We Need the Notion of Prevention
By Christian P. Scherrer
What is the scope of reconciliation? Can we talk about a need of reconciliation as opposed to justice - especially in case of non-war violence?
The discussion about the notion of reconciliation needs to be aware of some basic distinctions. The whole notion, which is a very important one, needs to be related to what we have to be reconciled with. There my first remark is that we should not mix warfare with slaughter. Compared to the tremendous increase of intra-state warfare and non-war types of mass violence such as genocide and mass murder the Clausewitzean type of inter-state conflicts was in recent decades a rather exceptional phenomenon. There are two important findings to be considered: Today more people die by slaughter than by war. And, in two third of all contemporary conflicts the ethnic factor (e.g. ethnic nationalism) is a dominant or influential component.
The latter trend is of course blurring a clear distinction of war and genocide. Genocide is defined as state-organised mass murder and crimes against humanity characterised by the intention of the rulers to exterminate individuals because of belonging to a particular national, ethnic, "racial" or religious group. Mass murder committed against members of a particular political group (called politicide by Barbara Harff) or social group (called democide by Rudolph Rummel) are equally horrifying but do not legally fall under the Anti-Genocide Convention of 1948. The most deadly regimes in the 20th century have all committed total genocide against domestic groups, mainly the barbarian attempt to exterminate their minorities.
Most peace researchers overlook certain categories and types of violence such as genocide, mass murder, communal violence and post-modern types of conflicts that do not necessarily involve state actors, e.g. gang war. "Resolving" such conflicts are much more challenging than peace-building in a post-conflict situation where there was actually a "war" fought and not a slaughter committed. As peace researchers we should time and again advertise prevention of destructive violence. We should do this before talking about "resolving" or managing conflicts. Possibilities and conditions of peace-building (more technically named 'conflict management') should in general be seen in relation to causes, triggers, threats and issues, thus looking at the type of conflict formation and the dynamics of destructive processes. The task would be to look into conflict escalation and the parallel limitation of options for responses. The focus would be on a variety of possible constructive responses according to the different stages of conflict. With regard to the nowadays most frequent conflict formation opposing states and nations / nationalities effective responses would have to prevent the process of escalation into violent confrontation at a very early stage. Some of the root causes and driving forces of violent conflicts can only be neutralised if the dynamics of destructive processes are not allowed to develop.
Prevention is better than cure. However, the important notion of structural prevention of violence is one of the least understood notions. "Peace building has at least two dimensions" wrote Jan Oberg in TFF PressInfo 39. In principle I agree very much with Oberg's presentation (I may reformulate), however, I miss a "third dimension":
1) In a post-war situation alternative options would be either reliving the tragedy (Galtung) to stop traumatisation or neutralising the trauma by confidence building and empowerment (in order to prevent it from emerging again). Galtung asked, "Why should anyone relive a trauma? - To demystify the past..." A typology of responses to conflict would have essentially to include all kind of procedures and instruments for prophylactic peace building and peace keeping at the stage of dormant conflict.
2) The question "Lessons learned?" can be asked regarding a broad set of possible responses. In my view peaceful responses and peace strategies should learn from existing schemes and focus on long-term structural and interactive prevention of violent conflict rather than plunge into activism producing short term bandages. Proven mechanisms range from minority protection, affirmative action to autonomy regulations, nationality policies, and federal schemes. Procedures and instruments would include standard setting for inter-national laws and rules, such as schemes for the protection of non-dominant groups and regimes for secessions.
3) In a post-genocide situation the notion of justice is central. Genocides cause so much suffering and so many victims that its open wounds in people's souls. These wounds can not be healed even after very long periods of time. Forgetfulness would create a source for more hatred, more violence and would only encourage revenge. The first task is to create awareness by exposing crimes against humanity.
For instance in the cases of Rwanda and Burundi only the full disclosure of the truth and the application of justice can create the political and moral base for reconciliation and sustainable peace. The attention of the public will not so much be focused on a formal legal procedure, which is not understandable and is only going to alienate them. Hence attention should be focused on a political process aiming at creating awareness by exposing crimes against humanity and the criminals themselves in Public Hearings, and by this way accelerating the prosecution process.
The prosecution of the perpetrators of genocide must be linked with reparation for the victims. Truth telling and reconciliation are closely linked, as we can learn from the South African experience. In my study for UN-HCHR I proposed a threefold strategy for Rwanda (and Burundi). The objective of proposals was to facilitate political decisions and an open debate of how to deal with the devastating effects of genocide. Alternative ways should be developed and new fora to be set-up, in order to create awareness and expose crimes against humanity. A contribution shall be made to constructively transform Rwanda's internal conflicts. Newly established legal structures shall be supported in order to intensify investigations and to prosecute the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, especially the authors, organisers and instigators of genocide.
Formal legal procedures will never be enough. Transitional legal mechanisms such as Truth Commissions, Public Hearings, and Grass Roots Courts shall be evaluated. Reliving the tragedy and an end to impunity will be the points of departure for reconciliation. Truth commissions shall seek healing through knowledge, information of the public, and acknowledgement of the truth. The public character of truth commissions as a form of Hearings is also able to deal with the deeply rooted problem of »double language« and the »cult of authority«. Great efforts have to be made in order to break through the walls of social silence protecting the killers and their instigators. Exposing their crimes to the public can only abolish the virtual cult of authority celebrated by successive rulers. (We shall not forget that the total genocide in Rwanda was essentially a crime of obedience.)
The importance of customary law for dealing with the overwhelming consequences of genocide is widely underestimated. In the context of future reconciliation the genuine revival and autonomization of the traditional Gachacha system of arbitration needs more support by civil actors, local and foreign as well. The spontaneous reactivating of this grass-roots scheme for arbitration and communal justice in over 20 of Rwanda's 147 communes gave rise to hopes. Gachacha and Abashingantahe (in Burundi) may greatly contribute to restore the moral order. I am convinced that self-healing forces can be revived in every society, if needed against the will of politicians and conflict actors.
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