Healing Societies

In post-conflict settings, human rights advocates tend to focus on justice, while conflict resolvers are more concerned with promoting peace. Human rights advocates emphasize truth commissions, trials, reparations, and developing an accurate historical account as key elements in their prescription for healing societies. Conflict resolvers emphasize dialogue and other initiatives that assist previously warring parties to reconcile, or at least to coexist. Professionals in both fields recognize the importance of building strong institutions of civil society, though the latter focus on strengthening grass-roots activists and building trust among former foes, while the former emphasize reforms aimed at the military, police, judiciary, and democratic governance structures.

CHRCR believes that both the institutions of civil society and the constituencies that they serve need attention, if societies are to "heal" after a period of violent conflict and widespread human rights violations. The Healing Societies Project supports research, training, and consulting projects that address the relationships among:

  • Ending violence or human rights violations so that survivors feel physically safe
  • Coming to terms with the past
  • Doing justice
  • Creating conditions that make it possible for society to move forward, based on the consent or acquiescence of all of the parties to a previous conflict
  • Reconciling or promoting coexistence between former perpetrators of violence and their victims

Imagine Coexistence

The Imagine Coexistence Project is an initiative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and supported by funds from the Japanese government through the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security. The purpose of the project is to promote the coexistence of people returning to communities that have been deeply divided by international conflict and mass violence. Coexistence is defined as acquiring the skills and determination that individuals and communities require, following serious trauma or historical socio-political division, to recognize each other's rights as human beings; develop a just and inclusive vision of the community's future; and implement economic, social, cultural, and political development across former community divides. The Imagine Coexistence project approach encourages joint activities or joint use of public spaces (e.g., schools, playgrounds, or health clubs) as a means for members of conflicting groups to replace deeply rooted mistrust with cooperation and peace building. The project has two components: (1) the development of pilot coexistence projects directed or monitored by the UNHCR in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda; and (2) research to survey existing projects and new initiatives and evaluate partner groups.

CHRCR carried out the research component of the Imagine Coexistence Project under contract with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Teams of CHRCR researchers gathered data in Bosnia-Hercegovina and Rwanda. Professor Babbitt will then compile the data and prepare a monograph refining the core concepts, prepare an evaluation protocol for assessing the impact of field-based projects, analyze the lessons learned from both a country-wide survey and an in-depth evaluation of several UNHCR sponsored programs, and develop recommendations for practitioners. In 2002, CHRCR organizeed an international conference which assisted in the development of "Best Coexistence Practices."

Negotiating Self-Determination

This project, supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation, examines whether self-determination claims are more likely than other conflicts to lead to violence and whether they are more difficult to resolve. In particular, it addresses the following questions:

  • Given that neither self-determination nor territorial integrity is absolute, under what conditions might it be preferable that borders be redrawn? When, if ever, should the international community intervene either to defend existing borders or facilitate their reconfiguration? These questions implicitly require revisiting issues related to the proper understanding of "self-determination" in the contemporary international order, in particular the relationship among human rights, the impact of recently articulated minority rights, and states' belief that territorial integrity is sacrosanct.
  • How should the international community respond institutionally, short of force, to demands by minority groups within states for greater political and economic power, whether those demands are couched in terms of self-determination and secession or less extreme power-sharing arrangements?
  • Even if there were to be agreement on basic norms related to self-determination, should international institutions be modified to recognize the grievances of non-state entities?
  • How has negotiation been used in the past to address self-determination concerns? What lessons can be drawn for how best to negotiate self-determination claims in the world's current conflicts?

Research has centered around four case studies: Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, Czechoslovakia, and Sudan. CHRCR hosted an off-the-record workshop on each case in which distinguished scholars, policy analysts, and former diplomats with particular expertise on the conflict participated. An edited volume of papers related to the project was made available in 2004.