area for research on reconciliation is the 'group encounter' model, whereby selected members of conflicting groups are brought together to meet, become acquainted with one another's viewpoints, and discuss approaches to conflict resolution. This approach has been used extensively in the Palestinian-Israeli context, at the local level as well as at the level of emerging political leaders (for e.g. Kelman 2004).

Abraham Fund
Babbitt, E. et al (2002) Imagine Coexistence: Assessing Refugee Reintegration Efforts in Divided Communities.
Brandeis University-Alan B. Slifka Program in Intercommunal Coexistence
Fafo People-to-People Program
Honwana, A. (1998) 'Sealing the Past, Facing the Future: Trauma Healing in Rural Mozambique', in Armon, J., Hendrickson, D. and Vines, A. (eds.) The Mozambican Peace Process in Perspective, London, Conciliation Resources.
IDRC Southern African Reconciliation Study
Parents Circle-Families Forum: Bereaved Families Supporting Peace, Reconciliation and Tolerance
Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME)
Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University.
Last updated Aug 17, 2011