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Reconciliation and peacebuilding

The 2011 World Development Report estimates that 1.5 billion people live in ‘conflict affected’ countries. What are the multiple forms of insecurity that make a country ‘conflict affected’? How can populations – groups and individuals – improve their condition? openSecurity has largely focused on conflict as a violent phenomenon between and within states, and particularly on the relationship between states and citizens.

While conflict itself is inevitable, even creative and desirable, the desire to be secure drives much of human innovation, scientific or social. But militarization is only one response to perceived threat or insecurity. In this section, we now want to examine systematically the other ways.

‘Peacebuilding’ articulates a sprawl of activities, from government and international interventions to highly localised and informal practices. Political negotiations to end a war, the deployment of peacekeepers to maintain a ceasefire, truth telling commissions and memorials, arts and cultural practices that reach across sectarian boundaries – all qualify for inclusion in the Venn diagram.

‘Reconciliation’ is the transformation of conflict. To be reconciled to something – to a position, a state of affairs, perhaps to defeat – suggests passivity, acceptance. To be reconciled with an enemy, individual or group, is an active process of achieving a more productive relationship.

To mark the introduction of reconciliation and peacebuilding into this section as core concepts alongside security, four openSecurity writers explore the relationship between these terms:

CapoeiraZoe Marriage challenges the dominant security paradigm through the Brazilian dance-fight-game capoeira, showing the relationship between security and development to be far from simple.


LondonDan Smith outlines one course peacebuilding could take to a new moment of European confidence.



South AfricaAlex de Waal examines the struggle over the peace and security agenda in Africa, contrasting international interventions with African methodologies often sidelined.


ScalesYvette Selim, argues that post-conflict transitional justice is incomplete without addressing the injustices of unequal distribution – of resources, of power, of opportunity.


As Christopher Cramer once wrote, ‘the content of justice is being wrought through social and political conflicts… peace is precisely the problem’. The challenge this poses has implications for our conceptions of development as well as security, justice as well as peace.


Seven years of shifting sands: South Sudan's government must make the change

In seven years of independent control, South Sudan has not diversified its economy. Now the domestic agricultural sector languishes and international agri-businesses procure land for export markets. This failure could fuel conflict, if real change is not made.

Putting sexualised violence on the map in Syria

The New York-based Women’s Media Center’s Women Under Siege Project has been using modern technology, from e-mail to YouTube to Twitter, to carry out ground-breaking research into sexualized violence as it unfolds in Syria.

South Sudan: a false start

For all the Government of South Sudan's rhetoric, real investment in the country's future has been slow to begin. Even before independence, there were sufficient resources to truly begin building the nation, resources that were squandered in Juba.

Srebrenica in 2012: carving out the space to remember

This week, a funeral for five hundred genocide victims marked the 17th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia.  But with genocide-denial in the regional air, and electoral changes and political manipulation erasing the Bosnian Muslim history of Srebrenica, is the tragedy being both frozen and erased, when what is needed is both remembrance and to move on?

Will UK and Argentina ever reach reconciliation over the Falklands / Malvinas

Interstate conflict used to be the norm. Now, as old battles are being put behind us, Ivan Briscoe asks if the UK and Argentina can reconcile their differences over the Falklands/Malvinas.

Maoist hostage crisis in India: government indifference makes Maoists give up on mediation

Mediation has been successful at bringing down levels of violence and bringing popular welfare and social justice demands onto the political agenda. These gains are  underthreat as the government fails to take the process seriously.

Reconciliation and the destruction of the past in divided societies

Ongoing controversies in two of the quintessential cases of divided societies - Northern Ireland and the Former Yugoslavia - are best understood by examining the political dynamics created through procedures of remembrance, and those of reconciliation.

Peacebuilding in an impossible context? Perspectives from Pakistan

Caught between the restrictions placed on them by the state and a relationship with the general public framed by suspicion of collaboration with the West, Pakistani peacebuilders need to articulate their work on their own terms.

From the inside out: reconciliation is more than possible

Amidst the deep hurt of civil war, many think it impossible to speak with, let alone work with, people from across divisions of conflict. A diverse group of young British Sri Lankans have directly experienced this. Here they examine reconciliation as not only a possibility, but a present undertaking.

See the debate: Is reconciliation possible in Sri Lanka?

The Patriotic March and the struggle for peace in Colombia

A powerful new political movement bringing rural and urban Colombian civil society onto a common platform poses the real possibility for sustainable peacebuilding in Colombia. The reaction of the government to its emergence will be a path-setting moment.

Purposeful inquiry: detoxing the poisoned chalice

Derry/Londonderry is the UK City of Culture in 2013. In a place where names can be rigid markers of enmity, what tools can we use to dismantle the unseeing ways ‘the enemy’ is passed between generations?

Kerbala anthems in Azadi Park

Sports provide a rare space and North-South bridging opportunity for increased interaction between the Kurdish and Arab citizens of Iraq. 

Pride and prejudice in Heglig

The South Sudanese People's Liberation Army has moved into an oil town on the South Sudan/ Sudan border. While nationalist sentiment runs high, the newly separated states can ill afford renewed conflict: political dialogue is both difficult and urgent.

In Memoriam Juliano Mer Khamis

Juliano was a man standing his ground with his arms wide open. openDemocracy salutes his memory.

The Jirga in modern day Afghanistan

The complexity of local and regional conflict dynamics in Afghanistan and Pakistan would be well served by the revivification of the Jirga system, the only convincing institutional base through which to build lasting peace.

Uganda traditional justice mechanisms must triumph over western interventionism

We should not deny Ugandans the chance to bring a man who has committed horrific crimes to justice. However we must be careful that our moral greed does not inadvertently force Ugandan reconciliation backwards.

The LRA: what's to be done?

Supporters of the Kony 2012 campaign have posed two questions to critics: 'what would you do?', and 'what's the problem with getting the issue more attention?'. But African and international efforts have already solved most of the problems associated with the LRA, let's keep up those efforts.

Reconciliation is not happening in Sri Lanka, and the problem isn't a question of time

The Tamil call for independent statehood stemmed from a very basic need for security against genocide. For many, including the next generation of Tamil youth activists, the events of 2009 consolidated this need.

Bangladesh's International Crimes Tribunal: a critique of the critics

While criticism of the ICT is important, its chief critics have dehistoricized the context in which this trial is taking place, and expressed disdain in terms which position Bangladesh as the under-developed, untrustworthy ‘Other’.

'What Sri Lanka is...': acknowledging the ethnic conflict in post-war reconciliation

The term 'local reconciliation' may seem benign, but recent research amongst Tamils in the north of the country highlights the damaging silence hanging over the survivors of the conflict, and a determination to reach justice through transparency over past and present wrongs.

Peacebuilding in Kashmir transcends the religious divide

The conflict in Kashmir has largely been seen through the prism of religious antagonism. New research on cross-border peacebuilding calls the classic conflict analysis into question.

'Reconciliation in Sri Lanka means the youth must lead the way': a sceptical response

There is nothing objectionable in arguing for greater and more meaningful participation of youth in the political process, so long as this is not a substitute for a proper post-war constitutional settlement.

Bangladesh war crimes tribunal: further bias is no answer

The role of the media in Bangladesh will not be improved by inaccurate and partisan critiques of the ICT

Restoring a sense of justice in broken communities

The idea of making offenders face their victims and acknowledge the harm they have done has wide public support. The British Government says it is in favour. So why were restorative solutions ignored following last summer’s riots, asks Stephen Moffat

Trial by media: Bangladesh's 'International' Crimes Tribunal

Phone tapping, court orders and vitriolic condemnations of the accused point to a disconcerting unity between the regime, the press and the ICT

Gene out of the bottle: an interview with Dr Gene Sharp, author of 'From Dictatorship to Democracy'

Last week openSecurity caught up with one of the chief proponents of political defiance, whose writings have been translated by activists the world over, to ask if non-violent tactics really yield concrete political victories in the face of violence.

A new way: Somaliland's statebuilding

Diplomats, aid workers and their governments agree that local capabilities are the baseline and drivers of change, but apparently find it impossible to act in a way that reflects this in day to day situations.

Colombia, a state of flux

A decade of violence and insecurity has deeply marked Colombia's society, politics and institutions. For Colombia to move on, its beleaguered yet independent justice system will have a vital role to play, says Adam Isacson.

The arrest of Professor Ghulam Azam: a grandchild's account

The arrest of a leading opposition figure in Bangladesh is a stark reminder that without due legal process, examining the wrongs of the past can quickly become an opportunity for political leverage in the present.

Capoeira and security: the view from upside-down

Through an account of capoeira, the Brazilian dance-fight-game, we uncover two simultaneous stories of security: first, the gradual monopolisation of violence by the state; second, a somatic, lyrical representation of a history of violence, oppression and liberation.

The contest over peace and security in Africa

The dominant interventionist approach to peace and security in Africa by-passes the hard work of creating domestic political consensus and instead imposes models of government favoured by western powers. The emergent African methodology offers a chance to develop locally-rooted solutions too often sidelined.

Transitions: creating space to address injustice after conflict or political turmoil

Ultimately, an emphasis on the rule of law in peacebuilding interventions reflects a preoccupation with the effects, rather than the causes, of conflict. But calls for a more expansive notion of justice – which gives greater attention to distributive justice – may be gaining momentum.

The far horizons of peacebuilding – and the near

Peacebuilding and development can no longer be thought of in terms of what was always an over-simplified polarisation between the powerful stability of the giver and the weak turbulence of the beneficiary. It was always wrong to see the world that way; now it’s impossible.

Four anecdotes and some news: or, The paths of resistance

On the fiftieth anniversary of the American intervention in Vietnam, one lesson might be that knowledge is never passed on, only acquired, that history is not a reality which must be discovered but must be thought about and then reconstructed.

Seen and not heard: women in Sri Lanka's reconciliation commission

Sri Lanka's Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission has no mention of gender in its mandate and no dedicated expertise related to women; it has just one female commissioner out of eight. For Tamil women, the LLRC simply reaffirms bad old habits.

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