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 Centers 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. Its 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. Its restoring
a harm that has been done.
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 Lords 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
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
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 thats 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 78:30 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.