Post-Conflict Restorative Justice
The most successful application of this idea of post-conflict restorative justice is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa after the abolition of Apartheid. Many have attempted to apply this model to other conflicts involving protracted inter- and intra-group violence. Some have even tried to use it as a way of ending ongoing violence, as in the case of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
However, much of the success of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa can be attributed to the fact that Apartheid had been abolished. The unjust system that had been fueling oppression had ended, creating an opportunity to build a new society based on equality, human rights, and dignity.
We believe firmly that reconciliation is not possible while violence and violent systems are ongoing and sustained. Furthermore, it is insufficient for reconciliation projects to try to affect cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes in groups and individuals alone in order to achieve reconciliation. Dialogue, exercises in forgiveness, and the fostering of attitudinal and perceptual shifts about the conflict do not address the structural injustices that drive conflicts.
Reconciliation cannot lead to resolution; it can only be a result of resolution. Furthermore, the form of resolution called “peace,” is not desirable if the structural injustices that caused the conflict remain in place. Our philosophy is that the goal of a reconciliation project must not be to merely end violence and mend feelings and attitudes between an oppressor and an oppressed group. The absence of violence with the persistence of injustice is not peace, but the Pax Romana. This is the peace that empires seek, the stillness of the cemeteries, where all forms of resistance against oppression have been quelled and the status quo has been preserved in totality. Reconciliation is not realistic or desirable until all injustices have been addressed. The first step of this process lies in reparations efforts.
We see truth-telling and reparations as essential steps towards any possible reconciliation. Through voluntary reparations, individuals who feel complicit in war, occupation, or displacement can begin to directly rebuild relationships with victimized people. Reparations do not just address the responsibility of one party for harming the other, but they also help to abolish structures and systems of injustice, which are often lubricated by either outright misinformation or collective aphasia.
Truth-telling is essential for accountability. Trust cannot be restored between people while wrongs committed remain a secret known only to the perpetrator and the victim. Through reparations and truth-telling, a process of restorative justice can begin, and reconciliation may be possible.
Truth and Reconciliation in Iraq
Our goal is to work towards a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Iraq by first addressing the suffering that Iraqis experience as a direct result of the US-led invasion and occupation. Our goal is to create an enduring, restorative relationship between Iraqis and participants in the occupation of Iraq (soldiers and citizens of the occupying countries).
There was no casus belli (just cause) for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The leaders of the coalition forces treated the lives of Iraqi civilians with reckless disregard as they bombed and invaded Iraq, citing intelligence that they knew to be questionable. The shock-and-awe bombing of Iraq claimed over 7,000 lives, and the subsequent occupation of Iraq claimed hundreds of thousands more.
More than just a taking a toll in lives, the occupation has shredded the social fabric of Iraqi society. The occupation and new political system exploited a social division in Iraq that previously held little significance. A civil war between the Sunni and Shia communities was provoked, and even sustained, and has resulted in entrenched resentments and a divided country.
Entire communities have been displaced, uprooting people, robbing them of their historical bond with their locality. Ways of life have been altered. The agricultural system, the historic seed bank, the marshes, has all been forced to change.
The medical and educational systems have been destroyed too. Many of their researchers, instructors, and doctors have been assassinated. Many others have fled the country, leaving these essential services understaffed, under trained, and incapable of meeting the needs of Iraqis.
Worse yet, pollution from war has left Iraq with a crippling public health crisis. Rises in birth defects and cancers have been reported all across the country, with extreme rates in cities like Fallujah and Basra. Iraq will remain contaminated with radiation for billions of years because of uranium weapons. And the extent of the contamination from other sources—such as burn pits and lead and mercury from conventional munitions—is still unknown.
The occupation has left Iraq divided, polluted, and silenced under a corrupt political system and an oppressive government that enjoys considerable support from both the US and Iran. Iraq’s many peoples have been uprooted, psychologically wounded, and forced to adapt to the hard-ships of life in the new Iraq.
What was taken from Iraqis could never be given back to them in its entirety. The harm that our society caused theirs is immeasurable. Reparations are a moral imperative. Though the cause of the harm may be unidirectional, the healing will not be. By assisting Iraqis in the rebuilding of their society, it will cultivate in us a culture of responsibility, solidarity, and caring.
Join us in collaborating with Iraqis who are rebuilding the social infrastructure of their society. Help us in confronting the public silence surrounding the crimes committed against the Iraqi people. By campaigning for an international war crimes tribunal too, we hope to collaborate with Iraqis to create the requisite conditions for a future truth and reconciliation commission.