An “ABC” of bridging the gap between local and national dealing with the past processes

Sylvia Servaes, Natascha Zupan
FriEnt | 2016

FriEnt Briefing 11

When in mid-2011, the president of Burundi announced the establishment of a Truth Commission for early 2012, Burundians generally welcomed this step of the government. However, many people engaged in reintegration and reconciliation processes at the grassroots level voiced their fears : Will people who have talked pillages and atrocities out with their neighbours and who do mutually accepted reparations work on their level be forced to appear before the commission? Will they eventually have to appear before the tribunal – at that time still required by the Arusha accords of more than ten years ago – with the risk of being convicted to many years’ prison sentence -? Will those who have accepted their neighbours’ apologies and reparations be obliged to speak before the commission and the tribunal and thus re-open cases they consider as closed – and open wounds that had begun to close? Will possibilities for cohabitation to which people see no alternative thus be jeopardised?  Burundi is no exception. In recent years, the gap between local reconciliation processes and internationally supported policy responses to past crimes on the national level, mainly war crime tribunals and truth commissions, has widened – and raises questions of ownership and legitimacy, as well as relevance and impact of these policies on peacebuilding processes. The disconnectedness concerns two crucial aspects: the specific needs and the capacities of a country to not only deal with past violations but to (re)build a more just society. Different needs to address and correct injustice evolve from structural causes and the nature of a given conflict as well as its consequences. Existing capacities are closely linked to the conflict context and encompass the political will of a newly formed government, institutional capacities to develop and implement initiatives as well as societal capacities, i.e. the capacities of civil society groups to participate in national processes or bridge ethnic divides, cultural norms and values, and traditional reconciliation mechanisms. If we want to bridge the gap between national and local dealing with the past processes by addressing the specific needs and capacities to correct injustice, three steps must be taken.

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