Summary: Ch. 7 Justice & the Burdens of History

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published in Reconciliation, Coexistence and Justice in Interethnic Conflict: Theory and Practice,

edited by Mohammad Abu-Nimer

This essay deals with restorative justice as it relates psychologically to the dignity and self-esteem of individuals, as well as the design of reconciliation strategies for peacemaking. Montville covers topics such as: 1) Human needs and the defense of the self, 2) Individual and group reaction to traumatic loss, 3) Victimhood psychology, and 4) Public and private acts of healing.

In particular Montville says the public act of healing, embodied in truth and reconciliation commissions, performs the crucial task of acknowledgment of the victim’s loss. (With or without expressions of remorse or repentance by perpetrators.) By making the violation of basic human rights a permanent part of the state’s public record, the state assumes a protective stewardship for the victim. Thus providing an essential assurance to the victims that their future safety is protected.

This chapter concludes with an account of partially successful reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland. The lesson from this analysis of the burdens of history on ethnic and sectarian conflicts is that even the most brilliant negotiator can at best help make a temporary deal between adversaries, unless he or she also advances a genuine process of healing the wounds of history.