01Peace negotiations are, for the most part, focused on the political and economic dimensions. What is your perception of the necessity of touching deeper and more genuine aspects of reconciliation and how can this be achieved?
Putting an end to war and violence and thus establishing peace is in the first place an outcome which belongs to the political dimension of society. In this context, reconciliation should be seen as a by-product, although, certainly, a highly desirable one, of peace attainment, and one that can only be reached in the long-run.
It could be a mistake to identify peace with reconciliation since it would mean to place too high expectancies on a process that may not have other achievable goal than to stop the mass killings and mistreatments. To expect peace to come along with some sort of subjective, spiritual rapprochement between previously warring parties, or even between a political establishment and the aggrieved population, is to mix problems that belong in different spheres of social co-existence, the public and the private ones.
This does not mean that the goal of pacification should be approached only from a strategic perspective. There should always be a moral dimension in any peace process. In this regard, the demand of justice has priority over reconciliation. If reconciliation is the ultimate desirable phase of peace, justice ―basically understood as trials and reparations― appears as the most realistic moral demand to be held in the face of a peace process.
Nonetheless, reconciliation as an important objective should never be absent from our discussions and our policy decisions about peace. But it is necessary to adequately translate the problem of reconciliation from the realm of spirituality or intimacy to the sphere of politics and justice, which is the only one where we can seek for concrete results. Reconciliation as such is not a matter of peace-building. A task for peace-building could be to guarantee the features of collective co-existence that are most often associated with reconciliation such as fairness, trust, security, mutual respect and recognition.
Thus the link between peace and reconciliation should be found in the fields of governance and of justice. In the field of governance, we find further assignments for peace settling such as institutional reform. Peace negotiations are usually very narrow-scoped arrangements dealing with the mutual assurances of warring parties in the sense of not harming each other any more. Peace settlement is associated with demobilization, disarmament and reintegration to society. In a political understanding of peace, it could even be seen as the restoration of democratic politics, namely, the possibility of clean electoral processes and the reestablishing of the State’s rule all over its territory. However, a fair understanding of peace calls for the transformation of the previous statu quo which allowed the starting of violence in the first place. That statu quo has many different dimensions; one of them is the institutional framework of society. Misplaced, weak and distorted institutions usually are a major factor of violence; the maintenance of those institutions after violence conveys the message that the harm inflicted on society is not considered serious enough as to force that society to change. No reconciliation can be achieved when newly peaceful societies insist on remaining unchanged.
The other aspect of recognition is justice. Doing justice ―bringing perpetrators to trial—could be seen at the start as an unsettling course of action, one that could derail the peace process. However, closing the books and denying justice to victims is also a denial of any possibility of reconciliation since it means refusing to acknowledge the pain of the victims as a relevant issue for the members of the polity.
02What are the conditions in which, beyond securing the interests of parties to conflict, a process that is centered on a sense of fairness and dignity can be established?
The first and foremost condition is avoiding the temptation of equating political balance with oblivion. Memory of past abuses and of the broad social context that made them possible is the key element of dignity in any process of peace.
There are many reasons why “securing the interest of parties to conflict” could prevent a society from seeking full justice and punishment for perpetrators. It is a central element of the discussions in the field of transitional justice the impossibility of achieving justice for all the crimes committed and at the same time maintaining the delicate political balance that guarantees peace. Nevertheless, there is a very strong conviction in the necessity of setting the record straight and restoring truth, which is always the first casualty of violence and authoritarianism.
To set the record straight means to set forth some mechanisms that, independently from political agendas, can explore into the recent past in order to bring to public exposure the abuses that were committed during the period of violence. Some of these mechanisms are truth commissions and “opinion tribunals”. It is a major goal of these mechanisms to shed light on the victims’ stories: their sufferings, their experience of resilience, their grievances and also their hopes and expectancies toward a peaceful future. On the other hand, the kind of truth that is restored by these institution does not deal only with names, facts and figures. It deals with the larger historical and cultural context that explains violence and abuse. This means that truth is always related to the significance of deeds and actions, which places the truth-seeking processes in the realm of morality and of moral evaluation of human behavior.
The link between the pursuing of truth and the demand of dignity as an element of peace is to be found in the dimension of recognition. Recovering of truth, public exposition of the recovered truth and social acknowledgement of it is at the same time an experience of recognition for the victims. The persons that have been abused carry two types of burden after the violence is over. Firstly, they bear the marks of violations and deprivations imposed onto them by their abusers; in the second place, they resent the obliviousness and indifference of new authorities and of their fellow citizens. Truth, memory and acknowledgement, even if they do not lead to complete justice, create and deliver that essential moral good that is called recognition: the sense and the evidence of being treated as an equal being among equals; the experience of belonging and of respect.
03To what degree is forgiveness an essential dimension of reconciliation? At the root of your political culture and religious faith, what are the principles that either imply or exclude forgiveness? Which verses or sayings that are part of your personal spiritual heritage could in your opinion have a universal significance?
The importance of forgiveness depends from the notion of reconciliation that is under consideration. If it is an interpersonal, strictly moral notion, then forgiveness is essential, since that kind of reconciliation is always conceived as a two-way relationship. Indeed, it should be acknowledged in the first place that that kind of reconciliation is a social interaction mediated by a previous wrong-doing. As in any social interaction, there are two sides to same fact. In this case, one side is repentance while the other one is forgiveness. The reconciliatory interaction needs the two sides to be present and clinched together in order to produce a different relationship.
However, as it has been suggested above, it is not necessary ―and maybe it is not even advisable― to conceive of reconciliation in moral terms. Reconciliation can be translated into political, institutional, collective and abstract terms. Thus, reconciliation does not depend primarily on internal, subjective, emotional or spiritual transformations. It depends on the establishing of an institutional setting where some reasonable, dignifying measure of justice can be attained. In this regard, repentance neither forgiveness are necessary. In fact, the establishment of forgiveness as a condition of peace and reconciliation appears as an arbitrary and unfair imposition upon victims. Victims can never be seen as obliged to forgive and no process of peace and reconciliation should be depicted as depending from forgiveness.
Spiritual heritage might be a very important source of support for the people affected by past wrongdoings. It might as well be a powerful source of inner transformation for people involved in the commission of those abuses. However, it could be dangerous to bring the mandates of spiritual (religious) heritage into the public, civic, secular problem of peace building. It could unnecessarily narrow the focus of reconciliation and even separate if from the dimension of justice. It would be more advisable to keep the discussion of peace and reconciliation as a political one. This does not mean at all to call for a value-free approach to these problems. Instead, it means to assume the values of democracy and justice as the moral framework of peace and reconciliation, leaving any other kind of transcendent mandate as part of the most internal, intimate, subjective process of particular persons. Modernity and our inherited secular ideas of democracy and justice are strong enough to provide us with a sound ethical framework to address the delicate problems of peace-building as a public goal.
04Does forgiveness require some form of repentance on the side of those to whom forgiveness is offered? Does forgiveness have conditions or is it unconditional? Based on your experience on working with reconciliation and forgiveness what are the structure and activities you would offer for a universal council on reconciliation?
From a philosophical point of view, forgiveness is a radically free human action. As such, it cannot depend on any previous condition, not even the repentance of the wrong-doer. It could even be considered as the ultimate free act of our human will. From a social standpoint, however, forgiveness by the victim without repentance from the perpetrator is completely meaningless, since it does no amount to a genuine interaction. In terms of peace consolidation ―which should be understood, in this respect, as the result of a collective action― forgiveness without repentance is useless: it does not lead to a social learning about the paramount worth of justice nor establishes a social language of recognition which could be the cornerstone of a new social pact, even if justice would not be put in practice.
In the Peruvian process of peace, the dialectic of repentance and forgiveness has not been a social experience from which further lessons could be drawn. Peruvian society is still struggling with the tasks of doing justice for thousands of victims who have not even received a reasonable degree of public recognition.
Given this particular experience, I would say that no interpersonal process of forgiveness as a means for reconciliation is possible, not even fair, without a previous and strong social experience of public recognition. A council for reconciliation could take into account the necessity of truth telling and of justice as a condition for any experience of reconciliation.
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