10.8 Necessary Condition: Social Reconstruction
10.8.1 What is social reconstruction? Why is it a necessary condition?
Social reconstruction is a condition in which the population achieves a level of tolerance and peaceful co-existence; gains social cohesion through acceptance of a national identity that transcends individual, sectarian, and communal differences; has the mechanisms and will to resolve disputes nonviolently; has community institutions that bind society across divisions; and addresses the legacy of past abuses. For the social well-being of a society, social reconstruction includes twin approaches: directly addressing the legacy of violent conflict through inter- and intra-group reconciliation767 and indirectly building societal links768 by promoting reconciliation through community-based development and cooperative action.769 Following violent conflict, social cohesion may be almost nonexistent. Returnees, combatants, and victims of the conflict often have great difficulty finding their place in the community again. Disputes over land, water, pasture rights, inheritance, marriage, and other community issues may arise, further affecting already traumatized communities. Local institutions—both formal and informal—that helped bind the population before the conflict may be shattered. Spoiler narratives and impromptu war memorials that reinforce societal cleavages may be present. Without the tolerance and cohesion that enables peaceful coexistence, individuals and communities may resort to violence to address their grievances and resolve disputes.
10.8.2 Guidance for Social Reconstruction
10.8.3 Approach: Inter- and Intra-Group Reconciliation
Reconciliation is a contentious term. The controversy derives from its meaning as both a goal and a process.770 While reconciliation may not be a realistic end goal within the time constraints of a typical S&R mission, reconciliation processes are still crucial to the social recovery and development of the population. Simply put, reconciliation is a process through which people move from a divided past to a shared future, the ultimate goal being the peaceful coexistence of all individuals in a society. Reconciliation programs seek to promote tolerance and mutual respect, reduce anger and prejudice from the conflict, foster intergroup understanding, strengthen nonviolent conflict resolution mechanisms, and heal the wounds of conflict. As well as address the causes of conflict, reconciliation can deter future violence and violations of human rights.
10.8.4 Assess existing sources of conflict to restore social capital and promote reconciliation. While many definitions exist, social capital is widely understood to be the resources that create a strong network of institutionalized relationships.771 To restore social capital in a war-torn country, be sure to understand underlying social cleavages that create conflict and tension. Assess the distribution of resources across society and the opportunities for individuals and groups to access those resources. Reliable delivery of and access to essential services builds vertical capital. For more on delivery of services, see Section 8.5.11. Community and intergroup reconciliation builds horizontal capital. In a society emerging from conflict, resolving the status of marginalized groups—including minorities, refugees, and IDPs—is necessary to build social capital. Individual human capital, such as skills and dignity, should also be preserved and supported.772 
10.8.5 Understand the cultural context to shape strategies for promoting reconciliation. Reconciliation processes are delicate and highly political in nature and should be grounded in the culture.773 To mitigate potential skepticism and fear about biases and intentions, reconciliation programs should involve all of society, including everyone from high-level politicians down to the ordinary survivor.774 Creating effective reconciliation programs requires assessing the social, political, economic, and cultural context before determining the best methods. Restoring social relationships successfully involves paying close attention to cultural or traditional mechanisms that exist for dealing with crises. It also entails assessing popular support for these processes to ensure that programs will be effective and that victims do not feel pressured into participating.775
10.8.6 Build on indigenous practices for healing and acknowledging wrongdoing. To ensure effective social recovery, be sure to assess the traditional or cultural means a society may have for acknowledging past misdeeds.776 Rather than displacing these mechanisms, build on them and use them in ways that can be constructive toward the reconciliation process.777
10.8.7 Ensure host nation ownership over the reconciliation process. Host nation ownership is vital to success; reconciliation cannot be imported. Reconciliation processes should be led and implemented by the host nation population, not international actors. Consulting with the population on the design and implementation of the programs is essential to ensure that the efforts are locally driven.778 On the other hand, the role of international third parties can also be helpful as an honest broker. Leaders of these processes need to understand that they require political will from host nation leaders, a degree of buy-in from the local community, and dedicated resources.
10.8.8 Recognize that reconciliation is an ongoing process—not an end goal—that may last for generations. Reconciliation is an extremely complex and multifaceted process that can be strongly impacted by political, economic, and cultural variables that are not always easy to measure or manage. Forgiveness and healing are very personal processes that may require time and nuanced approaches to promote. Because the process may take a very long time, it is absolutely critical to be explicit about the time frame and expectations of the process.779 The host nation government and civil society, therefore, should be prepared to continue promoting reconciliation processes from many different angles and over an extended period of time.780
10.8.9 Pay attention to sequencing.781 In undertaking reconciliation processes, timing and sequencing is crucial. Immediately after violent conflict ends, collection of evidence and witness statements should occur as soon as possible, when memories are still fresh and the destruction of critical war crimes evidence can be avoided. However, other processes, such as truth telling, may be best implemented after people have had time to absorb their experiences, resources have been secured, and a sound program has been developed through broad consultation with various groups. Rushing into reconciliation processes too quickly, when wounds are still raw and resources are scarce, can be a risky move.
See Trade-off: Section 10.9.6, Pursuing reconciliation vs. stability.
10.8.10 Consider the many different strategies that exist to promote reconciliation processes. No single effort can solve all of the problems of a society emerging from conflict, but collectively, they can contribute greatly to social reconciliation.782 See Section 7.7.3 for a discussion of transitional justice.
  • Truth telling. While there are many variations, this strategy generally involves the public recounting of memories of violence and is one of the most common techniques for confronting the past. Truth telling is founded on the idea that a comprehensive understanding of the conflict can help to restore social relationships. Truth telling is sometimes described as historical justice or means of setting the record straight. This strategy is often pursued through the establishment of truth commissions, which seek to uncover the past and bring to light the violations that occurred on all sides of the conflict.783 Truth commissions are generally understood to be:784
    • Temporary bodies, usually in operation for one to two years

    • Nonjudicial bodies with some degree of independence

    • Officially sanctioned, authorized, or empowered by the host nation government

    • Created at a point of political transition.

    • Truth commissions typically:


    • Investigate patterns of past abuses and specific violations committed over a period of time, not just a single specific event

    • Focus on violations of human rights and sometimes of humanitarian norms

    • Complete their work with the submission of a final report that contains conclusions and recommendations.

  • Peace commissions. Peace commissions play a role in fostering tolerance, promoting dialogue, and preventing violence.785 Means for doing this include mediating among groups, offering peace education and training through community programs, and countering rumors that may contribute to instability. Peace commissions typically comprise local leaders and representatives of the broader community.

  • Retributive justice and dispute resolution mechanisms. The prosecution of war crimes is an important aspect of the reconciliation process, as it holds war criminals and human rights violators accountable for their actions. But just as important are the other forms of justice, such as the issuance of reparations to victims, the documentation of truth, and mediation of ongoing disputes through traditional mechanisms. Retributive justice also entails strengthening the rule of law system to combat impunity and ensure the protection of human rights. Retributive justice contributes to reconciliation by:786
    • Discouraging revenge

    • Protecting against the return to power of perpetrators

    • Fulfilling an obligation to the victims

    • Individualizing guilt

    • Strengthening legitimacy and process of democratization

    • Breaking the cycle of impunity.

  • Restorative justice.787 Restorative justice mechanisms are often employed as an alternative or a complement to retributive justice efforts. While retributive justice focuses primarily on the perpetrator, restorative justice engages the victim, the perpetrator, and the broader community in an effort to restore relationships destroyed as a result of violent conflict. Rather than focusing on punishment of the perpetrator, restorative justice mechanisms emphasize getting perpetrators to accept responsibility for their actions. One model for restorative justice involves a mediation process where willing victims meet with willing perpetrators to explore and express their feelings about the facts surrounding an offense and seek to mend relationships.
  • Lustration. Lustration is the administrative step of barring a whole class of individuals from public employment, political participation, and the enjoyment of other civil rights based on involvement with a prior regime. Many variables to consider when using lustration include to what extent the group being barred has been defeated or discredited, its social influence, and its potential for mounting resistance.
  • Reparations. Reparations are a form of justice that seeks to compensate victims for their losses and to acknowledge the violations they suffered. Many terms exist to describe similar concepts as the idea has evolved over time: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, or satisfaction and redress. Reparations may be an important element of the reconciliation process for vulnerable populations that suffered from the conflict, such as youth, women, torture victims, and ethnic minorities. When considering using reparations, be aware that victims may feel that they are simply being paid off. Reparations processes can be expensive and typically employ direct financial transfers, but can also include grants for victims’ children or targeted programs for groups or regions that suffered greatly.788
  • Mass media. Radio, television, and art are all media through which peace messages and peace education can be promulgated in an effective way. UN missions, for example, often establish UN radio through which peace messages are communicated, including providing information on disarmament and demobilization sites, dispelling rumors, countering hate speech, and providing a forum for dialogue.
  • Healing. Healing is broadly defined as any strategy or activity that seeks to promote the psychological health of individuals after they have experienced trauma. Healing processes are lengthy, intensive, and are often linked with the rehabilitation of national and local communities to restore a sense of normalcy and belonging.789
  • Memorialization. Memorialization is a process that, when properly constructed, can honor victims and serve as a tool to address the past and promote a peaceful future. By educating and reminding people about the past, memorialization aims to prevent the renewal of conflict and to aid in social reconstruction by creating a “never again” mentality.790 Experience shows that memorials that prompt survivors to examine contested recollections of the past and facilitate exchange across ethnic, cultural, and religious groups can advance social reconstruction. It also shows, however, that impromptu memorials run the risk of reigniting old tensions. Build memorialization initiatives with intensive, deliberate, and locally led consultation and design, based on a thorough understanding of the following local context; beliefs about death and burial, grieving, revenge, and justice; and important cultural, historic, and other symbolic sites and document collections.791 Explore how transitional justice processes can relate to memorialization.
10.8.11 Be prepared to provide necessary security.792 Some reconciliation processes can stir strong reactions from victims and perpetrators, which can result in violence from those who seek to undermine those processes. Because of the political volatilities, a credible guarantee of security is vital to the success of these processes and to ensure public participation in them, particularly in truth telling processes and in administering retributive justice. Common fears include victims’ fear of retaliation by perpetrators, perpetrators' fear for their own lives after testifying, fear of government reprisals, and fear that testimonies given in truth commissions will be used in legal prosecutions.
10.8.12 Approach: Community-Based Development
Community-based development, long separated in official guidance from governance, humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, and reconciliation, is now understood to unite all of these fundamental activities in conflict-affected societies through community-driven processes that have stood the test of time and been applied in dozens of missions.793  Development that brings representatives of divided societies together helps them learn to govern and reconcile while rebuilding their shattered communities. This approach can rebuild social capital and trust within and between communities.794
10.8.13 Build relationships and trust through collaborative development processes.795 This collaborative approach should be considered the heart of any strategy to promote peaceful coexistence and eventual reconciliation.796 The features of development processes that aid in reconciliation and promote governance include the following:
  • Democratically selected community bodies reflecting the diverse make-up of localities with a special focus on inclusion of gender and minority representation
  • Joint community decision-making to assess and prioritize needs 
  • Community selection of projects (e.g., schools, community centers, health clinics)
  • Community receipt of aid money and management of the allocation of resources
  • Contribution of labor to reconstruction projects
  • Accountability and transparency mechanisms to ensure integrity of the process.
10.8.14 Understand that the development process is as important as the projects. The process outlined above, and the cooperation and solidarity it can instill, enables social reconstruction. Do not rush the process because doing so can exacerbate community tensions by unleashing a new contest for power. Be patient because building democratic processes in this manner may mean that projects take longer to complete.797
10.8.15 Provide resources to ensure sustainability. In every S&R mission for the past two decades, community-based development programs have been launched to promote reconstruction and reconciliation. Many of these programs suffer from a lack of sustained resources, which can undermine the legitimacy of the peace process and reconciliation prospects. This requires a commitment of aid money to the community-based development program, as well as capacity-building and technical support for the process.798
10.8.16 Ensure inclusion and transparency to promote reconciliation and healing. Include all stakeholders in community-based development decision-making structures, particularly marginalized groups that have been excluded in the past. These often include women, minorities, youth, and the disabled. Transparent and participatory approaches include access to project records, routine reporting to the community on the progress of development programs, and monitoring by media and civil society organizations.799