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Peace and reconciliation

A faith that does justice

Peace and reconciliation work is increasingly being recognised as a priority need by JRS offices working in post-conflict situations, and is a developing area of JRS project-based advocacy. JRS approaches this work through the perspective of its three-fold mission, to accompany, serve and defend the rights of refugees, seeking to facilitate reconciliation between victims and perpetrators. Our response is inspired by a Christian faith that does justice, and is open to multi-religious and multicultural dialogue.

  • In practice
  • JRS position
  • 2014 Colombian Peace Forum
In practice – JRS responses

The Centre of the Dove, where JRS began its work in Cambodia, holds much important symbolism. During the civil war, it was a base from which carrier pigeons were sent out. During Pol Pot's rule, it was a killing field.

During the early years of the Hun Sen regime, it was a prison. Now, through our work, it is a place where people rediscover their lives. At the Centre of the Dove, JRS brings together people from different factions of the Cambodian conflict, training them in vocational skills and to serve as teachers in society.

In 2006, JRS started working in Kitgum with Ugandan communities that have been severely affected by the war between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda. When the war officially ended in 2006, these communities began a long journey towards peace and reconciliation.

JRS community-based counsellors held daily and weekly meetings with families to help them resolve numerous cases of domestic violence and substance abuse that emerged during this stressful period. Reconciling former child soldiers with their families and communities, and encouraging relatives and friends to support vulnerable individuals, such as orphans and the elderly, were important objectives.

JRS has witnessed a significant reduction in domestic violence cases, and is glad to see community members pooling their efforts to build huts for elderly people whose family members perished during the conflict.

Currently, JRS, in collaboration with the Refugee Law Project, is providing input and documentation about its experience with victims of the war between the LRA and the Ugandan government. This is set to become part of a 'War Memorial' that will play a fundamental role in post-conflict healing and reconciliation, and will serve as a remembrance of those who suffered in the war.

In Southern Sudan, JRS promotes peace-building, community cohesiveness and reconciliation in Lobone, Kajo Keji and Nimule payams (administrative sections of a county). JRS works through community peace clubs, promoting peace-building activities at grassroots level.

Each club has around 35 members, whose role is to address peace and stability issues in the community, to mediate in local conflicts, to provide guidance and counselling to others in the community and to raise awareness about civic responsibilities. The club members use songs, drama and traditional dance to transmit their message in local communities.
JRS Working Paper on Reconciliation

Armed conflicts currently continue in some forty countries around the world. Fundamental human rights are neglected in all violent conflicts and this greatly affects civilians. In such life threatening circumstances, many people are forcibly displaced and obliged to search for humanitarian assistance, shelter, food, health and education. As gross violations of human rights are a major cause of the forced displacement, putting an end to these violations could create a crucial opportunity for voluntary return home of those displaced. A serious barrier to their sustainable return is the lack or failure of the process of reconciliation.

Present in more than 50 countries, where it implements some 200 projects, JRS facilitates reconciliation between victims and perpetrators, between self perceived "enemies". Inspired by Christian faith that does justice and open to multi-religious and multicultural dialogue, JRS approaches reconciliation work through the perspective of its three-fold mission:
  1. accompaniment of primary parties in the transformation of conflicts (JRS facilitates reconciliation based on direct encounters between victims and perpetrators);
  2. service with a special emphasis on education in general, and peace education in particular (helping to prevent children and young people from inheriting hatred from previous generations); and
  3. advocacy giving a voice to the excluded (speaking the truth from the viewpoint of all parties, searching for accountability and reparation, and promoting restorative justice).

The JRS mission of reconciliation taps into different spiritual (life giving) sources among parties to a conflict. Reconciliation, as a fundamental pillar of peace building, is a challenge in all war torn societies in search of transitional justice and sustainable peace. There cannot be reconciliation without putting an end to physical, psychological, cultural and structural violence, and without restoring a minimum of dignity and justice for those affected by violence. If this minimum of dignity and justice is not achieved, the mere mention of the word 'reconciliation' in the context of refugees, internally displaced persons and other victims of gross human rights violations can be paradoxically perceived as offensive and violent. There is a need for genuine reconciliation at the service of sustainable peace.
Key recommendations

To primary parties in an armed conflict:

  • Refuse to pass on the hatred caused by violence to your children, and help the next generation to advance and achieve reconciliation.
  • Work for reconciliation with "the other" party ("enemy"), in the awareness that there is no peace without justice and love – necessary to the process of forgiveness.
  • Work in the transitional justice process committed to truth, accountability, reparation and reconciliation without forgetting social justice at a structural level.

To governments and authorities in host communities:

  • Support reconciliation programmes for forcibly displaced populations, particularly within the education system.
  • Promote the integration of forcibly displaced persons as a "win-win" relationship, and seek to foster mutual tolerance and appreciation between host and displaced communities.

To donors and other actors in the area of international peace work:

  • While supporting material development and reconstruction efforts, devote due attention to long-term psychosocial reconciliation in peace-building initiatives, so as to foster sustainable peace and break cycles of violence.
2014 Colombian Peace Forum

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The Jesuit Refugee Service is an international Catholic non-governmental organization, with a mission to accompany, serve and defend. Over the last 15 years, JRS teams have served people forcibly displaced by the socio-political conflict in five regions of Colombia: Magdalena Medio, Valle del Cauca, the centre, the border region with Venezuela and the border region with Ecuador.

Working in close proximity to refugees, JRS teams get to know their needs and the socio-politically subtleties of the regions in which they work. We are convinced of the necessity to pursue peace negotiations and begin preparing for the implementation of the agreement.

JRS believes sustainable and durable peace will only be possible if all parties work together in the transformation of structural inequality and poverty, the root causes of the conflict, and transform the conflict resolution mechanisms in Colombia. This involves an overhaul of the political system and state bureaucracy, as well as the empowerment of communities, particularly those living in areas most affected by the conflict.