Tracking Reconciliation?

Monitoring and Evaluation is one of the fastest growing areas in the fields of international development, conflict resolution, and project implementation in general. It provides the basis for determining the effectiveness of a given project and allows for changes and adjustments to be made in order to ensure that the project is reaching its intended outcome. For certain projects this is can more easily be done than for others. Take for example a small-scale development project where the project is to build a medical facility in a given community. This process is fairly systematic. A plan is developed, funding is secured, the project is put into action, and the medical center is continuously monitored to ensure that it is meeting its community health objective. In this case, monitoring and evaluation is someone of a checklist. Is “x” working; yes or no?  What about “y”? And so on and so forth. The same cannot be said when it comes to monitoring an evaluation of projects involving reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a deeply personal process. It involves a change within each individual, a decision to let go of the pain and atrocities that they have endure, a decision to more forward, to let the past be the past. This is a primary concern in the conflict resolution field. How do we get conflicting parties to set aside their differences and at best live and work together or at least civilly tolerate one another? Some projects focusing of this area have sought to bring conflicting parties together on neutral territory with a neutral activity using sports, dance, music, art, farming, community work, or some other cultural activity that would allow both parties to participant. The hope of this activity is that through working/playing together, through having contact with one another, the conflicting parties come to realize that humanness of the other and begin to remove any preconceived conceptions they may have had. But how can we monitor and evaluate this process? How do we tell if someone’s hatred for another has diminished, if there fear of the other is lessened, if they are more apt to work with and along side of someone traditionally considered to be from the outgroup? How do we monitor and evaluate something so personal, someone’s soul?

Simon Wiesenthal‘s book The Sunflower demonstrates the complexity of forgiveness in his true account of a Nazi solider (Karl) who asks Jewish concentration camp detainee (Simon) for forgiveness on his deathbed for killing another Jewish family. The questions of forgiveness that Wiesenthal addresses are thought provoking, prompting the reader to question his or her own beliefs. Can forgiveness be granted ion someone else’s behalf? Karl is not seeking Simon’s forgiveness for a grievance caused to Simon, but rather is seeking forgiveness for the murder of another family. Since Karl cannot seek forgiveness from the dead, he asks for Simon’s forgiveness instead. If the circumstances had been different, if the family Karl wronged remained alive, would Karl have still asked Simon to forgive him for his wrongdoings? And if so, would Simon have been able to grant forgiveness on behalf of the family? The probable answer is no. If Karl could have sought forgiveness from the family he murdered, he would have done so and Simon would have no right to grant forgiveness on the family’s behalf. Should these circumstances be different if the wrongdoing resulted in death and the forgiveness of the wronged person cannot be granted? There are some circumstances in which the bereaved victims do grant the perpetrator forgiveness (this can sometimes be seen in murder trials), but to give anyone this right would dishonor the dead. Thus, Simon did not have the right to forgive Karl the atrocities Karl committed, as they were not inflicted on Simon, and Simon does not have the right to grant forgiveness on someone else’s behalf.

With an issue as complex as forgiveness, how can an organization seek evaluate progress made in their reconciliation efforts? The Spirit and Education Movement (SEM), a South-East Asian organization working in the area of post-conflict reconciliation, uses surveys to help bridge this gap. They conduct surveys before the project is implemented and after the project is implemented in an attempt to gage the ‘feelings’ of those who participated in the process. Although this is one why to capture how someone is feeling, is only captures their feelings on a particular moment in time, a feeling that could be swayed by multiple factors ranging from the weather outside to problems at home or at work. In spite of having conducted these surveys, SEM recognizes that monitoring and evaluation what it comes to questions of reconciliation is extremely difficult. So the question remains, can it be done?

The reality is that reconciliation is a process, an extremely long and sometimes incredibly painful process at that. It takes time and cannot be constricted on single project or activity. There is an old saying that goes “time heals all wounds”, note the word time. Consequently, monitoring and evaluation of reconciliation efforts should be carried out in the long-term, not the immediate aftermath.

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Cambodia: the Geopolitical Chessboard

 

ImageThe history of the cold war boiled down to one sentence would go as follows: The world’s two opposing superpowers – Capitalist United States and Communist USSR – contending for international power and influence through the engagement of militarily armament, military engagement, and proxy wars. The United States commenced with a ‘roll-back policy’ – an attempt to rejuvenate democracy in those countries that had become communist, but this policy was soon shifted to one of containment – the prevention of future countries from becoming communism. When one thinks of the Cold War the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the proxy wars fought in South America, Africa, and the Middle East immediately come to mind. Cambodia is not at the forefront of the discussion, yet it was victim of the geopolitical climate created by the Cold War environment.

Cambodia was declaredly neutral during the Cold War. In fact, to was part of the Non-AlignedImage Movement, a group of states that chose not to align themselves with either the community or capitalist bloc. However, Cambodia became of tremendous interest to both sides of the conflict during the war in Vietnam. Cambodia shares its eastern border with Vietnam, and despite declaring neutrality, it permitted the Viet Cong to use the eastern portions of the country as access routes to the American military forces. When the US discovered this, they proceed to carpet bomb the eastern region of Cambodia, causing immense destruction. The turmoil and destruction of the US bombings in Cambodia gave rise to civil war from 1970 to 1975, in which the Khmer Rouge was eventually victorious. Rumors began to circulate about the atrocities being committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s, so much so that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights launched an investigation into the Pol Pot regime in 1978. The resulting report, the Boudhiba Report, however, was never presented before the United Nations, largely due to the geopolitics surrounding Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1979.

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In January 1979, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, overthrew Pol Pot’s regime, and established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. What needs to be noted on this topic, and which is often forgotten in Cold War history, is that in Asia, China and the USSR were positioned against one another – Maoism vs. Leninism. When the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, they were backed by the USSR. This immediately incited fear into China who opening opposed Vietnam’s presence in Cambodia and called for the immediately withdraw of all Vietnamese troops. The United States, have just established economic relations with China and not wanting to hinder those relations, sided with China against the USSR backed Vietnamese government in Vietnam. At this time, the remaining Khmer Rouge member had fled to the forest and continued to receive support from the United States and China. Their support of rebel groups in Cambodia was so much that the Khmer Rouge remained the official representative of Cambodia at the United Nations until the after the Peace Agreement of 1991, despite the fact that the People’s Republic of Kampuchea was effectively running the country. In the midst of all this politics, the Boudhiba Report was given little attention. In fact, when its presentation was proposed before the United Nations General Assembly in February 1979, the USSR, the entire Soviet Bloc and the Non-Aligned Movement voted against its admission.

In the wake to the mass atrocities committed in Cambodia, no western government came to Cambodia’s aid, in spite of international commitments made to end such atrocities. “Never Again” was the slogan for the Nuremberg trial, the justification from bringing the Nazi perpetrators to justice, yet in the Cambodian context this pretense did not exist. Not until much later, almost 30 years later. To make matters worse, because to the geopolitical climate of the region, the United States and Great Britain sought to block NGO attempts to get emergency humanitarian aid into the country.

With the developing global conscience, the situation, the exploitation of a country due to geopolitical interest, is simply not acceptable. The Cambodians that died under Pol Pot’s regime were human too and deserve the same rights, protection, and international support as any other person in the world. The movement to end such atrocities requires the active engagement of all countries to create a standard that such crimes are simply unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Geopolitics should never be a consideration when it comes to human rights violations.