Institutional reforms are integral to peacebuilding but are seldom associated with reconciliation. Yet the institutions of a state that has been the object of contestation and conflict for many years are often deeply mistrusted and unstable. Even after a peace agreement is signed, changes to political and security arrangements as part of statebuilding exercises (see Conciliation Resources (2016), ‘Workshop Report: Peacebuilding and Reconciliation
’) can result in the emergence of new forms of violence and threats to sustainable peace such as electoral violence or the splintering of armed groups.
A gap in both current reconciliation and statebuilding approaches is how they address structural violence – a key conflict driver – and the relationships that underpin it. Conflicts are often asymmetric, driven by discrimination, marginalisation and inequality, and a core challenge for reconciliation efforts is to address unequal and intersecting power relationships. A focus on integrating reconciliation into statebuilding could help to address the political deficit in statebuilding that has been identified as a stumbling block to its effectiveness.
For example, the transitional justice process in Tunisia (see Conciliation Resources (2016), ‘Workshop Report: Peacebuilding and Reconciliation
’) has targeted, among other things, political and economic corruption – the main rallying point for the revolution and removal of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The process is seen by many as integral to re-establishing citizens’ trust in state institutions, and promoting the rule of law, equitable development and reconciliation. Yet recent political developments, including the emergence of former regime officials on the political scene, have favoured prioritising human rights violations over corruption, leading to stalemate in how to push the entire transitional process forward.
The case studies illustrate how questions of statebuilding are bound up in the possibility of transforming relationships. In Northern Ireland, while the two main communities share the same political institutions, they remain divided by physical, social and political barriers such as continued segregated housing and education. In Mindanao, the formalisation of a proposed self-governing territory of Bangsamoro with a predominantly Moro population is affected by negative stereotypes of Muslims from the broader (predominantly Christian) Filipino population. In the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, territorially divided communities have little physical opportunity for interaction. This is driven by contrasting positions on statehood, whereby Abkhaz claims to self-determination threaten Georgia’s territorial integrity. The distinction between intra- and inter-state conflict is also contested.
The case studies suggest that statebuilding cannot be a purely technical exercise to define the nature of the state and reform public institutions. While post-war institutions may bring together former adversaries (most obviously in the security sector), significant parts of the public are likely to remain highly mistrustful of the state. Addressing this gap is vital to a transformative approach to statebuilding, and can support prevention of future conflict risk.
For example, González and Mendoza suggest that in Colombia a truth-telling process providing clarity on the failure of previous demobilisation negotiations with the FARC-EP, as well as accurate information rather than speculation about who committed particular attacks and massacres, would support community confidence in future disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration processes. In Mindanao, a key question is how community priorities highlighted in the listening process – such as discrimination and land dispossession – can be incorporated into a potential truth commission.
The example of police reform in Northern Ireland demonstrates the need for continued awareness of the past in institutional changes. Reform has involved a change in name, the incorporation of all political parties including Sinn Féin on the Policing Board, and stronger community involvement. This has been largely positive: the new service has greater accountability and trust among unionist and nationalist communities. It presented a clear break from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which held significant and opposing conflict associations for both sides. However, broader political disagreements over how to deal with the past have left the new police service responsible for investigation into historical violence – leading to renewed suspicion and recurring questions on the contested role of the police during the conflict.