Trust and Reconciliation

To claim that trust is crucial to reconciliation is not to eschew the broader claim that political reconciliation is attitudinal and requires affective redirection, as [1]

much as it is institutional: if you betray me, I will not be able to trust you again so long as I still harbour strong feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment.[2] [3] [4] [5] To trust someone to do x is to have the expectation that when doing x, she will be motivated to do so out of respect and concern for us. So conceived, trust can only be granted and withheld by moral agents, to and from moral agents who are responsive to the right kind of reasons. Likewise, it can be nurtured or destroyed only by such agents. Moreover, trust differs from reliance, for in reliance, it matters not what my reasons are for thinking that the person will do x: for example, it might be that doing x is in her interest, and I believe that she will act on the basis of her interest, so I rely on the fact that she will do x. For trust to exist, however, it is crucial that the trustor should believe that the trustee acts at least in part out of respect and concern for her. Relevantly to the present context, there is evidence to suggest that, for peace negotiators to trust each other, they must believe that each is committed to the peace process because the latter is conducive to their constituents’ interests. Equal concern and respect matter, but are not enough.14

Reconciliation as a process involves building trust between opponents. As an outcome—a state of affairs where opponents are reconciled—it also requires trust: reliance is not enough, for to conceive of my enemy as a partner in peace, I need to know that he genuinely sees me as such a partner as well. Of course, when trust has been shattered, the most that can be expected at the outset of reconciliatory processes is that individuals should be able to rely on others not killing, maiming, or robbing them.15 But building a justifiedATC peace on reliance alone does not seem enough over time. Remember, more than 40 per cent of conflicts resume within five years of their ending. It is not implausible that were trust to be properly rebuilt between erstwhile belligerents, that figure would be lower. Note too that trust is important not just instrumentally—for the benefits it brings about—but intrinsically so as well: it is a sign that parties do think of one another as worthy of equal concern and respect. 16

In political cases of the kind which concern us here, trust is instantiated in the following kinds of cases: victims trust that state officials will treat them with concern and respect out of recognition of and commitment to the fact both that they are worthy of such treatment and that they rely on such treatment; victims trust their neighbours, who were complicitous in mass atrocities, not to attack them at the first sign of discord; erstwhile enemy leaders trust each other not to violate the terms of the peace agreement at the first opportunity; and so on.

Trust, thus, is both horizontal and vertical (it is horizontal between citizens themselves, or between community leaders/peace negotiators; it is vertical between citizens and public officials). Further, trust is societal as well as being political, in so far as it operates between individuals in their social, cultural, economic relationships. At the same time, it can be both personal and political/societal: my reasons for not trusting you to behave morally in our personal relationships might generate reasons for not trusting you to support, as a citizen, institutions which would promote the kind of conduct which you eschew in your private life: if I do not trust you not to attack me on the grounds that I am gay and that you think gays are scum, I have little reason to trust you, on the face of it, not to vote for a political party whose manifesto includes harshly repressive measures against homosexuals. I might be mistaken in the end: perhaps you have reasons not to vote for that party which trump your enthusiasm for its homophobic manifesto. But unless those reasons are known to me and unless I can trust that you will vote accordingly, my distrust of you in the personal realm warrantedly translates into distrust in the political realm. Granted, the same might perhaps not apply as much to peace negotiators themselves on either side of the wartime divide: it is not as clear in those cases that I should distrust your willingness to keep to our peace agreement, as my fellow head of government, simply because I know that you routinely break promises in your political life. Either way, though, trust can be directed and active (at particular people for doing particular things) or undirected (as when we generally assume by default that, e.g., we will not be attacked, the restaurant at which we dined will not over-charge our credit card, the shop from which we bought a television did not intentionally supply us with a defective product, etc.).

Those points apply to trust within and between communities generally, but they are particularly salient following wars in general, and civil wars in particular. They suggest that the kind and amount of evidence needed on both sides will vary depending on the circumstances. In ordinary, stable social and political settings, I may need relatively little evidence to trust my neighbour not to attack me; nor for that matter do I need any evidence to think that the political community with whom we share a border will not invade us. After a war, if my neighbour has been convicted of participating in a genocide against the ethnic group to which I belong, or of participating in gang rapes, I will need considerable evidence that he will not attack me at the first opportunity. If my MP’s political party has led us into the abyss of a civil war for which he voted, I will need more evidence than I needed in peacetime to trust him with office. Likewise with our neighbours across the border, and likewise with our socio-economic associates. Of course, how much evidence people need in order to develop trust also depends on their upbringing, temperament, and past experiences of good and bad treatment. The basic point is that the fact that individuals have lived through a devastating and wide-scale conflict makes the (re)building of trust both particularly important and particularly difficult.

What does it take, then, to (re)build trust after conflict? I noted above that this kind of trust is a property of relationships between moral agents who see one another as moral equals worthy of concern and respect, and who are responsive to the principle of fundamental equality in their dealings with one another. War crimes consist in a denial of fundamental equality. Trust cannot exist unless victims are given evidence that perpetrators do now see them in that way; this in turn requires that perpetrators be able to see their victims in that way as well; when they have all been locked in cycles of mutual attritional violence, it requires that victims not just see themselves as victims but as worthy of equal respect. In addition, perpetrators too need to trust victims not to attack them in revenge. Finally, for trust to emerge, particularly in the aftermath of mass atrocities which by their very nature dehumanize both perpetrators and victims, all must at the very least try to learn to recognize their shared humanity. In the next three sections, I scrutinize three different institutional mechanisms or practices which have figured heavily in post-war reconciliations and which, I argue, help rebuild political and societal trust between erstwhile enemies. The first two, namely traditional justice fora such as the Rwandan gacaca courts on the one hand, and Truth and Reconciliation Commissions on the other hand, have been explicitly designed as tools for reconciliation after civil conflicts; the last, which encompasses both official expressions of regret and official apologies, have been used in a less systematic way to those ends but have nevertheless played a part in them.

  • [1] See, e.g., N. Lacey and H. Pickard, ‘To Blame or to Forgive? Reconciling Punishment andForgiveness in Criminal Justice’, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies 35 (2015): 665—96.
  • [2] This point does not reintroduce through the back door the claim that forgiveness is central toreconciliation: for although forgiveness consists in overcoming those feelings, not all cases where thosefeelings disappear are forgiveness cases: to repeat, the passage of time might do the trick. Important accounts of trust in general, on which I draw here, are K. Jones, ‘Trust as an AffectiveAttitude’, Ethics 107 (1996): 4—25; A. Baier, ‘Trust and Antitrust’, Ethics 96 (1986): 231—60;M. Walker, Moral Repair—Reconstructing Moral Relations after Wrongdoing (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 2006), ch. 3; P Pettit, ‘The Cunning ofTrust’, Philosophy & Public Affairs 24 (1995):202—25; R. Hardin, Trust and Trustworthiness (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002). For anilluminating account of different kinds of trust in divided societies (though he focuses on relativelypeaceful societies), see D. Weinstock, ‘Building Trust in Divided Societies’, Journal of PoliticalPhilosophy 7 (1999): 287—307. See also J. Dunn, ‘Trust and Political Agency’, in D. Gambetta (ed.),Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988).
  • [3] 14 See H. C. Kelman, ‘Building Trust Among Enemies: The Central Challenge for InternationalConflict Resolution’, International Journal of Intercultural Relations 29 (2005): 629—50.
  • [4] Kelman, ‘Building Trust Among Enemies’.
  • [5] See also Murphy, A Moral Theory of Political Reconciliation, ch. 2.
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