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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2006, Vol, 6 No. 1 .

Reconciliation After Violent Conflict: A Handbook.
David Bloomfield, Teresa Barnes, & Luc Huyse (eds)

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance: Sweden, 2003, 178pp, pb 20, ISNB 91-89098-91-9

?A merely fallen enemy may rise again, but the reconciled one is truly vanquished.? (Friedrich Schiller)

Violent ethnopolitical conflict has been identified as one of the most important threats to global security (Boutros Ghali, 1992) and, consequently, there has been increasing interest in the subject of reconciliation (Worthington, 2005). This handbook aims to enable those involved in the process of reconciliation to consider a range of possible strategies, to select appropriate tools and to adapt them to their particular social, political and economic context. Lederach?s (1997 Or 1995) paradoxes of peacemaking, including the contradictions between personal and systemic change, justice and mercy, and process and outcome, are fully reflected in the book.

The handbook begins by providing the reader with a definition of reconciliation as a ?process through which a society moves from a divided past to a shared future? (12). It thereby contextualises reconciliation in a framework, which considers the historical roots of the conflict and its participants and which assumes the establishment of a functioning democracy as the most useful structure to peacefully deal with conflict in the future and to guarantee equality between groups. Careful attention is paid to the role of the victim and the offender in the reconciliation process, the various perceptions that perpetrators and victims may have about themselves and the other group and the dangers of re-traumatising victims and excluding offenders from society. Although the impact of conflict on women has often been ignored in the literature in the past, more recently their contribution to conflict and peace has been acknowledged (McWilliams, 1997), gender differences and the impact of conflict on children and families are noted and the effect that these have on reconciliation are amply discussed.

The emphasis of this handbook is clearly on the political and psychological processes of reconciliation, involving victims, perpetrators, politicians and peacemakers. There is notably less prominence given to the social processes of reconciliation and the challenges of overcoming the divide between and beyond perpetrator and victim to include communities as a whole. Awareness raising and education are often considered the main vehicles for achieving reconciliation at this broad societal level and to reduce the reoccurrence of violence in future (Andreopoulos, 1997). While the chapter on truth-telling touches on the effect that truth commissions may have on social constructions of history and community relations, differing perceptions of peace processes by various sections of society and how these can be dealt with are only briefly addressed. This shortcoming becomes particularly apparent when the use of retributive justice is debated as a means to deal with past human rights violations, without explicit reference to the fact that state bodies only, but not other organisations, such as paramilitary groups, could be dealt with under such provisions. This uncertainty might result in divided support for such commissions in the society.

The case study of a truth commission in Guatemala (which dealt with both state and non-state acts of violence) implicitly draws attention to the challenge that such provisions may pose. However, since a truth commission may result in divided support from the communities, further discussion is needed as to how this can be overcome, with relation to state bodies, and other organisations such as paramilitary groups. To illustrate strengths and weaknesses as well as the applicability of the reconciliation strategies explored in this handbook, a number of case studies are included from Cambodia, Guatemala, Northern Ireland, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This applied focus using real-life examples will certainly make the book appeal to a broad range of audiences, including policy-makers, peacemakers and other people with a vested interest in an agenda for reconciliation and peace. The Bloomfield, Barnes and Huyse handbook on reconciliation provides an excellent and comprehensive overview of issues involved in political reconciliation processes after violent political conflicts.

Andreopoulos, G. (1997). Human Rights Education in the Post-Cold War Context. In G. Andreopoulos & R.P. Claude (eds.), Human Rights Education for the Twenty-First Century (pp. 9-20). Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Boutros-Ghali, B. (1992). An agenda for peace. New York: United Nations.
Lederach, J.P. (1995). Preparing for Peace: Conflict Transformation Across Cultures. New York: Syracuse University Press.
McWilliams, M. (1997). Violence Against Women and Political Conflict: The Northern Ireland Experience. Critical Criminology, 8(1), 78-92.

Dr. Ulrike Niens, UNESCO, University of Ulster, INCORE Associate

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