01By and large, reconciliation means reestablishing a broken relationship. Friends and spouses reconcile when they experience a change of heart; they overcome past resentments, ignore their misgivings and so re-engage in a relationship of loving trust. In cases like these, affection and respect supersede resentment and distrust. In the realm of the political, the notion of reconciliation becomes vaguer. It frequently depicts a new bond devoid of strong emotional components as those I just mentioned. This way, we claim that former allied nations reconcile, even reluctantly, when governments re-establish torn up diplomatic and relations to be able to react in unison against threats from third parties. The same way, politicians reconcile when they resume common joint efforts to capture the electorate, win the polls and so on. Thus, reconciliation may encompass different degrees of spontaneous, emotional commitment between the relevant parties: such bonds allow for a wide array of alternatives that encompass from a wholehearted devotion and loyalty to a circumstantial military readiness to share efforts aimed at specific goals. In a country torn apart by a civil war and ethnic and political persecution, citizens from different factions reconcile when they interact so that it is natural to refer to them as part of a single community: a collective whose individual members and groups treat one another with basic consideration and respect and comply with a common set of rules and principles, formal and informal. Breach of such principles and rules elicit negative emotional reactions, largely resentment and indignation from a vast segment of the group which results in the transgressor experiencing guilt and shame. In answering the first question I will firstly refer to reconciliation in the latter, limited sense, which results from our usual references to (full) members of reconstituted political communities disrupted by serious infringement of the dignity and rights of a social segment. I suggest at the outset that such reconciliation presupposes that its members share historical ties and the common aspiration of the members of the contending factions to continue to live together. In some deep and often inadvertent ways there lies an emotional component, a common will without which reconciliation becomes an empty purpose.
Serious crimes, especially those systematically perpetrated with impunity place some people in a subordinate condition. Failure to enforce the law and lack of official condemnation of the abuses conveys the message that those who suffer deserve their condition. Thus, state sponsored -and tolerated- brutality, seriously impinge on the self-respect and esteem of a substantial segment of society. Yet it is clear that reference to victims not only encompasses those who were tortured, murdered and incarcerated, the direct victims, but also that large segment whose members lived under constant fear and instability. Terror causes individuals to give up on their values and principles; extreme fear drives numerous individuals to give up their allegiances. Direct victims and those who identify with them see themselves as devoid of worth and respectability. Lack of an official, authoritative response, is perceived as a corroboration of this perception and official blame of the abusers individually or as members of criminal groups and warped organizations may be reasonably considered as the means to counteract this view. Yet criminal blame that zeroes in only on some individuals sanctions a slanted view of history, one that authoritatively explains the suffering as the consequence of a single cause, namely specific actions that breach moral and legal rules. Understood as trials and punishment, justice reduces a complex process, one in which, as Sartre states Dirty Hands “most of us were victims yet at the same time accomplices.” Understanding widespread brutality is as largely at odds with single-cause explanations based on the activity of a limited number of individuals and groups. However, for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to “victims” in a loose sense to include those who, regardless of their own possible contributions to the perpetration of other abuses, were unwarrantedly harmed and humiliated
I pointed out that reconciliation means the re-foundation of community and suggested that a notion of justice different from retributive justice is clearly preferable. I have in mind a conception that focuses on citizens as victims rather than on perpetrators and their confederates, on the suffering rather than the guilty. For this notion it becomes essential to listen to the voice of the suffering rather than charges by prosecutor or the excuses by the transgressor. By contrast to the notion of justice as retribution, this approach, largely incarnated in the work of truth commissions has been accurately branded justice as recognition1. If we accept the starting point leveling is essential, it becomes patent that, in the process of rebuilding disrupted communities, truth and reconciliations commissions are better suited than criminal courts to be placed at the center stage. However, justice by truth and truth and reconciliation commissions requires that the institution itself or its members be sufficiently prestigious to make their version of the past credible to a large enough segment of the community. Authoritative voices are frequently hard to come by in societies devastated by mass violations and the accomplishments often will depend on the existence of individual figures reputable enough to muster the requisite consensus among the segments in conflict. I shall say more about this thorny topic.
I finally add that, in recording past events assigning responsibility, formal and informal becomes inevitable. The process of casting blame ranges between the general mission of “broad blaming” that consists in registering the inhumane policies of the former regime by recording the activities of institutions and groups. Insofar as this general task is concerned, the Commission need not name names nor supply data that will lead to the identification of the agents involved. In achieving this end, an authority is conveying to the populace in general and the victims in particular, that the latter were wronged: that their suffering is unwarranted and that they are the unlucky object of a third party’s agency. Although it ended up exceeding this purpose, this was the primary purpose of the CONADEP, the truth commission set in the eighties up by the president of Argentina. There are, by contrast, commissions charged with “narrow blaming.” This consists of assigning blame to specific individuals and small groups for their specific abuses as was, paradigmatically, the case of the South African TRC. The difference between such truth commissions and criminal trials lies in that, unlike the latter, the former is primarily aimed at acknowledging the suffering and humiliation of assorted segments of society as a means of officially recognizing the legitimacy of their resentment and distrust. Addressed at restoring the self-respect –and esteem- of those who suffered, the TRCs reflected a more encompassing account of the past than did, for instance, the Argentine criminal trials.
02In answering Question II, I shall limit my focus to the case of battered societies that share the two following characteristics: a. Members of the factions in conflict seek redress and also intend to stick together under a single political system. This is the case of the Eastern –and Central- European countries and some Latin American examples such as Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and El Salvador. Unlike communities torn by international –and inter-ethnic- wars, the cases I mention share the common fact that “victims” and “abusers” belong in the same ethnic, religious and racial collective. Thus, victims and perpetrators share a significant desire to stick together under one political system as do not Muslims, Croats and Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo. In seeking to reshape genuine communities, transitional governments strive to empower members of the abused political, racial and religious groups. Truth commissions are geared to attain this goal yet their effectiveness depends on their authority. The process of restoring dignity and self-respect to the victims requires an authoritative voice whose account of the past deeds that lead to massive abuses is credible to a substantial segment of the polity. Clearly, legitimacy becomes infeasible when society is split into two doggedly contending factions. A strong enough authority can only emerge in a community where a large segment would place itself inside a gray area where they qualify their allegiance to their cause. In this area, individuals must be amenable to acknowledge that there are grounds in which the party they support may have gone wrong. Without gray areas, each faction will attribute the blaming of their group and its individual members to some association between the truth commission and the contending segment. Such process, of course, defeats the desired effect on the victims since the acknowledgment that they were wronged will only convince a limited portion of the population. In selecting the relevant facts members of commission who belong in the community of victims and perpetrators would have taken an entirely different approach from that of those alien to such community. As the Argentine case suggests, in allotting responsibility, the members of CONADEP, who belonged in the same community as victims and perpetrators, applied responsibility-limiting criteria as did the courts. In the case of the commanders, the light sentence of some members of the juntas may have caused some discontent among some human rights activists and a few politicians who aligned with them but it was never the cause of widespread aggravation. As it happened, the court avoided a major social split and in this way improved the chances of a successful political transition.
Thus, the choice of an authoritative source faces the inevitable quandary of choosing the source from within or without the community. While the first is likely to practice a great degree of selectivity and craft nuanced distinctions that will enable the community to move ahead toward a rights-based society under the leadership of inevitably contaminated politicos, sources from without are likely to overlook the complexity of the process that lead to extreme violence. The latter tends to alienate the very members of the community to whom the disclosures of the authority are supposedly addressed. 2This has clearly been the reaction of the Rwandans and the Security Council court in Arusha and that of most Serbs, including those who had staunchly opposed Milosevic and his policy of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. They felt that the tribunal was clearly biased against their nationals. While a rights-based society could be raised from extreme violence, the charge of genocide destroyed the very foundations on which to build a new democracy. An answer to question 2 would have to distinguish between long standing and highly institutionalized regimes as that of Franco, to short term violence such as that of the Uruguayan and Argentine military dictatorships of the seventies. The distinction between long lasting and institutionalized dictatorships is that they render us more inclined to broad blaming than to place the blame on individual agents. Some institutionalization, such as that in Spain and partly Chile’s, makes more room for neutral voices that become believable for both the parties in conflict. The Moncloa Pact and the Suarez transitional administration provide for good examples of this point. When this condition is not present, only individuals considered to be beyond the partisan conflict can take up this role in laying out the truth.
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