Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Stage

Eric Brahm

October 2003

Even after a settlement is reached and a peace agreement is signed, this is by no means the end of the conflict. The settlement has to be implemented. If it is just a conflict between two people, this may not be hard: those two people do what they agree to do, and past problems may be solved. (They also may not be solved, as is evidenced by the number of divorce cases that end up back in court later because one party does not think the other has lived up to the agreement.) But in communal- and societal-level conflicts, implementation becomes much more of a problem. In addition to the elite who negotiated the agreement, their constituents also have to agree to the settlement, or else the agreement is likely to fail. Usually, there is a long period of peacebuilding among the grassroots people, eventually culminating in apology, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The key to transforming conflict is to build strong equitable relations where distrust and fear were once the norm. Kriesberg discusses three ways in which to build a foundation for peaceful, equitable relations.[1]

  • First, the nature of the settlement must suit the present conditions of the conflict.
  • Second, means must be taken to reconcile adversaries.
  • Third, constructive intervention is useful to move the parties to a better path.

At the peacebuilding stage, outside actors can play an important role in monitoring the agreement and demobilization efforts. In addition, the construction of civil society may be necessary, something third parties may be able to provide assistance on.

Reconciliation is itself a complicated, highly contested term.[2] Some see it as simply coexistence,[3] others respect,[4] and others mutual forgiveness.[5] Kriesberg suggests there are four aspects of reconciliation:

Mari Fitzduff makes a short observation about how intractable conflicts end.

  • truth (coming to acknowledge there is some merit to the other side's interpretation of events),
  • justice (gaining redress as a means of putting the past to rest),
  • regard (forgiveness on the part of victims), and
  • security (expectations of peaceful coexistence).[6]

Some have also argued that the concept of reconciliation is a profoundly Christian one,[7] whereas others find evidence of similar mechanisms in many cultures. Clearly, all situations will not see each fully realized. In fact, they are to some degree contradictory. The reconciliation process is indeed a long one. This is compounded by the fact that individuals may take much longer to become reconciled as compared to the group or national level.[8] Reconciliation is, in fact, not necessarily the end point of every conflict; some may end before complete reconciliation takes place. But all intractable conflicts that really do end must go through some peacebuilding or reconciliation process if the parties are going to have to interact together again in the future. If they do not, the conflict is likely to recur, even after a settlement of a particular episode (or dispute) is reached.

[1] Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Settlement. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 322-335.

[2] David A. Crocker, "Truth Commissions, Transitional Justice, and Civil Society" in Truth v. Justice: The Morality of Truth Commissions eds. Robert I. Rotberg and Dennis Thompson, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 99-121.

[3] Charles Villa-Vicencio, "A Different Kind of Justice: The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission," Contemporary Justice Review 1 (1998): 407-428.

[4] 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, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000), 22-44; Mark Osiel, Mass atrocity, collective memory, and the law (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1997).

[5] Donald W. Shriver, Jr., An ethic for enemies: forgiveness in politics (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).

[6] Louis Kriesberg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Settlement. (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), 329-31.

[7] Noel Muchenga Chicuecue, "Reconciliation: The Role of Truth Commissions and Alternative Ways of Healing." Development in Practice 7 no. 4 (1997): 483-6.

[8] For those hopeful, see John Paul Lederach, The Journey toward Reconciliation. (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 1999); Desmond Mpilo Tutu, "Reconciliation in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Experiences of the Truth Commission." in The Art of Peace: Nobel Peace Laureates Discuss Human Rights, Conflict and Reconciliation. ed. Jeffrey Hopkins (Ithaca , NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2000). For a more skeptical view on the connection between individual and societal reconciliation, see David Goodman, Fault Lines: Journeys into the New South Africa. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999); Michael Ignatieff, "Articles of Faith." Abridged from the article published in Index On Censorship, 5 no. 96 (September 1996).; Charles O. Lerche, III, "Truth Commissions and National Reconciliation: Some Reflections on Theory and Practice." Peace and Conflict Studies, 7 no. 1 (May 2000); Tom Winslow, "Reconciliation: The Road to Healing? Collective Good, Individual Harm?" Track Two 6 no. 3 & 4 (1997).

Use the following to cite this article:
Brahm, Eric. "Peacebuilding and Reconciliation Stage." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: October 2003 <>.

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