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Overcoming past traumas to build a stable future

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims. Photo by Adam Carr, February 2005.

If your child is murdered or your friend is tortured or someone tries to kill you, it is tough to forgive and forget.   Animosities that spring from these kinds of brutality run deep. Yet moving on emotionally and psychologically is an important part of rebuilding society after the trauma of conflict and violence.

 Different societies deal with these things in different ways. This week Hilary Clinton visited a former prison in Cambodia where thousands were held before being sent to their deaths in the killing fields. She urged the authorities to proceed with trials of the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge so that the country can ‘confront its past’.

This followed the decision by Prime Minister Hun Sen that there would be no more prosecutions after the trials of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders already charged.  The prime minister says the country needs to bury the past. Ms. Clinton argues that a country that is unable to confront its past is a country that cannot overcome it.

 

The same day, there was another story describing how East Timor’s President Jose Ramos Horta plans to free Gastao Salsinha, the former rebel who shot and badly wounded him in 2008. The UN Secretary General, rights groups, and the opposition have reacted to the decision with dismay, saying it will undermine the rule of law.

 

For President Horta, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, it is about mercy and reconciliation. With internal tensions still strong in his impoverished Asian nation, he believes offering clemency is an opportunity to consolidate peace and stability which outweighs arguments for punitive justice.

 

Is there a right approach to this thorniest of post-conflict problems? Research for the WDR finds that over the last three decades almost 40 countries have implemented various measures to redress serious human rights abuses.

 

Bob Geldof and the food riots in Mozambique

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Last Friday, Bob Geldof’s face gazed pensively from the front page of the FT’s business section over a story that he was seeking to raise a billion dollars for a venture capital fund for Africa.

The front page of the main paper, meanwhile, told of violence on the streets of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, where more than 20 people died in food riots after the price of bread went up by 25 percent.

Same day, same paper, same continent. But for me, the two stories were linked in another way. Let me explain.

Geldof’s transition from advocate for aid to fund manager, seeking to capitalize on resurgent economic growth, is not as surprising as it may sound.

Africa can certainly use more investment in agri-business, financial services and telecommunications that will be the focus of the new fund.

And these investments, if capably managed, should contribute to creating economic growth and opportunity.

But the scenes of violence in Maputo show that economic growth is not enough to ensure a peaceful future in a society that has known or is prone to violence. Rather, they indicate that even the most enduring transitions away from conflict and fragility can experience a violent tipping point.

INTERVIEW: Land Rights and Internally Displaced Persons in Colombia

Daniel Maree's picture

In this exclusive interview with Senior Social Development Specialist Elena Correa, we discuss the results and lessons-learned from the project on Protection of Land and Patrimony of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Colombia. To read the background paper on the workshop click here.

Alec Wescott contributed to this post.

 © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank 
   © Charlotte Kesl / World Bank  

 Q. Since its inception in 2002, your focus has developed from “land protection” to “land titling” and “land restitution”. What is the difference between the two strategies, and what prompted the change?

A. Land rights protection was the starting point for the project because of the large number of population displaced. However, land right protection is not enough to diminish the risk of impoverishment of IDPs as was established as the main objective of the project.  According to the circumstances and the evolution of the project, land titling was incorporated to formalize these land rights of IDPs who do not have legal titles.

Land restitution was included in the project as a result of the enactment of the Justice and Peace Law in 2005. Land restitution is the ultimate goal in the protection of land that has been lost due to displacement. The project had gathered information since its start in 2003 that could be built on to achieve land restitution.  This is a good example of new emerging legislation and how the project adapted itself to the opportunities provided by this law.

International norms and local realities

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  Outcomes matter

All too often, donors and development organizations push pre-fabricated institutional models on developing countries despite the checkered history of these arrangements.  This is something we are grappling with in the context of the WDR as we look at the functionality of the institutional forms that the international community often encourages fragile states to embrace. 

Elections are a case in point as countries vulnerable to violence are urged to put in place this particular pillar of democracy without much attention to the other elements of democratic architecture.  We have seen in many places how this can backfire, triggering tensions and undermining progress towards more resilient societies. 

It is not just elections.  In addressing corruption and human rights there are plenty of examples of institutional implants placing major strains on fragile societies.  While there is no question that international norms and standards are central on many crucial issues, there is too much emphasis on institutional models and too little on outcomes.