The essay discusses forgiving and forgetting in the interest of reconciliation in healing and rebuilding societies that face enormous political and ethical challenges after going through major traumas like civil wars. This is chosen as a better method compared to holding accountable the individuals or the parties that have committed human rights violation because of its several advantages. The interpretation of the concept is challenged, and there are a lot of erroneous notions of exactly what is reconciliation. Forgiving and forgetting means you no longer allow the offence to affect your life and relationship negatively. For the individuals who have to live with their own pain and trauma, the term is certainly extremely sensitive. One victim of apartheid told the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), "Reconciliation is only in the vocabulary of those who can afford it. It is non-existent to a person whose self-respect has been stripped away and poverty is a festering wound that consumes his soul" (Huhse, pg 22).
A common feeling among black and colored South Africans was that the discourse on reconciliation had pressured them towards a hasty end with the past only for them to realize later that it was the best option to having peaceful coexistence. Another misunderstanding is that the parties of a post-conflict society become impatient quickly, as if coexistence, trust and empathy come speedily. Such anxiety, particularly if it is declared as an official policy is vulnerable to fail. Reconciliation must be seen as a long-standing process that may take ages. The reason for reconciliation must be clearly stated; the opinion and its explanation must be openly discussed by the: authorities, media, schools and civil society and in the wider scope NGOs, advocacy groups and religious institutions must be included. The need for peaceful coexistence, trust and empathy must be internalized prior to any valuable policy can be put in action. Broad discussion for such a society must take into account that legitimate reconciliation is more than rebuilding relationships between former enemies or between victims and perpetrators. The essay discusses the role of truth commissions in facilitating mechanism for forgiveness between the injured parties and the person responsible for human rights abuses and their shortcomings. It also discusses the process of reconciliation when dealing with the past human injustices (Stover, E. & Weinstein, H., 2004: 319; Shell, 2005; Leys, 1995).
These are bodies set up to find out a past history of violations of human rights either by military, other government forces or armed opposition forces in a particular nation. Ever since the middle of 1990s, a number of countries have tried the transition to democracy. One of the important issues a majority of these nations have had to deal with is the method of inducing the various parties to a peaceful coexistence after a period of conflict or war. Specifically since the early 1990s, the international community of human rights has supported truth commissions as an important part of the healing process. They have also been identified as part of the process of peace, nearly for every international or communal conflict which has to be solved ever since. Supporters of truth commissions and other forms of transitional justices like war crimes tribunals, claim that some identification with the past is necessary in order for earlier adversaries to look to a peaceful communal. Truth commissions are seen not as weak options for trials but they have unique advantages and superior to trials in some ways (Brahm, 2004).
Characteristics of truth commissions:
Various bodies have also been established to offer the similar task of investigating the past. An example is the NGOs which have formed their own truth commissions where governments have failed to have one. For example the archbishop of Sao Paulo, with the back up of the World Council of Churches, inspected human rights abuses under Brazil's military rule after the government refused their calls for an official inquiry (Stewart-Gambino and Drogus 2006: 28).
Truth commissions also do not need be national in scope like the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project in North Carolina created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2004, to examine racially induced killings by the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party in 1979 (Glandin and Klubock, 2007: 100). They also don't need be governmental at all like the South Africa's African National Congress that created two commissions in 1990s to investigate the internal activities of its own organization (Fairweather,2006: 182).
Strengths and Weaknesses Of Truth Commissions
The main goals of truth commissions are: they seek to contribute to transitional peace through creating an authoritative record of what happened; provide a stage for the victims to tell their stories and obtain some form of remedy; advocate legislative, structural or other changes to shun a repetition of past human rights abuses; and establish who was responsible and provide a measure of accountability for the perpetrators.
Desmond Tutu explains the reason for Truth and Reconciliation commission as: "While the Allies could pack up and go home after Nuremberg-the war crimes tribunals following World War II, we in South Africa had to live with one another" (Brahm, 2004). Societal reconciliation is the major aim usually perceived by truth commissions. Although lacking in power, truth commissions represent an indicator by the new government to domestic and international audiences that they plan to put an end with the history of impunity. Even though not all have held public proceedings, they have often gotten strong media attention, which gives them a better chance to influence the national awareness. Participation of important political actors may symbolize a commitment to peace as do proceedings that discredit those connected with past crimes on all sides of the conflict (Maregere, 2009). Truth commission activists argue that calling executors to account, even in a weaker venue like a truth commission, exposes the vulnerability of those once in power and knowing these acts have been surely denounced as empowering to the general community. Though naming names of those responsible is not common, it is easy to identify those in charge of institutions criticized by the commission. The logic of truth commissions is that exposing the factors that allowed these offenses to occur goes a long way toward thwarting their recurrence. At the same time, certainly not all are satisfied with foregoing retributive justice (Mani, 2005).
Most importantly, though, is delivering what has become known as restorative justice. The process of coming to terms with the past can have great psychological benefit for those seeking trauma healing. By officially acknowledging past crimes, the process helps reinstate self-esteem to victims. Mostly describing the horrible details can bring peace. Truth commissions offer victims a chance to finally tell what happened to them: the chance to tell one's story and be heard without interruption or doubt is crucial to the affected, and nowhere more essential than for survivors of trauma. Supporters of truth commissions frequently point to research on crime victims. Being able to tell their story is tremendously therapeutic for victims of violence in most cases. Truth commissions assist in the healing process by the fact that the listener has official status (Molly, 2003).
The therapeutic benefits also warrant for further scrutiny. Whilst telling one's story and hearing details of loved ones' fates are at times beneficial, for others, these experiences have quite different effects like bringing back old anger and triggering post-traumatic stress. The benefit a crime victim receives from retelling their story is often part of a long-term treatment process (Molly, 2002). With a truth commission, however, a victim usually has only a few minutes and few resources for consequential care. At the personal level, data is relatively scanty with the notable exception of South Africa. Where the data do exist, the ability of a truth commission's findings to relieve negative feelings is uncertain. A survey conducted in South Africa revealed that two-thirds of the respondents felt the truth commission process had harmed race relations and made people angrier (Minow, 2004). In El Salvador, by contrast, a poll after the commission's conclusion indicated widespread acceptance of the commission's findings.
Despite positive potential, truth commissions have sometimes served merely as a means of legitimizing new governments. While they are generally associated with regime transitions, that transition need not be toward democracy (Darcy and Schabas, 2004: 105). Furthermore, in places such as Zimbabwe and Haiti, the publication of the commission's report was completely stopped because it was too critical of the new government. In Bolivia and Ecuador, commissions were disbanded before completing their work because the investigations became too politically sensitive. Evidently, the commissions cannot be solely blamed for that, the political will to act on their findings did not exist.
In others, the general population, as well as human rights advocates, often expect too much from truth commissions. First of all, they may have an impossible mission where the needs of victims may be incompatible with the needs of the society. Secondly, it is argued that they do not go far enough to deal with the past or generate reconciliation. This is because they do not have the power to punish and have no authority to implement reforms. Thirdly, wiping the slate clean benefits those who have committed human rights violations; this damages victims' self-esteem and denies them justice. Finally, erasing history is difficult. At minimum, truth commissions pursue different types of truth. They investigate the details of specific events while at the same time attempting to explain the factors and circumstances behind the gross human rights violations the state experienced. In short, truth commissions often seem asked to do too much with too little (Sider, 2001).
It bears repeating that truth commissions are but one component of an effort to bring about peace. It would be unfair to judge their success solely on the future stability of the new regime or on some measure of future levels of violence or adherence to the rule of law.
The Process of Reconciliation
Reconciliation signifies different things to different people and nations. Its importance varies from ethnicity to ethnicity, and it changes as time goes by. The major function of reconciliation is to thwart once and for all the use of the past as a beginning of renewed disagreement. It strengthens peace, puts an end to the cycle of violence and strengthens newly established or set up democratic institutions (Andrew, 1999:107). It is a process that brings about the personal healing of survivors, the reparation of the past injustices, the building or rebuilding of peaceful relationships between individuals and communities, and the appreciation by the former parties to a disagreement of a common vision and understanding of the earlier period. Reconciliation enables victims and perpetrators to get on with life and, at the level of the society, the launching of a civilized political dialogue and a sufficient power sharing (Mike, 2008). It is not easy to realize reconciliation due to the experience of a cruel past makes the search for peaceful co-existence a fragile and complicated operation. Reconciliation is not an episode but a process which is usually difficult, long and unforeseeable one, entailing various steps and stages. Every move requires changes in attitudes e.g. patience instead of revenge, in conduct i.e. a united commemoration of all the dead instead of separate, partisan memorials and in the institutional environment. Above all, the procedure must be that every step matters, that every effort has value, and that in this fragile domain even a small improvement is an important progress. There is a certain danger in talking about reconciliation in terms of strict series. At each stage a relapse back into more violent means of dealing with conflicts is always a big possibility. Also the stages do not always follow logically after each other in any set order. Nevertheless, they remain essential ingredients for a lasting reconciliation (John, 2004; Rossi, 2001; Hughes, 2010).
First Stage: Replacing fear by non-violent coexistence
When the war stops, this is the first step away from hate, hostility and resentment that achieves peaceful coexistence between the hostile parties. Charles Villa- Vicencio, a South African observer, wrote that at the lowest level coexistence refers to no more than a willingness not to kill one another, it is a case of walking by on the other side of the street (Huyse, n.d.). To others the starting point of this step will be the war-weariness or the effortless but the realistic conclusion that killing does not bring the dead back to life or it may be based on the belief that, as Martin Luther King said that those who do not learn to exist or stay together as brothers will all perish together as fools. An encouraging idea here is that, still in the midst of the most cruel conflicts, small islands of lenience and civility always continue to exist - men and women who through acts of great courage, save the lives of people that belong to their enemies or rivals. The move towards such a peaceful coexistence needs first of all the victims and perpetrators be at liberty from the paralyzing isolation and all-consuming self-pity in which they often live. This involves the renewal of communication inside the communities of victims and offenders and between them. Political leaders, community leaders, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and spiritual institutions have a serious responsibility in this (Mike, 2008). They can initiate or sustain programmes for such liberating communication. As symbolic representatives of victims and offenders, they can instigate dialogue if those directly involved are not yet ready to talk. A safe environment is a second circumstance. Without the least physical security, there will be no prospect of any progress along the path to reconciliation. At this point, both local and/or international political decision makers have a crucial role to play. Effort must be directed towards establishing the rule of law on equitable and acceptable terms. Conflicts do not disappear with this step in the reconciliation process. The involved parties continue to be adversaries although they agree to disagree and to use less violent ways to accommodate old and new disputes. The likely way is to exchange private vengeance for redistribution by an institution like a criminal court that is bound by the agreed rules.
Second Stage: Building confidence and trust
This is a point where fear no longer rules, the coexistence evolves towards a relation of trust. This stage in the process requires that the victim and the offender, gains renewed confidence in himself or herself and in each other. It also involves believing that humanity is there in every person: an acknowledgement of humanity of others is a starting point of mutual trust and it opens the door for the gradual arrival of a sustainable culture of non-violence. Another product of this stage is the victim's capacity to distinguish degrees of guilty among the perpetrators. This is a significant move in destroying atrocity myths that maintain alive the idea that all members of arrival group are actual or potential perpetrators (Maregere, 2009). Courts of law can play a major role of individualizing guilt. Traditional justice mechanisms often create similar opportunities. Like in October 2001 the population of Rwanda elected more than 200,000 lay judges who oversee some 10,000 Gacaca tribunals, a society rooted institution where individual guilt in the 1994 genocide was publicly handled (Zorbas, 2004). A post-conflict society has to put in place at least functioning institutions i.e. a non-partisan judiciary, an effective civil service and an appropriate legislative structure for trust and confidence to develop. This condition links a reconciliation policy to the many other tasks of a transition from violent conflict to durable peace (Adonis, 2008).
Third Stage: Empathy
Empathy comes when the affected party is ready to listen to the reasons for the hatred of those who caused them pain and with the offenders' understanding of the anger and bitterness of those who suffered. This is the work of the truth commissions to make this happen through sifting fact from fiction, truth from myth. Also such commissions may lead to an official acknowledgement of the injustices inflicted. Telling the truth is a precondition of reconciliation because it creates objective opportunities for people to see the past in terms of shared suffering and collective responsibility (Andrews, 1999). The most important thing is the recognition that victims and offenders share a common identity as human beings so as to get on with each other. Common interests may be found in roles and identities that cross former lines of division like religion, gender and generation. An example is the Burundian province of Ngozi, where Hutu and Tutsi collaborated closely in an attempt to improve the prospects of their region, thus transcending the divisions of the past. Economic concerns too may inspire such bridging activities, as they did in Kosovo, where Albanian trade unionists and a Serbian workers' movement established post-war contacts (Mooball, 2010). Empathy does not essentially lead to a fully harmonious society or to national unity. Conflicts and controversy are part and parcel of all human communities. Moreover, empathy does not exclude the continuation of feelings of anger. Nor does it require that the victim be ready to forgive and forget. Pardoning the offenders will, of course, broaden the basis for empathy, but for many victims it may be too distant, or too sudden, a goal, and to pursue it relentlessly may result in an abrupt and early end to the entire reconciliation process. At this stage it may be unjust to ask victims to forgive if perpetrators refrain from expressing regret and remorse, as has been the case in Argentina, Chile and Guatemala (Huyse, 2008).
Final Stage: Introduction of The Codes Of Democracy And A Just Social-Economic Order
For peaceful coexistence, trust and empathy to develop in a sustainable way, structural injustices in the political, legal and economic domains stay put. Reconciliation must be backed by the acknowledgment of the important codes of democracy like gradual sharing of power, an honoring of each other's political commitments, the creation of a an environment conducive to human rights and economic justice, and a willingness among the population to accept responsibility for the past and the future. There are a lot of examples of societies where reconciliation remained unfinished simply because one side of previous split refused, knowingly or unintentionally, to recognize the essence of democracy (Rausch, 2004).
Zimbabwe was for many years acclaimed as a model of reconciliation between blacks and whites after long-lasting colonial rule and a bloody military conflict. But thorough going economic justice has not been achieved. It is widely believed that the end of the policy of reconciliation is partly based on and backed by a general disappointment among large sections of the black population who see that the economic disparities between Africans and white settlers have not disappeared. The history of Zimbabwe is a frightening illustration of what happens when this is the case (Kalayjian, A., 1999; Santos & Lopez 2010).
Reconciliation is chosen as a better method compared to holding accountable the individuals or the parties that have committed human rights violation because of its several advantages. Reconciliation which is usually understood to entail healing the divisions of the past and establishing a society founded on democratic values, social and economic justice, and respect for human rights, is considered as vital for a country wishing to attain sustainable peace after effects of violence and conflict. Being ready to forgive is the first step to reconciliation. Forgiveness requires both parties i.e. the forgiver and the forgiven to take part actively in dialoging with each other. The affected party is only able to forgive and forget if they truly know who and what they are forgiving. It is easier to do that especially when the two parties start to understand the reasoning behind a particular action or behavior. A lot of victims that go to truth commissions plainly state what they desire above all else the facts relating to their loved ones. There is also a misunderstanding in that the parties of a post-conflict society become impatient quickly, as if coexistence, trust and empathy come speedily. If such anxiety is particularly declared as an official policy, it is vulnerable to fail. Reconciliation must be seen as a long-standing process that may take ages. The reason for reconciliation must be clearly stated; the opinion and its explanation must be openly discussed by the: authorities, media, schools and civil society and in the wider scope NGOs, advocacy groups and religious institutions must be included. The need for peaceful coexistence, trust and empathy must be internalized prior to any valuable policy can be put in action. Broad discussion for such a society must take into account that legitimate reconciliation is more than rebuilding relationships between former enemies or between victims and perpetrators. Some of the countries that have achieved a peaceful coexistence through the creation of truth commissions include: Brazil, South Africa, El Salvador and Burundi. On a basic level, truth commissions uncover the details of past crimes. In many cases, they serve to officially acknowledge what many already know about the past. In this difficult time, it is a way for a new government to establish legitimacy by espousing democratic ideals, the rule of law, formal legal equality, and social justice. As such, although they investigate the past, truth commissions are as much about looking forward.