TRAUMA, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACEBUILDING Cross- Regional ... · TRAUMA, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACEBUILDING...
TRAUMA, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACEBUILDING Cross- Regional Challenges: South Asia Shobna Sonpar, PhD Clinical psychologist in private practice in Delhi, India. Paper presented at the Trauma, Development and Peacebuilding Conference New Delhi, India September 9-11, 2008 Hosted by: International Conflict Research Institute (INCORE) & International Development Research Centre (IDRC) This paper was produced as part of the Trauma, Peacebuilding and Development Project run by INCORE and funded by the IDRC, for more information see http://www.incore.ulst.ac.uk/research/projects/trauma/
TRAUMA, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACEBUILDING Cross- Regional ... · TRAUMA, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACEBUILDING Cross- Regional Challenges: South Asia Shobna Sonpar, PhD Clinical psychologist
Other initiatives focus on particular activities. The fate of the “disappeared” has become a
rallying point for family members of victims and civil society. In Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka
and India pressure is being exerted on the state to be accountable and to book perpetrators.
Recording testimonies of human rights violations has been a standard practice in human
rights groups. Recent efforts in India have been directed towards training community level
workers and human rights defenders to make the process a therapeutic one for victims
(Raghuvanshi & Agger, 2008). There are several examples of initiatives based on facilitating
dialogue and contact to reconcile ethnic groups at the local level, e.g. in Gujarat (Shankar &
Gersten, 2007) and Maharashtra (Barve, 2003) and to foster regional dialogues in relation to
the Kashmir conflict (Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, 2007).
Transitional justice is justice adapted to post-conflict societies attempting to come to terms
with the abuses of their past. Transitional justice mechanism include criminal prosecution of
perpetrators of human rights violations, truth commissions, reparations programmes, efforts
to reform state institutions so that they are no longer instruments of repression and
corruption, and memorialisation efforts such as museums and memorials that preserve public
memory of victims and reinforce commitment to prevention of future abuse.
Transitional justice processes enable individuals and societies to restore a moral and symbolic
order gravely distorted by the abuses of past violent conflict. They re-establish some of the
good “primary objects” of a society and facilitate symbolisation of traumatic experience
through “truth telling” (Becker, 2004). In giving testimony, the shame and humiliation of
victims is transformed to a portrayal of dignity and virtue. Acknowledgment of harm,
symbolic and material reparation, and prosecution of perpetrators satisfy the need for justice
in the aftermath of violation.
In practice, dealing with human rights violations through transitional justice mechanisms
raises large pragmatic problems of implementation. It may also impinge on a country’s
fragile political stability. Reparations without truth make victims feel their silence is being
bought while amnesty for perpetrators takes away the rights of the wronged to pursue
criminal and civil action. Individuals may also experience stigmatisation, as in the context of
rape, and be demoralised when their expectations are not fulfilled (Salih & Samarasinghe,
It has also been found that those who participate in these processes experience re-evocation
of distressing emotions without the process necessarily being cathartic. In Rwanda, it was
found that participation in the gacaca tribunals reactivated negative emotions in groups of
survivors of the 1994 genocide and prisoners alleged to be responsible for genocidal acts. But
the impact was positive for inter-group relations in that there was a reduction of prejudicial
reaction of survivors and prisoners towards each other as well as a reduction in the perceived
homogeneity of the out-group (Kanyangara, Rime, Phillipot & Yzerbyt, 2007). This suggests
that while transitional justice processes may be beneficial at the group level, they may be
emotionally fraught for individuals, at least in the short-term.
These considerations seem to inform the careful and systematic approach to transitional
justice in Nepal and Sri Lanka. In South Asia, these countries have formally engaged with
ideas of transitional justice and local organizations have set up collaboration with the
International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). In Sri Lanka, a Commission of Inquiry
has been set up through negotiations between the government, human rights groups, the UN
Human Rights Council and the donor community and is charged with a mandate that has
many of the characteristics of truth commissions. An initiative on disappearances and on the
ethnic cleansing/forced expulsion of Muslims from the north of Sri Lanka in 1990 is going
on. Civil society has been active in these processes and the Transitional Justice Working
Group (TJWG) has worked with families of the disappeared and with other victims to
determine how the needs and interests of victims and survivors intersect with transitional
justice approaches. The guiding principles that emerged call for transitional justice
mechanisms to go beyond conventionally defined human rights to the structural conditions
that enable human rights violations and, impunity, and systemic abuses such as militarisation,
the emergence of women and children-headed households, the pervasiveness of poverty and
fear (Sri Lanka Transitional Justice Working Group, 2004). Transitional justice processes can
benefit as well as harm those who participate; they need to be implemented with psychosocial
sensitivity, a quality that the bureaucratic machinery inherited from the past may not have
(Salih & Samarasinghe, 2006).
In Nepal, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2006 includes a specific
commitment to clarify the situation of the disappeared and to set up a Truth and
Reconciliation Commission. The subsequent release of the draft bill and its discussion among
government, civil society, and victim groups showed a great deal of confusion regarding
existing mechanisms to deal with the legacy of human rights violations during the conflict.
Hence the Advocacy Forum, a local group, together with the ICTJ held several workshops on
truth commissions, reparations, and enforced disappearances. A study to gather the views of
victims on truth, justice, and reparations so as to guide policy and intervention was conducted
and found that social problems reflecting long-standing social inequalities, such as
entrenched caste biases including untouchability, were identified as the major causes of the
conflict (ICTJ, 2008). The overwhelming majority of the respondents wanted trials and
punishment of those found guilty of human rights violations, and transparency in the
appointment of commissioners for a TRC. The survey also found a troubling lack of
accessibility and responsiveness of justice mechanisms thus far. It was noted that victims and
families lacked education and awareness and needed capacity-building so as to participate in
the national discussion and decision-making regarding transitional justice agendas.
Structural violence, peacebuilding and development
Issues of social injustice, political exclusion and economic grievance are ignored in many
peace agreements and result in a relapse into conflict within a few years (Manchanda, 2006).
Clearly much of the political violence that characterises South Asia is built upon and woven
into systemic violence. In order for sustained peace to obtain, efforts have to address direct
violence as well as structural violence to use Galtung’s (1969) distinction. Direct
peacebuilding efforts aim to mitigate or prevent direct forms of violence and are episodic,
while structural peacebuilding aims to create just social structures that ensure the sustainable
and equitable satisfaction of human needs for all people (Christie, 2007). The latter approach
takes the social system as its unit of analysis, recognises that social systems are
heterogeneous and unequal, and that they resist change.
Structural peacebuilding is consistent with the emphasis on psychosocial well-being and the
human capabilities approach to development. This developmental paradigm, built on the
work of Amartya Sen, calls for a change in the way human progress is assessed. It argues that
development is not just an increase in people’s incomes but an enhancement of human
capacities, a widening of choices, an expansion of freedoms and an assurance of human rights
( Kumar, 2006). Structural peacebuilding also resonates with the concept of human security
that holds that “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want” are the best way of tackling
global insecurity (Human Development Report, 1994).
In South Asia, economic and material factors are seen to be essential to psychosocial well-
being and are conceptually incorporated as a domain of psychosocial intervention
(Abeyasekera, et al., 2008). Innovative and integrated intervention projects concerned with
trauma healing and social reconstruction weave elements of psychosocial care into projects
geared towards income generation and poverty alleviation as well as developmental activities
focusing on health and education (Galappatti & Salih, 2006; Weyermann, 2007). Community
models of psychosocial intervention following political violence include components for rural
development and livelihood generation (de Jong, 2002).
Developmental programmes in South Asia often do not have the desired outcomes.
Corruption is cited as a pervasive problem along with resistance to change in established
structure and belief systems. However, psychosocial analysis informed by interdisciplinary
perspectives is limited and there is need for such analysis of project success and failure. Also,
developmental interventions may not be implemented with psychosocial knowledge and
sensitivity thus alienating target populations or hindering sustainability.
In recent years, a number of innovative pro-poor programmes have emerged in South Asia.
Bangladesh and its Grameen Bank is the home of micro-credit, an innovative economic
strategy for creating livelihoods for the poor, especially women, which has spread across the
world. In India, PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action) works in some
of the poorest regions with the aim of expanding livelihoods opportunities. It uses grass-
roots, participatory methods and provides “psychosocial accompaniment” by working on
achievement motivation and aspiration levels to alter self-images so that the poor “dare to
dream”. Political will in India has seen the implementation of the Right to Information Act
which can begin to change standards of governance by institutionalising transparency and
While development is one route towards social transformation, non-violent collective action
is another. Anderson and Christie (2001) put the struggle for social justice at the centre of
psychologically based principles to guide policy development and activism for peace, and
suggest that a liberation psychology is well-suited for social transformation. Originating in
the work of Martín-Baró, in El Salvador, liberation psychology is a call to develop a practice
and theory of psychology based on the experiences of local communities mired in “limit
situations” of extreme hardship, oppression, and suffering (Lykes, 2000). Within the
framework Martín-Baró, described, trauma is not an individual intrapsychic phenomenon but
a psychosocial one, residing in the social relations of which the individual is only a part, “a
concrete crystallisation in individuals of aberrant and dehumanising social relations… of
exploitation and structural oppression” (as quoted in Aron & Corne, 1994, p.125 and cited in
Comas-Diaz, Lykes & Alarcon, 1998).
Structural violence is insidious since it is built into the fabric of political, economic, and
social systems. Society’s structures are not different from people’s ways of relating to one
another according to accepted rules, as these rules exist in the inter-subjectivity of people;
structural violence is thus made up of implicit social rules that have an economic, social,
political, cultural or ideological content and are generally accepted by beneficiaries and
victims (MacGregor & Rubio, 1994). A significant aspect of this “sociotrauma” is that it
blocks consciousness of self as oppressed and thus prevents acting on one’s own behalf to
A transforming praxis towards a more just society necessarily includes “conscientisation”
(Freire, 1970) and collective action. Non-violent social movements that seek to transform
political oppression, economic exploitation and the cultural narratives that support such
domination and social exclusion may be considered structural peacebuilding (Montiel, 2001).
Active non-violence, according to Montiel (2006), is behaviour aimed at influencing public
policy and decision making usually through group action. Her studies of non-violent political
transformation in three south-east Asian countries – Cambodia, East Timor and the
Philippines – show how peace movements were created even under governments perceived to
be oppressive, undemocratic, and socially unjust. All three movements arose within a context
of repression, confronted militarised forces, took upon themselves physical harm, and
obtained a greater amount of democratic space for their country after their non-violent
political engagements. Non-violent action requires at least three ingredients: a sense of
sacrifice and shared spirituality among participants, practical poitico-organisational tactics to
face a militarised opposition, and leadership which is ascetic, pragmatic and decentralised
(Montiel, 2001). The resonance with Gandhi’s non-violent activism is evident.
An important consideration in structural peacebuilding is the challenge to existing structures
of power and privilege. Such peacebuilding entails disequilibrium and “strain” as groups
disengage from the structurally violent system. Indeed, as long as harmony is pursued and
strain avoided, there can be little social transformation (Montiel, 2001). Hierarchies of class,
caste, gender, and ethnicity, sustained by traditional and entrenched belief systems, are
prominent in South Asia. Moves towards greater equality inevitably incur stiff opposition
that often becomes violent. The caste system is a significant system of discrimination,
oppression and segregation in South Asia and the movement of dalits (those lowest in the
caste hierarchy) for equality and dignity has met much resistance. In India this has ranged
from killings by the Ranvir Sena, a militia of rural upper-caste landlords in the state of Bihar,
to anti-affirmative action protests by the urban middle-class (Sonpar, 2003).At this juncture,
while social practices of discrimination and segregation persist in many regions in the
country, there is also the spectacular success in national politics of the Bahujan Samaj Party
(a political party for backward castes and peoples) whose leader is being projected as the first
dalit Prime Minister.
At this juncture, South Asia is in an exciting and promising phase with people’s power
emerging as a highly significant aspect of its social and political landscape along with a
strengthening economy. However, past traumas and current political violence can derail
progress and well-being by fuelling more violent conflict. The traumas of mass violence in
the past are readily evoked to create hostile emotional climates in the present. The challenges
to peacebuidling in South Asia are thus complex. An further challenge is that of social
transformation towards equality and dignity for all peoples. The application of a psychosocial
framework to issues of development, social transformation and conflict is promising, A final
challenge is for the psychosocial perspective to begin to inform public policy.
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