Definition & Introduction

Reconciliation is the process of repairing social ties and community trust in the aftermath of violent conflict, or in societies undergoing a transition from totalitarian to democratic governance.

Reconciliation, along with transitional justice, is a key condition for achieving sustainable peace in the aftermath of international or intrastate conflict. Depending on the gravity of the offenses committed and the country's particular situation, reconciliation may mean mere coexistence, an active dialogue between the two sides of a conflict, or the acknowledgment of past abuse and forgiveness. Each reconciliation process is unique and usually involves several of the following components:

  • Prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes and other abuses
  • Truth-seeking through special truth commissions such as the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • Reparations for victims
  • Establishment of memorials
  • Dismantling of abusive political structures and institutions, and establishment of democratic ones
  • Confidence-building measures such as various cultural and educational initiatives to rebuild trust

Featured Reading

International Center for Transitional Justice

Read publications from the ICTJ covering topics such as building sustainable peace after human rights violations and women's experiences living in dictatorships.

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The Role of Reparations in Transition to Democracy

Read Pablo de Grieff's 2004 paper detailing the meaning of reparations and a proposal for achieving justice in mass reparation programs.

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Politics and the Past: On Repairing Historical Injustices

Published in 2003, this book "offers an original, multidisciplinary exploration of the growing public controversy over reparations for historical injustices."

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Ethics & International Affairs: Amnesty, Justice, and Reconciliation

A special section of the Ethics & International Affairs journal published in 1999 offers experts' thoughts on dealing with human rights violations, reckoning with past wrongs, and more.

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Discussion Questions

1. Truth commissions and trials are among the most used mechanisms of reconciliation in postwar situations. Consider the case of South Africa and discuss the benefits as well as the limits of using truth commissions and trials to bring about postwar reconciliation.

2. Read the report on History and the Politics of Reconciliation. In your opinion, what is the role of historical education in achieving reconciliation, and what mechanism (truth commissions, historical commissions, trials, and so forth) is best placed to bring about reconciliation in post-conflict societies?