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Commitments to Reconciliation: A Review of Reconciliation and Architectures of Commitment: Sequencing Peace in Bougainville
Frida Rundell

Posted 2012-02-24

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Introduction

Reconciliation and Architectures of Commitment: Sequencing Peace in Bougainville, published September 2010, is a publication of the Peacebuilding Compared Project (http://peacebuilding.anu.edu.au) of the Centre for International Governance & Justice (CICJ) of the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra. The book is the second of three published so far. The first, Anomie and Violence: Non-truth and Reconciliation in Indonesian Peacebuilding, was published in March 2010; the third, Pillars and Shadows: Statebuilding as Peacebuilding in Solomon Islands, was published in November 2010. Links to free downloads of all three books are available at: http://epress.anu.edu.au?p=57571.

Compiling research on the ground worldwide, Peacebuilding Compared seeks to answer: What works in peacebuilding? What kinds of interventions create wars and make things worse for the people? How can international peacebuilding and international law contribute to justice and human development after armed conflict?

“This ambitious project will cover up to 50 armed conflicts and is expected to span 20 years,” the researchers write. “Each case will stand alone as contextually rich accounts of successes and failures of peacebuilding in that nation as well as helping to develop an integrated theory of the governance of peacebuilding in societies suffering armed conflict. … The first five years of the project will focus on Indonesia, the Pacific and South-East Asian case studies.”

The researchers are: project leader John Braithwaite, ANU professor, Australian Research Council Federation (ARC) fellow and founder of the Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet) at the ANU; Hilary Charlesworth, Chief Investigator and Legal Frameworks director, ANU professor and ARC laureate fellow; Valerie Braithwaite, ANU professor and RegNet director; Kate Macfarlane, project officer and Kylie McKenna, researcher.

Dr. Frida Rundell is a founding faculty member of the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) Graduate School.

Review

Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua, New Guinea, is the setting for Braithwaite, Charlesworth, Reddy and Dunn’s 2010 research report, Reconciliation and Architectures of Commitment: Sequencing Peace in Bougainville. In Bougainville, the hope is that the attempts at peacemaking have provided a foundation for future resolutions to be built through skillful conversations.

Bougainville Island, east of Papua, New Guinea, and northwest of the Solomon Islands, has suffered a decade of civil war. A colonial history of mining exploitation, indentured labor and abuse inflicted by other countries left Bougainville susceptible to internal conflict. The fact that the international community did not support Bougainville’s independence heightened the citizens’ vulnerable plight.

The Peacebuilding Compared process allowed researchers to describe the cost of Bougainville’s decades of civil war. Loss of life had previously been underreported due to political interests and journalist restrictions. A generation of children missed out on education. These losses clearly show that Bougainville was a pawn easily sacrificed by the international community in the interests of outside enterprise and colonial policy.

The way Bougainville attempted to move from conflict to peace involved three elements that the authors term “top-down” architecture, “bottom-up” development and “middle-out” links between the two. Top-down constituents included government and other organizations, e.g., the Australian mining industry, which was interested in exploiting the mineral wealth and the local people. The bottom-up group were members of local tribes who were in conflict with each other. Examples of middle-out groups are women’s movements, youth church organizations and leaders within those groups, who really held the key to the peacemaking process.

“The two approaches [top-down and bottom-up] operated in symbiotic fashion, each making space for, and reinforcing, the other” (Braithwaite, et al., 2010, p. 1). However, the authors suggest, for real change to occur, a top-down architecture of credible commitment and a bottom-up reconciliation had to be accompanied by a middle-out group of people that connected the two. The middle-out networkers were the catalyst that made things happen.

New Zealand’s role modeling set standards early on that maintained steady negotiations. That nation’s peacebuilders developed social capital with community feasts and building relationships over food, with music and through sport. In a brilliant piece of diplomacy, New Zealand suggested a partial weapons disposal referendum. Here, the middle-out peacemakers successfully negotiated between the top-down Papua Authority, who had control, the bottom-up tribes’ member combatants, who wanted weapons to defend themselves, and members of the bottom-up community who wanted peace. The partial weapons disposal established a “peace zone of civility” where the use of arms was banned. This partial weapons disposal policy facilitated a mutual step-by-step commitment from each side, allowing a gradual release of power and mistrust.

New Zealand’s peacemakers opened spaces for reconciliation, but it was the locals who found their own voice to shape what peace looked like. Women’s movements held vigils at the grassroots level and linked arms with male combatants to bring awareness of the harms that had occurred. Church youth groups supported the “peace zone of civility.”

In one story, Bougainville youth traveled with a homemade cross from village to village, inspiring healing and reconciliation. Their journey helped quell a general desire for compensation, which came to be regarded as “blood money.” Instead, it inspired both sides to exchange traditional gifts, as well as betel-nut (for chewing), foot washing, even the offer of a young woman in marriage. The gifts reinforced apology and forgiveness (Braithwaite et al. 2010, p. 73). This participation spoke to the lateral and transgenerational needs of a people who had been harmed over decades.

These processes demonstrate to scholars, peace researchers, politicians and diplomats that adaptability, interdependence, resource recycling and sustainability are critical in achieving peace agreements.

The authors compared their findings with other conflict zones in the world, providing a valuable synopsis of the effects of colonialism. Cultural clashes with workers brought in from other countries, immigration threats, opening up mineral rights and resources, slapdash leadership and micro-management, along with many other instances of exploitation, led to abuse of the people and their land.

Lessons learned from comparing the findings in Bougainville with other conflict zones included (Braithwaite, et al., 2010, pp. 103-131):

  • Local ownership in building peace is paramount.
  • Keeping international influence to support but not to control is crucial.
  • Leadership roles require both genders participating.
  • Incremental steps of agreement are needed when drawing up a constitutional design for a conflict area.
  • Empirical evidence shows that aid is more effective in the years after the first few years of peace.
  • Dividends are what locals must create and earn.
  • A community-based justice system supports effective policing during and after the conflict.
  • Not involving the military in the problem is pivotal.
  • Peacekeepers’ experience during the process strengthens character.

Currently, Bougainville’s Constitutional Commission is moving away from setting up a retributive justice system and toward a restorative system. The only jail on the island was burned down, and in the two decades since, it was never rebuilt. Developing a reconciliatory concept of policing in harmony with the various stakeholders encourages community participation and support among the traditional tribal chiefs to resolve conflicts. This concept is now in the forefront of peacebuilding efforts. Local reconciliation calls for the peacebuilders to pay attention to the skills and knowledge of local people, which facilitate mediation.

Because Bougainville’s peace process did not involve a truth commission—a top-down element (as, for example, was the case in South Africa)—but was rather derived from deep bottom-up and middle-out reconciliation processes, the authors write that Bougainville has a “deep and shallow restorative peace.” It’s deep because it involved real change at the community level, and it’s shallow because the minimal amount of government (top-down) involvement has left the peace vulnerable.

The documentation in the book provides researchers and peacebuilders with a consciousness of all the variables involved in peacemaking and informs them of the importance of being adaptable and interconnected with the various stakeholders when seeking peace. Peacebuilding, say the authors, is a complex and non-linear process. Recognizing natural resources among the community through conversations allows peacemakers to grapple with commonalities. Recognizing that peace sustainability is fragile is important. Each community is unique, and no one process fits all. For this reason, having a set of values to guide the process is essential. Safety, trust, respect and empathy for people’s needs allow voices to speak their truth and to take responsibility.

One’s thoughts gravitate to recent conflict areas like Egypt, Libya, Syria and other countries struggling with bottom-up and top-down disparities. They need the middle-out catalyst to be advocates of just causes. The book provides cautionary and pivotal lessons for politicians and peacebuilders alike. Restorative processes are slow and incremental where all parties play participatory roles in honest conversations.

The book invites senior scholars and conflict and peacebuilding researchers to become members of an advisory research panel and encourages them to follow lines of inquiry that pursue future good practice recommendations.

The idea of a model village... strengthens opportunities for both kinds of economic flourishing side by side with a cultural flowering of traditional governance and democratic governance. … The Bougainville peace is particularly instructive because of the virtuous circle that has been created between traditional bottom-up reconciliation and a distinctive kind of political settlement. (Braithwaite et al., 2010, pp. 130-131)

REFERENCE

Braithwaite, J., Charlesworth, H., Reddy, P., Dunn, L. (2010). Reconciliation and Architectures of Commitment: Sequencing peace in Bougainville. Canberra, Australia: Australian National University E Press.