Special Lecture Series on “Uniting for the Future: Learning from Each Other’s Experiences” at Plaza Athenee Hotel, Bangkok, on Monday, 2nd August 2013. (Continue from PART I).
Following Tony Blair, former Finnish president and Nobel Peace prize winner, Marti Ahtisaari, was the next speaker on the panel. Mr. Ahtisaari recommended the Thai government to open up and facilitate groups in society for the purpose of building trust among one another.
From his experiences in peace and reconciliation process in Namibia, Kosovo, and Ache, Mr. Ahtisaari believes that in reconciliation and nation building “Trust is everything” but it requires time, patience and work. What you have to remember is that “Peace is not only an outcome, it is a process”.
“It is important to realise that trust can also be fostered by giving people the tools to be the architect of their own future. National leaders in government have to create political space for local leaders, both from powerful and marginalised groups, to shape the national agenda and the evolution of institutions. If any nation is about to built trust, it has to choose an open and wide road to work together with anyone interested. Negotiation can only do part of the job. True reconciliation can only be found in the behaviour of all the people, whether they are ministers, officials, activists or neighbours alike,” said the former president of Finland.
“National reconciliation also has to be supported by political actions and egalitarian principles. Society that has been conflict prone for decades or even hundreds of years need to pay special attention to the policies they promote and implement in their respective society. During the difficult times it is pivotal to assure that proper education and decent health care are available to all citizens in egalitarian matter. This is a pre-condition for any society to live in peace and tranquil senses,” Mr. Ahtisaari continued.
“We also need to find ways to deal with the past injustices and grievances. There has to be a space and time to address them. We have to understand that we tell different stories from our past and at the same we must tolerate and respect these different stories. This is why we need reconciliation and open dialogue between conflicted memories. In the end, in order to move on, we also have to find ways to think and teach differently,” said Mr. Ahtisaari.
“Being able to solve emerging conflict and political tension in a peaceful manner tells us that even very serious domestic problems need not and cannot split the nation’s fate. It tells us that all open and genuine reconciliation effort can lead to success. It tells us even after the deepest of distrust and political rivalry, reconciliation can make a difference. It tells us that if only we have the political will and genuine commitment for peace, we can create a better future. And ladies and gentlemen, it clearly tells us that a new beginning is always possible,” Mr. Ahtisaari concluded.
The last speaker at the forum was, Ms. Priscilla Hayner, an expert in truth-finding commissions and transitional justice from the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue. Ms. Hayner, who advised the Truth for Reconciliation Commission of Thailand (TRCT) during Abphisit’s Administration, believes “creativity” will help Thailand in its reconciliation process but criticised the Amnesty Bill, currently in the parliament’s deliberation process, for being too vague.
Ms. Priscilla Hayner said both political factions in Thailand should prioritise the negotiation process, and make sure that everyone agrees on the same context and understanding of reconciliation.
“Reconciliation may in fact often mean different things to different people. This is not always intentional and maybe something that we are not fully conscious of when we use this language. The idea of bringing a country together and reducing political tensions is of course hard to argue with because everyone will be in agreement with that but is it clear in fact what this means in a practical terms? And is it possible that the variations in the understanding of this concept are in fact pointing to quite different visions of the country future?” Ms. Pricilla questioned.
In Ms. Hayner’s opinion, there are risks of abusing the idea of reconciliation for the wrong purposes or for using it as a mean for manipulation or even coercion.
“One of these mistakes is to call for the need of reconciliation as a means to argue for policy of “forgetting” or to turn the page on the past and to wipe clean all past sins and transgressions. This has sometimes led to the proclaimed justification for rewarding amnesty to persons responsible for very egregious acts…This form of reconciliation based on forgetting is usually rejected by the victims and in my view, is an unacceptable and disrespectful approach,” said Pricilla.
Another misuse of the concept of reconciliation that Ms. Hayner mentioned is an approach to overcome differences by denying that they exist and papering over those differences.
“This approach prevented a more in-depth look into what actually the root problems were of the country and to address those. I don’t believe that covering over differences is very helpful in the context where there’s a need to in fact understand and acknowledge and come to terms with the differences that are real in the society and the challenges that they present,” Ms. Hayner addressed.
Pricilla Hayner argued that reconciliation is not best achieved through forgetting, coercion, or covering up. For a successful reconciliation to be achieved, the best examples from around the world are those that focussed on the process and not on an end point. Regrettably, reconciliation is not something that can be reached but rather a path that one begins down and then works really hard to continue on. Many different kinds of initiatives are possible along the road and it is open to the imagination, creativity, and the political view and commitment of those who are in the position to give it shape. She also added that reconciliation is highly dependent on the national context and the national culture and it’s something that should not be imported or prescribed from the outside.
“In East Timor, community elders brokered agreements between perpetrators and the community themselves after the period of political violence about 14 or 15 years ago thus allowed the reintegration of wrongdoers into their local communities and led to apologies and arrangement of community service so those that had undertaken physical harm such as destruction of buildings and other physical damaged could repay this through community service. This is brokered though the role of the community of elders and it is a very specific solution to East Timor, not necessarily appropriate to other places, but it is an interesting process worth exampled,” said the senior adviser of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.
The ingredients to program a policy that leads the country down a reconciliation path are;
1. It is essential, that the direction of this path is not pointed toward specific political end point. If there is a hidden agenda, reconciliation won’t work. Reconciliation can never mean overcoming or fooling one’s opposition in order to achieve one’s own political purposes. There is a need to build trust between parties and to identify common national interests and to work to build these common interests over time.
2. Reconciliation cannot be rushed. There should be no delay in getting it started but the process itself must be treated with care and respect. It must be based on communication and listening along with the careful crafting of a process that leads to neutral national interests engaging the interests across the political isles.
3. Concrete measures can be taken in the air of political or legal reforms, recognition and apology, economic empowerment, or development etc. Many of these specific measures were recommended by the TRCT and it deserves more attention to what can be implemented from those recommendations. In addition, there were reports that came from a process of investigation by the People’s Information Center and by King Prajadhipok’s Institute (KPI). Both of these reports should also be looked up because the recommendations between these efforts in fact have many similarities.