Reconciliation: Actors & Activities

Based on an understanding of peacebuilding as 'conflict transformation,' many scholars and practitioners would argue that reconciliation cannot be considered a distinct program but rather as a process and a goal achieved through a large spectrum of activities addressing different dimensions of peacebuilding. Such activities can take the form of some or all the following components suggested by David Crocker, and which cover most of the elements generally proposed: 1

  • official acknowledgement of harm done;
  • official apology and other official gestures;
  • the promotion of public fact-finding or truth-telling fora (such as truth or historical commissions), including a platform for victims;
  • the payment of reparations or the making of restitution;
  • justice in the form of trials or lustration;
  • establishment of rule of law;
  • public gestures of commemoration through the creation of monuments, memorials and holidays and other educations and cultural activities;
  • institutional reform and long-term development;
  • and finally public deliberation.
Another key aspect of reconciliation in the minds of many scholars is less concrete than any of the above components, but would seem to be implied by many, if not all of them. The transformation of the perpetrating groups identity and that of the victims as well is at the core of peacebuilding understood as 'conflict transformation.' 2 In all these dimensions, reconciliation is understood as peacebuilding and peacebuilding as reconciliation.

Different models have attempted to articulate the main dimensions of reconciliation: shared truths, justice, regard and security, although academics and practitioners may at times define these terms differently. This section explains how these dimensions are generally understood and also refers to a few alternative ways of articulating them. It also provides an overview of specific and targeted programs which claim for themselves the label of reconciliation; they include initiatives undertaken at the international, national and community-based level. The range of actors involved in these programs is also presented.

Main components: Reconciliation involves shared truths, justice, regard, and security

Different analysts have emphasized the following dimensions of reconciliation: shared truths, justice, regard and security, although they have defined these terms differently. Scholar and practitioner John Paul Lederach, himself used the terms truth (comprising acknowledgement, transparency, revelation, clarity), justice (equality, right relationships, making things rights, restitution), mercy (acceptance, forgiveness, support, compassion, healing) and peace (harmony, unity, well-being, security, respect).3

These four dimensions can be defined as follows:


According to Louis Kriesberg, an academic who has written extensively on the subject, "many [...] regard truth as an important dimension of reconciliation since members of antagonistic sides tend to deny what members of the other side experience and believe to be true." 4 Many academics and practitioners also phrase this component in terms of 'mutual acknowledgement' of past suffering, something that does not equate with apology (or 'regrets,' 'remorse' or 'repentance,' that many consider as a condition for forgiveness) but can be really effective in (re)defining the bases of relationships in the society.5
Go to Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) and other transitional justice mechanisms and Transitional justice


The second major dimension is justice, in its manifold meanings. "Many persons who have suffered oppression and atrocities in the course of a destructive struggle seek redress for what they endured."6 Among other things, this requires "sincere effort to redress past grievances that caused the conflict and compensate the damage caused to the extent possible;"7 in other words, actual reparation for past injustices. However, most (in particular among practitioners) would stress the fact that reconciliation should not be used as a substitute for justice. For instance, the International Center for Transitional Justice notes: "There cannot be significant inequities in the distribution of the burdens that reconciliation inevitably entails. It cannot involve transferring responsibilities from perpetrators to victims."8 This non-governmental organization, which is deeply involved in transitional justice programs, adds another important element: "Reconciliation efforts should not focus unduly on wiping the slate clean."9 This is closely related to the issue of the responsibility of the state but also of the society at large. More fundamentally, it highlights the key tension (and also ambiguity) expressed by many practitioners who would perceive justice as 'remembering' and 'reconciliation' as forgetting.10
Go to Challenges: Reconciliation vs. Forgiveness and Transitional justice


According to Louis Kriesberg, the third dimension in reconciliation "incorporates expressions of regard by members of each community toward the other. This includes according respect to the people of the community that has suffered mass crimes, by members of the community to which the perpetrators belong. It also includes expressions, by those who have suffered harms, which acknowledge the humanity of those who inflected the injuries."11The notion of regard is sometimes replaced or associated with the expression of 'mutual acceptance' which would include "positive attitudes, but also positive actions to support them, as circumstances allow and require."12 Some also use the word 'respect.'13 Many practitioners and policy makers alike emphasize the importance of going one step further: "towards rebuilding mutual trust (or promoting it when it has never existed)."14


"Security is the fourth dimension of reconciliation, in the sense of personal or collective safety and well-being. Security exists as the adversaries have reason to believe that they can look forward to living together without one side threatening the other, perhaps even in harmony and unity." 15
Go to Reconciliation and security

It is important to note that these four dimensions-- shared truths, justice, regard and security--are interdependent. "Thus, if many members of one community acknowledge that their acts have injured another community, forgiveness or at least acceptance of their humanity is easier to be felt and openly expressed by the injured party. Members of a group who feel safe are more likely to acknowledge truth of past misdeeds." 16

Though other models and classifications may be encountered in the literature, Louis Kriesberg and John Paul Lederach tend to be the main references in the field. Others mainly label and organize the components suggested in a slightly different way. Two of them are presented here, designed by individuals who are both academics and practitioners and have worked extensively on reconciliation in the field.

Alternative description of the reconciliation model (I)

Vern Neufeld Redekop, academic and practitioner, suggests:

Invariably, the process will include some or all of the following elements:

1.Vision and mandate: either one of the parties or a third party has a vision and desire for reconciliation and obtains a mandate to work to that end.
2.Safety: the safety of the parties needs to be assured. This means that overt violence must be halted. Sometimes a legal framework needs to be in place to assure the safety of potential victims. Safety also means that the parties do not intimidate each other.
3.Immediate survival needs: reconciliation processes can be demanding both cognitively and emotionally. Hence, it is important that parties are assured of having their immediate physical and emotional needs sufficiently met to function through the process.

1.Teachings: the process of reconciliation is directed by a framework, values, root metaphors and mental models that provide motivation and insight to keep the process going. Teachings may take the form of stories of previous reconciliation processes, traditional proverbs and customs, or analytical insights. Education for reconciliation includes the development of skills,17 and generation of new beliefs and attitudes about both the conflict and the other party.18
2.Gradual Reciprocated Initiatives in Tension-Reduction (GRIT):19 One party may decide to make a low-risk gesture of goodwill; if the other party reciprocates with a similar gesture the first party may take another positive initiative (Osgood 1966). Gradually the tension dissipates and the parties are prepared to enter into another level of discourse to address the deep-rooted conflict.
3.Institution Building: in the face of large scale violent events, the various sub-processes need to take place within include Truth and Reconciliation commissions. If there is to be a justice of blessing, this could demand an institution within which there is on-going follow-up.

Discursive and Symbolic Processes:
1.Dialogue: at some point parties will enter into a dialogue in which they are motivated to truly understand one another. Dialogue means that the meaning flows freely between parties.20 There is also open disclosure of emotional dimensions of the conflict.
2.Truth-telling: in addition to the dialogue there may be a need to formally establish the truth of what occurred. Ideally this will lead to a shared acceptance of the same presentation of the history of the conflict. Analysts, historians21 and lawyers may play a role in this and it may involve a formal process.22

3.Expressions of acknowledgement of harm done, remorse, and apology: eventually those who have committed acts of violence will understand the impact of these acts on the other party. As they acknowledge a) what they have done, b) the hurt it has caused, c) feelings of remorse over having caused the harm, and d) a desire not to commit the same acts in the future, they will be able to offer an effective apology.

4.Expressions of victimization, openness to forgiveness: those victimized will express to the perpetrator and third parties what they have experienced. As they hear an acknowledgement of their hurt from the perpetrator along with apologies and expressions of remorse they may become open to forgive. Forgiveness means to give up an impulse or right to make the perpetrator suffer in response to the suffering caused by the perpetrator, implying moral judgment, the humanity of the perpetrator, and a desire for a renewed relationship.23

5.Justice and mercy: justice involves making some judgment about what would restore a sense of balance to the relationship. Where violence has involved theft or destruction of possessions, these can be restored. When there is emotional pain, torture, or loss of life, it is impossible to restore parties to their previous state. Some things may be done by way of compensation or compensatory actions to alleviate the loss. Some form of mercy or generosity of spirit may be combined with positive balancing measures to craft a profound forgiveness.24

Key-Result Areas:

1.Re-orientation of relationship: this may demand inner changes of identity, attitude and orientation in relation to the other.25 Both parties and the relationship itself will be transformed such that both parties will contribute to mutual empowerment.
2.Healing of traumas and memories: in order for the reconciliation process to be sustained and for both parties to flourish, it is important that as much as possible emotional traumas and memories be healed. Reconciliation rituals may play a role in this process,26 as can various forms of therapy,27 cognitive reframing and spiritual disciplines and practices.28
3.Transformation of structures: reconciliation is not complete if structures left in place continue to victimize. For example, hegemonic structures, in which one party systematically dominates another party, involve economic, political, physical, and/or discursive dimensions.29 Action has to be taken in each of these areas to address systemic imbalances. New laws, customs, economic regulations and institutions may be needed to sustain the reconciliation process.30
4.Transcendence: Transcendence implies that those disempowered by either trauma, shame or depression are brought to a new level of reality whereby they achieve a measure of wholeness that gives them a new sense of agency. Transcendence can be understood in terms of transformation, achieving a higher level of consciousness or the result of spiritual events, experiences and disciplines. As one victim/survivor put it, it is getting from the ditch onto the road again.

Reconciliation is not a linear process; rather it is cyclical and iterative. Not all of the elements above may be present each time and some may have to be addressed repeatedly.

Source:Vern Neufeld Redekop, A Post-Genocidal Justice of Blessing as an Alternative to a Justice of Violence: The Case of Rwanda in Peacebuilding in Traumatized Societies, Barry Hart, ed. (Maryland: University Press of America, 2008), 214-216.

Alternative description of the reconciliation model (II)

Brandon Hamber and Grainne Kelly, who have worked extensively on reconciliation, in particular in Northern Ireland, suggest five inter-related components in reconciliation processes:

1.Developing a shared vision of an interdependent and fair society: The development of a vision of a shared future requiring the involvement of the whole society, at all levels. Although individuals may have different opinions or political beliefs, the articulation of a common vision of an interdependent, just, equitable, open and diverse society is a critical part of any reconciliation process.

2.Acknowledging and dealing with the past: Acknowledging the hurt, losses, truths and suffering of the past. Providing the mechanisms for justice, healing, restitution or reparation, and restoration (including apologies if necessary and steps aimed at redress). To build reconciliation, individuals and institutions need to acknowledge their own role in the conflicts of the past, accepting and learning from it in a constructive way so as to guarantee non-repetition.

3.Building positive relationships: Relationship building or renewal following violent conflict addressing issues of trust, prejudice, intolerance in this process, resulting in accepting commonalities and differences, and embracing and engaging with those who are different to us.

4.Significant cultural and attitudinal change: Changes in how people relate to, and their attitudes towards, one another. The culture of suspicion, fear, mistrust and violence is broken down and opportunities and space opened up in which people can hear and be heard. A culture of respect for human rights and human difference is developed creating a context where each citizen becomes an active participant in society and feels a sense of belonging.

5.Substantial social, economic and political change: The social, economic and political structures which gave rise to the conflict and estrangement are identified, reconstructed or addressed, and transformed.

Source: Brandon Hamber and Grainne Kelly, A Working Definition of Reconciliation. Democratic Dialogue (Belfast, 2004), 3-4.

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Main international and regional programs aimed at promoting reconciliation

Almost by definition, reconciliation activities mainly focus on the local and national level where they involve specific individual and collective actors. Nevertheless, many initiatives are also made at the regional and international level; they are meant to promote the principles and values of reconciliation at large but also support actors involved in concrete reconciliation processes.

UN initiatives and programs

2009 International Year of Reconciliation

The UN General Assembly, as a way to enhance the purposes and principles contained in the UN Charter, has declared 2009 the International Year of Reconciliation.The resolution invited "concerned governments and international and non-governmental organizations to support reconciliation processes among affected and/or divided societies and to plan and implement adequate cultural, educational and social programmes to promote the concept of reconciliation, including by holding conferences and seminars and disseminating information about the issue."31

The role of different UN agencies and programs

Many of the activities of the UN system in general and the international community as a whole that support peacekeeping and peacebuilding, conflict prevention, disarmament, sustainable development, the promotion and protection of human rights and dignity, democracy, the rule of law and governance, inter alia, lead to the initiation and development of reconciliation processes.

In addition, some UN agencies, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), are developing programs centered around themes that further reconciliation and include creating a culture of peace; dialogue among civilizations; social transformations and human rights; peace, non-violence and human rights education, intercultural dialogue; social transformations; museums; and access to information.32 Other agencies are also engaged in the organization of international conferences and support to international networking on themes closely related to reconciliation. Different activities also aim at gathering and providing resources for practitioners engaged in reconciliation activities; this is, for instance, the case of the Peacebuilding Portal, which provides a practical way to locate NGOs working on particular themes.

International non-governmental exchange programs, conferences and training activities

A large range of non-governmental organizations are also involved in the organization of international exchange programs, conferences and training seminars. A few examples can help get a sense of the diversity and richness of these initiatives around the world:

  • The International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) organizes training programs, visits, and coordinates campaigns.
  • Search for Common Ground (SFCG) facilitates regional cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors to reduce the threat of biological or chemical incidents, whether intended or accidental.
  • Friendship Ambassadors Foundation, an affiliate with the United Nations Department of Public Information, funds cultural exchange programs that seek to enhance understanding and cooperation, and reconciliation.
  • The Foundation for Subjective Experience and Research (SER Foundation) organizes a worldwide annual 'Week of Reconciliation' which has been held in the last week of April annually since 2005.
  • The Goethe-Institut sponsors international youth exchange programs. "The traditional aims of youth exchange programs are reconciliation and confidence-building as well as the intercultural exchange between two or more countries. The spending of time in a foreign country is to promote the exchange of experiences in the hope of dismantling prejudices. Young people learn about differences, but also about the things they have in common with their hosts and this enables them to develop their own personal impression of their host country."
An increasing number of companies from the private sector are also interested in supporting the cause of reconciliation, both as an extension of social philanthropy and good practice, and as a reflection of an increase sense of social responsibility.33

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Main national and local reconciliation initiatives

A large spectrum of activities is organized at the national and local level to support reconciliation processes. They are intimately related and should be seen as complementary to one another. Most practitioners and scholars have stressed, for instance, the risk of initiatives that would be too 'elitist' and the importance of involving local groups. "Solutions that involve only military leaders or state officials will likely be fragile, while a sense of local ownership in peacebuilding can influence reluctant military leaders to contribute in constructive manner."34 Academics and practitioners also stress the fact that reconciliation, a traditional focus of peacebuilding and trauma healing activities, needs to be meaningful at the grassroots level to enable communities to work together and achieve development goals more effectively. 35

The main types of activities undertaken at the national and local level are:

  • National dialogues and national reconciliation plans;
  • Symbolic political gestures and acts of reconciliation;
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commissions;
  • Training, networking and other supporting activities;
  • Community level initiatives;
  • Activities targeting specific professions and groups of population;
  • Arts and sports for reconciliation.

National Dialogues & National Reconciliation Plans

National Dialogues typically engage the main political parties as well as some key individuals from local civil society. Almost by definition, these processes are generally very elitist. Several international and regional organizations as well as non-governmental structures have been engaged in such initiatives in a variety of countries.

Some countries also adopt a National Reconciliation Plan or create a National Reconciliation Commission (or Conference). This is generally a state program, originated by the government. Such mechanisms are often recommended as a modality to ensure that at the national level there is an integrated, coherent and consistent strategy that takes account of existing initiatives and attempts to harmonize, at least at the level of the government, disparities in policy formulations and implementations. These bodies may also be perceived as a way to ensure that the socio-economical dimensions are integrated with the more symbolic, judicial and political ones (what some would call a 'developmental approach') and participate in the nation-building process.36

Critics of these mechanisms cite the lack of support accorded to the commission, in particular by the local government who is often accused of not making it a priority, the lack of actual influence of the commission on the formulation and implementation of programs, as well as the lack of concrete implication at the community level. As underlined by a group of Liberian non-governmental organizations assessing the limits of the Commission in their own country, "conferences and workshops in Monrovia that dont quickly translate into programs in the communities are a waste of scarce resources. The commission needs to act concretely and decisively."37 In other cases, like in Somalia, the National Reconciliation Commission may be perceived as an organ created under the pressure of the international community without real commitment and agenda on the part of the national actors.38   Go to Challenges: Top-down vs. bottom-up approaches

Political initiatives for reconciliation within a country after war can also be made in official statements, either to articulate what kind of atmosphere the government believes should be present in society between former enemies or to demonstrate that a clear strategy has been decided upon at the political level to promote reconciliation. Increased awareness among top-level leaders regarding the importance of official self-reflection and acknowledgement of past atrocity committed by the state are also important.39 In politics, reconciliation includes tolerance of opposition and acceptance of joint participation within formal institutions that permit collective decision making, selection and replacement of leadership, and law enforcement.

Political initiatives for reconciliation must also include "initiating judicial measures such as a truth commission, building political institutions while taking earlier conflictual ethnic divisions into account, and through constitutional restructuring and legislation. Through legislation, behaviour is regulated which can be used for reconciliation. For example, by criminalizing ethnic violence and discrimination, behaviour must change, and slowly with time, this will also affect attitudes and emotions."40 Indeed, these dimensions are particularly crucial where conflict has stemmed in part from issues of collective identity, be it ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious, etc. 41

Legislative initiatives are also important. This may include the inscription in the law of dispositions that help institutionalize conducts in favor of reconciliation. This includes "promotion of social integration across lines of past divisions and laws against discrimination or disrespectful language."42 Post-conflict reconstruction in this sphere will also include rebuilding schools, rededicating places of worship, formulating new language policies, and developing curricula. It also requires "relationships through which people find ways to tolerate and respect each others identities, values, and practices."43 An example given by the scholar Louis Kriesberg emphasizes how new social conducts can be supported at the community level. "In the village Carhuahuran, Ayacucho, Peru, a law was passed against gossip (Ley Contra Chismes), banning spreading stories about a villager's past involvement with the Shining Path."44

Symbolic political gestures and acts of reconciliation

Symbolic acts by political leaders indicating remorse in order to promote reconciliation have been an increasingly frequent phenomenon over the last years. "German Chancellor Willy Brandt was a pioneer, falling to his knees in the Old Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw in 1970, gesturing an apology for Germany's atrocities during World War II. Other examples include the IRA apologizing for having killed civilians in its 30-year anti-British campaign [...]. Official acknowledgement of, and expression of remorse for, past wrongs has a significant role in today's politics."45 Apologies are considered to play a crucial role in reconciliation processes as they help (re)build civic trust.46

More common symbolic actors include the renaming of public spaces. For instance, in Sierra Leone, linked to the TRC public hearings in the districts, several public places that were often the scene of fierce fighting during the war, were symbolically renamed and turned into symbols of reconciliation ('Peace Junction,' etc.). Traditional and religious leaders participated in these activities and committed to continue pursuing reconciliation and healing in their communities. On the last day of the public hearings phase in August of 2003, a special reconciliation session was held in the National Stadium followed by the renaming of the central bridge in Freetown ('Peace Bridge'). 47   Go to Memorialization, historiography & history education

Truth & Reconciliation Commissions (TRC)

Noting that TRCs have been increasingly considered as a key component of transitional justice; therefore, this subject is addressed in the corresponding subsection of the portal.

In addition to activities that support reconciliation to include truth and justice, TRCs may also support other community and national reconciliation activities. For example, in Sierra Leone, a number of reconciliation sessions were held in each district, directly following the week of public hearings. 48 In that same country, the TRC and Inter-Religious Council (IRC) trained IRC district coordinators and organized workshops in each of the 12 districts. These workshops tried to answer questions such as what exactly do we mean by reconciliation and what are the conditions and challenges for reconciliation in the districts, what are the victims and ex-combatants' needs and what are the guidelines for reconciliation activities in the Chiefdoms. Next, Reconciliation Support Committees were set up in the districts and representatives sent out to all the local chiefdoms to encourage, identify and fund local reconciliation activities conducted by the communities. Such activities range from traditional reconciliation activities, religious activities, promotion of truth telling and commemorations to community building activities in the areas of culture and sports. 49

However, the TRC was criticized for delaying reconciliation activities until the logistically challenging public hearings were over. Only then, "was the TRC able to focus more explicitly on reconciliation and link up with local reconciliation activities."50 The dissociation between transitional justice mechanisms and reconciliation processes is indeed a frequent critique heard in post-conflict environments.

Training, networking and other supporting activities

Training is a major component of reconciliation programs at the national level. Training for reconciliation at the national and community level includes the development of skills and generation of new beliefs and attitudes about both the conflict and the other party.51 Trainings try to present new "framework, values, root metaphors and mental models that provide motivation and insight to keep the process going. Teachings may take the form of stories of previous reconciliation processes, traditional proverbs and customs, or analytical insights."52

The importance of training leaders is often stressed as these are top-level actors with the potential to promote reconciliation. "Their attitudes and behavior concerning issues such as suffering, coexistence and the past will be reflected in the national work for peace and thus have a 'top-down' effect on the population's rehabilitation and reconciliation."53

A number of international organizations are also involved in supporting the establishment of networks among local authorities, government, local and international NGOs, as well as other international organizations, religious associations or institutions, to coordinate co-existence initiatives and facilitate information exchanges as well as meetings between different ethnic communities.54 This is the case of UNHCR in the context of facilitating reintegration activities, of UNESCO aiming at supporting a culture of peace in the country, or of UN Development Programme (UNDP) sponsoring workshops and other programs to support reconciliation. In April 2008, United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and UNDP brought together 120 national leaders from around Kenya for a peacebuilding workshop following the violence and unrest that broke out after the elections. Kenyans from the sports, music, media and education professions took part in the training, as well as members of faith organizations. Volunteer leaders from the workshop were then supposed to use their skills to carry out conflict resolution in their own communities.55

Indeed, in many instances, forums, workshops and conferences actually try to include not only leaders but also a wide range of people, from those directing organizations to those in grassroots services, from social workers to youth, and lawyers to mayors. Arlene Audergon, conflict resolution facilitator and psychotherapist, mentions the experience of an NGO in Croatia, Udruga Mi (which means Organization 'us' or 'we') that led 4-day forums twice a year in various cities from 1997-2001. Several hundred participants attended the forums. They were a very mixed group of Croats, Serbs, Muslims and other and mixed ethnicities. "The idea was to bring together people working in the field with issues pertaining to reconciliation and community building."56 The interest of gathering individuals who have some grassroot involvement is to ensure that the training they receive will be directly useful. In the case reported in Croatia, "their experiences in these forums were directly applied to their home communities, affecting communication and relationship between organizations, as well as the contributions of individuals and organizations in human services, reconciliation efforts, economic development, and community leadership."57

The importance of establishing and strengthening partnerships between different actors who can actually support inclusive and locally-centered and owned reconciliation processes is increasingly recognized. Some regional programs are working in that direction, such as the Peacebuilding Program of the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), in South Africa.

Community level initiatives

Community-based organizations play a crucial role in reconciliation processes. In particular, these organizations' familiarity with traditional methods of reconciliation and their access to religious and traditional leaders make them very well suited to initiate and support local reconciliation activities. Traditional reconciliation activities can include mediation by traditional healers and religious leaders, dances with secret society masks, pouring of libation, cleansing ceremonies, rituals, re-initiation into secret societies, etc.58 In this context, reconciliation is also intimately linked to healing processes at the individual and collective levels.   Go to Trauma, mental health and psycho-social well-being

In Sierra Leone, Fambul Tok is a face-to-face community-run program that brings together victims and perpetrators of the eleven-year civil war through tradition-based ceremonies for confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. Developed by Forum of Conscience (a local human rights NGO), in partnership with the U.S.-based foundation, Catalyst for Peace, Fambul Tok (Creole for "Family Talk") was launched in early 2008 as a pilot project in Kailahun District, where the war started in 1991. Drawing on Sierra Leone's "family talk" tradition of discussing and resolving issues within the security of a family circle, Fambul Tok has worked at the village level to help communities organize ceremonies that include truth-telling bonfires and traditional cleansing ceremonies practices that many communities haven't experienced since before the war. Following the ceremonies, Fambul Tok helps communities organize activities including radio-listening clubs and football games. In some villages, community members have also started their own projects, such as farms, where reconciled individuals are able to come together for the good of the community.59

Local and international civil society organizations as well as some international organizations are also developing programs to promote reconciliation at the community level. Workshops and community forums to manage conflict in a participatory manner, community-mechanisms for the management of grants, income generation-led co-existence projects for ethnically diverse groups, inter-community bus lines, inter-community radio programs, are among the vast diversity of programs that aim at supporting reconciliation processes at the community level.

At the community level, the training of grassroots leadersis essential to the reconciliation processes. In South Africa, the Plowshares Institute joined with four other South African NGOs to train 1400 grassroots leaders. "The purpose was to change the countrys ethos from confrontation to collaboration and effective communication." Using as a foundation their extensive work in South Africa, based at the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town, the leaders of the Institute joined their colleague Ron Kraybill of Eastern Mennonite University to develop a training manual, leader's guide, and video titled 'Peace Skills for Community Mediators.'

Targeting specific professions and groups of population

Some training may target specific professionals, such as journalists as press reporting can both ignite and defuse violence. NGOs such as Search for Common Ground (SFCG) hold workshops for journalists to try to diminish inflammatory reporting and promote mutual understanding. In the Balkans, SFCG produces two magazines that examine controversial issues through the perspectives of journalists of different ethnicities and nationalities.60  Go to Public Information and Media Development

Reconciliation is also promoted through the targeting of populations who are agents of change, such as women. For instance, in Northern Uganda "500 bikes for peace" were distributed by UNDP to women in an effort to support their conflict resolution and reconciliation activities.61 
Go to Women and gender issues

Children and young adults are also among important target audience, in particular through schools and youth centers. In Indonesia, the Consortium for Assistance and Recovery towards Development in Indonesia (CARDI) is running several youth centers in the Poso region, are used to spread tolerance and information about problems facing young people. They also serve as a meeting point where young people from both sides of the religious divide can exchange ideas over a board game or after a volleyball match.62

The NGO Seeds of Peace is dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence. The organization first focused on Middle East but has expanded its programming to include young leaders from Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan among others. Its leadership network now encompasses over 3,500 young people. The organization is famous for its Seeds of Peace summer camp in Otisfield, Maine (U.S.) which has served as a 'safe place' for Israeli and Palestinian teenagers to spend extended periods of time together. This NGO also organizes international youth conferences, regional workshops, educational and professional opportunities, and an adult educator program. Participants are led to develop "empathy, respect, and confidence as well as leadership, communication and negotiation skills -- all critical components that will facilitate peaceful coexistence for the next generation."63  Go to Empowerment of Children and Youth

Arts for reconciliation

Arts are increasingly used to support reconciliation processes as well.64 "Supported by the structures of rituals and the arts, [former enemies] are addressing painful history and grappling with conflicting narratives in ways that help them, gradually, to build the trust they need to cooperate in the reconstruction of their societies."65 Music, theater, dance, and visual arts have been used in different parts of the world in that context.

The NGO Search for Common Ground (SFCG) has held peace festivals in Burundi that celebrated local culture, recorded a national peace song and music video and recently released a CD building off the success of this initiative in Angola, and sponsored live drama with common ground messages in West Africa, among other examples.66 In South Africa and Burundi, drumming has been a medium to understand oneself and also discover the other, sometimes concretely helping repairing relationships and facilitating trust-building between formerly alienated individuals.67 Music and concerts can be particularly attractive for schoolchildren and youth; in many countries, youth organizations are involved in all kind of cultural activities to promote reconciliation.

The experience of a theater project conducted by the NGO RCN Justice & Dmocratie and the association Theatre & Reconciliation, in Burundi, is another inspiring experience. They produced three theater pieces written on the basis of the narratives of the comedians themselves but also of several groups of the population, including prisoners, refugees, ex-combatants and inhabitants of the hill country who participated in theatre improvisation workshops. Comedians came from the three ethnic groups Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. The representations took place all over the country, at schools, in prisons, in displaced and refugee camps, in demobilization centers. Extensive workshops were set up for the spectators after the show. These different elements contributed to the development of an experience with both local and national resonances.

'Participative theater' and 'playback theater' are theatrical techniques which have been used in many different contexts to help communities build relationships, process difficult events and engage in a deep dialogue. "Participation in playback theatre training develops a range of values and abilities relevant to reconciliation, including attentive listening, entering into the world of the other, empathy, spontaneity, flexibility and group leadership."68 Some consider that "exposure to these capacities over time is likely to have a positive modeling effect on audiences."69 Story telling have been used in the same spirit in different parts of the world.70

In South Africa, the traveling exhibition 'Breaking the silence: A luta continua' documents a process involving over one thousand Khulumani Support Group members in the Western Cape who used scrapbooks, body-maps, photographs, memory cloths, drawings, paintings, art banners and film to tell the stories of their lives under apartheid. This experience has played an important role in representing the experiences of the 'other' and allow for an empathy with the suffering of one's enemy. The results of a research conducted on that experience show the potential of such a tool in a reconciliation process.

In Northern Uganda, the PhotovoiceProject is a participatory method that facilitates contextual understanding and 'gives voice' to people, communities, and issues often ignored by mainstream society. Photovoice has been defined as "a process by which people can identify, represent, and enhance their community through a specific photographic technique."71 This method has been used in vary different contexts and for many different purposes. In the Northern Uganda Photovoice Project, students at three schools in Opit IDP camp documented life as students and community members through words and images.72

For a panorama of projects using arts in conflict transformation programs around the world: see the Re-Imagining Peace online database.

Go to Bibliography: Key Resources on Art & Conflict Transformation

Sports for reconciliation

Sports have been increasingly used as a tool for development and peace. This evolution is supported by international initiatives such as the Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG). This four-year initiative engages national governments, UN agencies, and civil society in the development of practical recommendations for the integration of 'Sport for Development and Peace' into domestic and international development policies and programs.73 Sport is used as a tool to help build relations and bridge division between groups as they focus on commonalities rather than guilt and problems. It can also be used as a pedagogical forum and a way to create space of confidence for dialogue. Tools have been developed to facilitate this integration.

Peace Building Factors and contribution of Sport (toolkit Sport for Development)

A few examples illustrate the potential of sports for reconciliation:

In Colombia, the Football for Peace project is a partnership between the High Commissioner for Peace, the Young Colombia Programme, government ministries and the private sector. Public spaces are being rehabilitated and turned into football fields to promote tolerance and conflict resolution. The project helps communities understand that all children, including current and child soldiers, have rights and that no child should be marginalized. To promote gender equity, girls and boys play on the same team. Goals are not counted unless a girl has touched the ball.74

In Burundi, Search for Common Ground sponsored soccer matches between Hutu and Tutsi youths who were previously involved in violence.75

In Northern Ireland, Greenhill YMCA sponsors community relations programs and outdoor activities for peoples from all sides of the Irish community. The organization promotes reconciliation and conflict resolution, particularly among young people, as part of the healing process of bringing people together.76

The private corporation Benetton sponsored a summer camp for teenage basketball players from the former Yugoslavia, one of many examples in which people have tried to use sports to build bridges, ironically, in part through competition. 77  Go to private sector development

As part of its long-term plan for peacebuilding and reconciliation in Kenya, Christian relief agency World Vision, is establishing sports leagues to help address deep-rooted ethnic issues that have contributed to violence in the country for more than a month. "Designed to help heal deep community and ethnic divisions, these sports leagues will encourage reconciliation and promote tribal welfare."78

In Rwanda, UNICEF has a program with the Ministry of Education, furthering the mainstreaming of sport as a discipline in school curricula, with the unique particularity that in Rwanda school sport activities are termed 'sport and reconciliation.' The focus of this program is to utilize sport as a tool to promote unity among pupils. 79

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Main Actors

Supporting a reconciliation environment requires the action of different state and non-state, local, national and international actors. The participation of all is important, and the dynamics that shape the interaction between insiders and outsiders should be taken into consideration.


Reconciliation is a process which offers potential roles for a very broad, perhaps unlimited range of actors, even though public attention is generally more easily paid to a narrow set, mostly elites, national and religious leaders and, less frequently, important cultural figures. However, as underlined by the scholar Elizabeth Cole, "it can be said that the fewer actors that are involved in the long-term process that is reconciliation, the more limited will be its scope..."80 Therefore, those who desire to support reconciliation initiatives should pay attention to the broad diversity of individual and collective actors who need to be part of the process.

The following list is provided as an indication of this diversity:

  • survivors; perpetrators;
  • by-standers (who generally comprise a large proportion of the population and who include members of the perpetrators group who themselves have not contributed to violence);
  • government institutions (including local ones);
  • judiciary and para-judiciary mechanisms;
  • military institutions;
  • political leaders and members of the legislatures;
  • religious, cultural and traditional leaders;
  • community based /grassroots organizations;
  • media;
  • writers, story tellers, musicians and other cultural individual figures;
  • cultural and educational institutions (including secondary schools, universities and museums);81
  • non-governmental organizations;
  • professional organizations, such as associations of journalists and businessmen, which bring former enemies together in a pragmatic atmosphere of shared professional interests ;
  • economic actors, who mix reconciliatory gestures with self-interest but can have an important role in promoting reconciliation;
  • and diaspora groups who represent the nexus between insiders and outsiders.
Governments and political actors play a key, yet often most ambiguous, role in reconciliation processes. The involvement of political authorities at the national and local levels is important as a signal that there is actual political will to move towards reconciliation. Public and symbolic gestures are extremely important to that respect. Yet, all kinds of manipulations are possible and may jeopardize efforts undertaken by civil society and community actors. Therefore, bottom-up initiatives are at least as important as top-down ones.


It is probably even harder for outsiders to spark reconciliation than it is for governments. In fact, teams of 'locals' from both sides of the divide have been most successful with efforts at reconciliation. Some analysts have also raised concerns about the fact that outside interventions can inhibit social rebuilding if not handled properly or sensitively.82 'Third-party' outsiders can, however, play essential roles by introducing new perspectives, providing expertise and financial support that make many local initiatives possible.83 They may also sometimes help initiate some tasks that antagonists in the conflict cannot initiate themselves, in particular if they are unable to overcome the challenges with which they are associated.84 While reconciliation must grow between and within communities, it can benefit from international support, especially when people and/or political leaders are unable or unwilling to initiate it.85 Indeed, "a great number of trans-national non-governmental organizations now work to foster coexistence, reconciliation, mutual tolerance, and mutual respect. They provide training in skills contributing to such relations through workshops, dialogue circles, and other structured experiences."86 They have developed a great deal of work, showing that outsiders can indeed contribute to reconciliation, even though they often don't use that term to label their program. In addition to those non-governmental organizations, a vast range of religious, cultural and educational actors are involved in the support to their local colleagues. International criminal tribunals and other international top-level methods for reconciliation also play a central role,87 as do international organizations and donors.

Since the various components of reconciliation are interrelated and affect each other, the range of actors involved at the international level is vast. Therefore, "given the complexity of reconciliation and issues about harmonizing progress among the various dimensions of reconciliation and also given the variety of missions and interests among IGOs [inter-governmental organizations] and INGOs [international non-governmental organizations], attention to coordinating the activities of various intervening organizations is needed."88

1. David Crocker, "Reckoning with Past Wrongs: A Normative Framework," Ethics and International Affairs 13 (1999): 48-62.

2. Elizabeth A. Cole, "Introduction: Reconciliation and History Education," in Teaching the Violent Past: History Education and Reconciliation, ed. Elizabeth A. Cole (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 12-13.

3. John Paul Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies (Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace Press, 1997: 30; John Paul Lederach, Journey towards Reconciliation (Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1999).
4. Louis Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime-Rehabilitation," in After Mass Crime: Rebuilding States and Communities, eds. Beatrice Pouligny, Simon Chesterman and Albrecht Schnabel (Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 2007), 252 -254.
5. Karen Brouneus, "Reconciliation and Development," Study Prepared for Workshop 8 Reconciliation. International Conference, Building a Future on Peace and Justice, (Nuremberg, 25-27 June 2007), 5; "Thoughts on Reconciliation and Reality," European Platform for Conflict Resolution and Transformation; "Problem Solving Initiative," Alliance for Peacebuilding.
6. Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime-Rehabilitation," 252 -254.
7. Hizkias Assefa, "The Meaning of Reconciliation," European Platform for Conflict Resolution and Transformation.
8. "Reconciliation," International Center for Transitional Justice (February 2006).
9. Ibid.
10. See for instance: Tore Rose, "Integrating Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding into United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks," International Peacebuilding Assistance, Discussion Paper No. 2, WSP International, (October 2005) 6.
11. Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime-Rehabilitation," 252 -254.
12. Ervin Staub, Laurie Ann Pearlman, Alexandra Gubin, and Athanase Hagengimana, "Healing, Reconciliation, Forgiving, and the Prevention of Violence after Genocide or Mass Killing: An Intervention and its Experimental Evaluation in Rwanda," Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 24, no. 3 (2005), 297-334, 301.
13. See Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, "The Moral Foundations of Truth Commissions," in Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commission, eds. Robert I. Rotberg and Dennis Thompson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000),22-44; Mark Osiel, Mass Atrocity, Collective Memory, and the Law (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997).
14. Dr. Carol Rittener RSM, "Against the Odds: The Process of Reconciliation," speech at UN NGO Conference, September 11, 2002; James Notter, "Trust and Conflict Transformation," Occasional Paper Number 5 (Arlington, VA: Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, April 1995), 10. See also, Ambassador Parry from United Kingdom at the UN Security Council Open Debate on January 26, 2004.
15. Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime-Rehabilitation," 252 -254.
16. Ibid, 252 -254.
17. Luc Huyse, "The Process of Reconciliation," in Reconciliation after Violent Conflict: A Handbook, eds. David Bloomfield, Teresa Barnes and Luc Huyse (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), 2003).
18. Yaakov Bar-Siman-Tov, "Dialectics between Stable Peace and Reconciliation," in From Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation, ed. Yaakov Bar-Siman-Tov (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
19. Charles Osgood, Perspective in Foreign Policy (Palo Alto: Pacific Books, 1966).
20. David Bohm, On Dialogue (New York: Routledge, 1997).
21. For an example see The Scholars' Initiative: Confronting the Yugoslav Controversies organized by Purdue historian Charles Ingrao. It is a project within which 200 historians from different sides of the conflict as well as neutral institutions work together to prepare consensus documents. One of these is "Ethnic Cleansing and War Crimes, 1991-1995" (Marie-Janine Calic, 2006) to which 24 scholars contributed.
22. Lederach, Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies.
23. William Bole, Drew Christiansen, and Robert T. Hennemeyer, Forgiveness in International Politics: An Alternative Road to Peace (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004); Miroslav Volf, Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).
24. John Paul Lederach, Journey toward Reconciliation. (Waterloo, ON: Herald Press, 1999).
25. Bar-Siman-Tov, "Dialectics between Stable Peace and Reconciliation."
26. Lisa Schirch, Ritual and Symbol in Peacebuilding (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2005).
27. Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
28. Tamar Hermann, "Reconciliation: Reflections on the Theoretical and Practical Utility of the Term," in From Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation ed. Yaakov Bar-Siman-Tov (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
29. Vern Neufeld Redekop, "Teachings of Blessing as an Element of Reconciliation: Intra and Inter-Religious Hermeneutical Challenges and Opportunities," in The Next Step in Studying Religion: A Graduates Guide, ed. Matthieu Courville (London: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002).
30. Louis Kriesberg, "Comparing Reconciliation Actions within and between Countries," in From Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation, ed. Yaakov Bar-Siman-Tov (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
31. United Nations General Assembly, "Resolution adopted by the General Assembly," A/RES/61/17 (23 January 2007).
32. "Action to address today's global challenges," UNESCO.
33. Jordana Friedman and Nick Killick, "The Partnership Model," European Platform for Conflict Resolution and Transformation.
34. Kristian Berg Harpviken and Kjell Erling Kjellman, "Beyond Blueprints: Civil Society and Peacebuilding." (Oslo: International Peace Research Institute, August 9, 2004), 8.
35. Riva Kantowitz and Abikk Riak, "Critical Links between Peacebuilding and Trauma Healing: A Holistic Framework for Fostering Community Development," in Peacebuilding in Traumatized Societies, ed. Barry Hart (Maryland: University Press of America, 2008), 22-23.
36. See for instance, on the case of Uganda, the recommendations by Moloko Malakalaka, "Uganda's National Reconciliation Path: An Integrated and Sustainable Developmental Approach" (Johannesburg: Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 2006).
37. "Summary Report of the Post Conflict Conference on Liberia" Summary report of the Post Conflict Conference on Liberia (Washington, DC: Friends of Liberia, 1999).
38.Michael Weinstein, "Somalia's Compromised National Reconciliation Conference," Power and Interest News Report, July 19, 2007.
39. Brouneus, "Reconciliation and Development," 8.
40. Ibid, 8.
41. Branka Peuraca, "Can Faith-Based NGOs Advance Faith-Based Reconciliation? The Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina." Special Report No. 103 (Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace, March 2003).
42. Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime-Rehabilitation," 251.
43. Peuraca, "Can Faith-Based NGOs Advance Faith-Based Reconciliation? The Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina."
44. Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime-Rehabilitation," 251.
45. Brouneus, "Reconciliation and Development," 8.
46. de Grieff, Pablo, "The Role of Apologies in National Reconciliation Processes: On Making Trustworthy Institutions Trusted," in The Age of Apology, eds. Mark Gibney and Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
47. "Reconciliation Lessons Learned from United Nations Peacekeeping Missions: Case Studies Sierra Leone and Timor L'este." (Sweden: International IDEA, November 2004), 13.
48. Ibid, 13.
49. Ibid, 17-18.
50. Ibid, 13.
51. Huyse, "The Process of Reconciliation;" Bar-Siman-Tov, "Dialectics Between Stable Peace and Reconciliation."
52. Vern Neufeld Redekop, "A Post-Genocidal Justice of Blessing as an Alternative to a Justice of Violence: The Case of Rwanda," in Peacebuilding in Traumatized Societies, ed. Barry Hart (Maryland: University Press of America, 2008), 214.
53. Brouneus, "Reconciliation and Development," 6.
54. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities (UNHCR: Geneva, 2004), 1.28.
55. UN News Centre, "UN promotes peacebuilding in Kenya after election crisis," April 28, 2008.
56. Arlene Audergon, "Daring to Dream: Learning about Community Trauma, Accountability and Building the Future in Post-War Forums in Croatia," in Peacebuilding in Traumatized Societies, ed. Barry Hart (Maryland: University Press of America, 2008), 263.
57. Ibid.
58. "Reconciliation Lessons Learned from United Nations Peacekeeping Missions: Case Studies-- Sierra Leone and Timor L'este," 17-18.
59. "Fambul Tok: Community Healing in Sierra Leone;" "Forum of Conscience."
60. "Our Toolbook," Search for Common Ground.
61. "500 bikes for peace in northern Uganda," UNDP (15 August 2008).
62. Peter Biro, "Mata Hari: The Voice of Reconciliation." (Indonesia: International Rescue Committee, 9 July 2007).
63. "About Seeds of Peace," Seeds of Peace.
64. For a general reflection on the subject see John Paul Lederach, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).
65. Cynthia Cohen, "Creative Approaches to Reconciliation," in The Psychology of Resolving Global Conflicts: From War to Peace, eds. Mari Fitzduff and Christopher E. Stout (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005).
66. "Our Toolbox," Search for Common Ground.
67. Lena Slachmuijlder, "The Rhythm of Reconciliation: A reflection on drumming as a contribution to reconciliation processes in Burundi and South Africa," working paper, Brandeis University (2003-04).
68. Jenny Hutt and Bev Hosking, "Playback Theatre: A Creative Resource for Reconciliation," Virtual Resource, Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts, 2004.
69. Ibid.
70. On the role of arts in general, story telling, playback theater and forum theater in particular, see Baby Ayindo, "Arts Approaches to Peace: Playing our Way to Transcendance?" in Peacebuilding in Traumatized Societies, ed. Barry Hart (Maryland: University Press of America, 2008), 185-203. See also Michael Henderson, Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate (St. Paul, MN: Grosvenor Books, 2002); Michael Henderson, The Forgiveness Factor (St. Paul, MN: Grosvenor Books, 1996).
71. "Displaced Communities," PhotoVoice (2007).
72. Ibid.
73. "Sport for Development & Peace International Working Group," International Platform on Sport and Development.
74. "Sport for Development: Country Examples," UNICEF.
75. Our Toolbox, Search for Common Ground.
76. International Guide to NGO Activities in Conflict Prevention and Resolution, (The Carter Center, December 1996).
77. Charles Hauss, "Reconciliation," in Beyond Intractability, eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess (Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Conflict Research Consortium, September 2003).
78. Reuters, "Sports Leagues in Kenya Facilitate Tribal Reconciliation," February 12, 2008.
79. "Sport for Development: Country Examples," UNICEF.

80. Cole, "Introduction: Reconciliation and History Education," 17.

81. About the role of universities--a subject that has often been neglected--see Mariana Delgado, "The Role of Universities in Peacebuilding Processes in Contexts of Armed Conflict: The Experience of the Universidad de Bogot Jorge Tadeo Lozano in Colombia." Proceedings of the 4th International Barcelona Conference on Higher Education, Vol. 5. The role of higher education in peace building and reconciliation processes. Barcelona: GUNI, 10.
82. Judy Barsalou, "Trauma and Transitional Justice in Divided Societies" (Washington DC: US Institute of Peace, 2005), 1.
83. Ibid, 1.
84. Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime-Rehabilitation," 265.
85. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Handbook for Repatriation and Reintegration Activities (UNHCR: Geneva, 2004), 1.28.
86. Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime Rehabilitation," 263.
87. Brouneus, "Reconciliation and Development," 6.
88. Kriesberg, "External Contributions to Post-Mass-Crime-Rehabilitation," 261.

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