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January 22, 2001

Reconciliation often an international alternative

Kay Torrance is communications coordinator at The Carter Center

Often when warring parties reach a peace accord, the world lets out a collective sigh. But is that the end of the road? Should one party seek compensation from another? Should violators be punished, or is public acknowledgement of the situation satisfaction enough?

Those are questions faced by two people who have spent their lives resolving conflict. Benjamin Hoffman, director of the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program (CRP), and Joseph Montville, director of the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Preventive Diplomacy Program, travel the world acting as independent, neutral mediators.

During negotiations, warring parties often raise questions about “reconciliation.” It is a complex topic encasing history, societal norms, victimization, punishment and healing, and it is the focus of a Feb. 8 “Conversations at The Carter Center” public forum.

“Reconciliation is a popular term today,” Hoffman said. “It’s a spiritual and psychological phenomenon for parties who have had a relationship and have experienced a tear in that relationship.

The healing process is not a straightforward one. It’s restoring a harm that has been done.“
Reconciliation goes beyond an offender’s punishment; it addresses the effect on the victim and the community and seeks remedies to prevent an occurrence. But it is not a quick solution to a problem, Montville said.

“It may be that forgiveness is not immediately forthcoming,” Montville said. “It may be manifested quietly, or there may be more formal expressions of forgiveness.”

Reconciliation is more prevalent around the world than here in the United States. The U.S. justice system is based heavily on punishment of individuals, while many non-Western societies place greater focus on the community and take a nonadversarial approach, according to Hoffman and Montville.

Hoffman and the CRP staff are currently working with the governments of Sudan and Uganda to disarm Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, which has kidnapped hundreds of children and forced them into military service or sexual bondage. “Despite the fact that Kony has violated his own kin and community,” Hoffman said, “the villages would rather have him stop his behavior than punish him.”

Within international conflicts, Montville strongly opposes only forgiving a perpetrator without him acknowledging his own guilt, because his actions could be repeated.

When it comes to resolving international conflicts, nongovernmental organizations often hold an advantage over regional organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) or the Association of African Unities, Hoffman said.

“The Carter Center is able to speak to heads of state and have the respect on the world stage but is unbound by the obligations or an agenda of state actors,” he said.

Many governments are following nongovernmental organizations by embracing nonofficial or “Track II” diplomacy, a term coined by Montville in 1981. Governments are now assisting warring parties to negotiate peace treaties themselves without taking action by force or by law, Montville said.

Back in North America, the United States is slowly embracing reconciliation with the advent of victims’ rights programs and mediation to settle civil cases, Hoffman said.

“In a society that’s becoming so vested in the individual and an economy based on rewards and punishments, the notion of reconciliation is extremely foreign,” he said. “I think to the extent that Western societies begin to realize that there are down sides to an individual-based social reality, they will begin to embrace these other alternatives.”

Hoffman and Montville, along with Steven Hochman, director of research at the Carter Center, will present “Conflict Resolution and the Search for Reconciliation” on Thursday, Feb. 8, from 7–8:30 p.m. at the Carter Center. General admission is $6; students with ID get in free.

Reservations are required. For more information, call 404-420-3804.


Back to Emory Report Jan. 22, 2001