Seminar 17:Unrightable Wrongs and Reconciling the Past

by Heidi Burgess

Updated May 30, 2021


This seminar relates to Conflict Frontiers Massively Parallel Peacebuilding (MPP) Challenge 4.

Many intractable conflicts are characterized by grievous structural and gruesome physical violence that cannot be fixed--hence the term "unrightable wrongs."  But in order for reconciliation, transformation or resolution to occur, somehow these wrongs must be addressed in ways that heal both the perpetrators and the victims (who are often one and the same).  This unit looks at the nature of the problem and alternative ways of approaching reconciliation.  

Posts in this Seminar Include:

Beyond Intractability Essays and Videos relating to Reconciliation:

  • Reconciliation Part 1: What Is Reconciliation? - and Reconciliation - Part 2: Making Reconciliation Happen —This is a completely rewritten set of two essays by Chip Hauss, who wrote our original essay on reconciliation in 2003.  These essays, just completed in May of 2021, reflect on what has stayed the same in the intervening years, and what has changed.  Hauss observes that much of the theory behind the concept remains the same, but in practice, the way we pursue reconciliation, has come a long way.
  • Reconciliation - Update and Current Implications - This is the update that Heidi Burgess wrote in response to Hauss's original Reconciliation essay, which was published before Chip wrote his revisions.  (When we asked for his comments on this, he responded that he thought it was time to rewrite the original essay.)  However, there are still enough different ideas in this article, that we think it is worth continuing to include this one here too. 
  • Lederach's Meeting Place - This video, "borrowed" from the Conflict Frontiers Seminar explains Lederach's notion of reconciliation, first presented in Hauss's and Burgess's Reconciliation essays more completely.
  • Historical Facts -- The saying, "history is written by the victor," refers to the fact that historical facts are often biased or inaccurate. Yet long-running conflicts are often based on these controversial "facts." This essay explores the impact of history on current conflicts.
  • Ethos of Conflict -- A community's ethos is its shared beliefs, goals and identity. Communities in an intractable conflict expand that ethos to explain their approach to the conflict. A community's ethos strongly affects how destructive the conflict becomes
  • Principles of Justice and Fairness -- It's common sense that justice is central to any well-functioning society. However, the question of what justice is and how to achieve it are more difficult matters. This essay begins to explore the conundrum.
  • Types of Justice -- Different spheres of society approach justice differently. This essay breaks justice down into four types: distributive, procedural, retributive, and restorative and explains the meaning of each.
    • Retributive Justice -- Retributive justice promises punishment or "retribution" for wrongdoing.
    • Restorative Justice -- Restorative justice is justice that is not designed to punish the wrong-doer, but rather to restore the victim and the relationship to the way they were before the offense. Thus, restorative justice requires an apology from the offender, restitution for the victim, and forgiveness of the offender by the victim.
    • Distributive Justice  --  -- When people believe that their situation is not equal to that of other people like them, they feel a sense of injustice. Distributive justice is the attempt to create a fair and equal division of society's wealth and status.
  • Apology and Forgiveness -- These are two sides of the mutli-faceted "diamond" of reconciliation. Both are necessary for true reconciliation to take place.
  • Apology and Forgiveness in Reconciliation: How Words Can Mend and Begin to Heal a Transgressional Divide —-  This paper shows the importance of active apology and forgiveness in the process of addressing past wrongs and reaching reconciliation."Good" apologies can lead to forgiveness and reconciliation; bad ones, however will not.
  • Humanization -- Viewing one's opponent as evil, perverted, or criminal justifies violence and make acts that were previously unthinkable seem perfectly acceptable. The opposite of this is humanization, where opponents recognize their common humanity and feel empathy for for each other. Artists, journalists and teachers have traditionally played key roles in humanization.
  • Engaging Extremists in Reconciliation Processes: Limitations and Opportunities - The understanding of extremism as a social phenomenon should guide efforts to reconcile with former and current extremists.
  • Truth Commissions -- Truths commissions are official groups endowed with the authority to extensively investigate the human rights abuses and war crimes committed in a specific country or region during a specified time period.
  • Amnesty -- Many argue that amnesty can allow societies to wipe the slate clean after war crimes or other human rights abuses, to put the past behind them in favor of the future. Others argue, that this condones the perpetrators' actions and encourages such behavior.
  • International War Crimes Tribunals -- These are tribunals designed to prosecute war crimes such as genocide, torture, and rape. Such tribunals are becoming increasingly common and are used instead of or in conjunction with truth commissions to try to move beyond the violence of many ethnic conflicts and allow the society to build peace.

Case Studies relating to Reconciliation:

Other Materials of Note: