Social and economic reintegration of former combatants: Challenging human rights and peacebuilding

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009

25 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Theoretical framework
2.1. Post-Conflict from a peacebuilding perspective
2.2. Post-Conflict and Human Rights
2.2.1. A complex relationship
2.2.2. Human Rights and post-conflict from a Transitional Justice approach.
2.2.3. Relationship between human rights and post-conflict from a peacebuilding perspective.

3. Social and economic reintegration of former combatants
3.1. Overview of the social and economic reintegration
3.2. Relationship between social and economic reintegration and transitional justice
3.3. The social and economic reintegration of former combatants in El Salvador and in Colombia

4. Implications: importance and challenges of the social and economic reintegration of former combatants for peacebuilding

5. Toward the transition from a former combatant to a citizen

6. Bibliography

List of Annexes

Annex Nr. 1: The relationship between human rights and conflict

Annex Nr. 2: A conceptual framework for engaging victims and perpetrators

Annex Nr. 3: Table summarizing the types of reintegration.

1. Introduction

On July the 7th 2008, one of the most important opinion publications in Colombia “SEMANA ’’ published an article called “El ensayo y error de la reintegración” (Trial and error of the reintegration programme[1]. According to this article, part of the nearly fifty thousand former combatants (left oriented guerrilla groups and right oriented paramilitary groups) considers that the Colombian government has not kept its commitments in the framework or the reintegration program of ex-combatants into civilian life. For instance, the article stresses that some of the demobilized persons do not have access to health and education (particularly vocational training) services and psychological orientation and for this reason the former combatants run the risk of returning to armed conflict (Semana 2008). This situation seems to validate the “positive peace theory”[2], which suggests that the end of violence via peace agreement does not necessarily mean the achievement of peace. On the contrary, in the aftermath of any intense violence or any so called post-conflict situation, new challenges and opportunities arise, which have to be taken into account if one wants to achieve a real transition toward the ideal of peace.

On the one hand, there is the challenge of satisfying the demands of justice and on the other hand to meet the demands of reconciliation. The judicial and non-judicial mechanism known as transitional justice is used to find equilibrium between the exigencies of no impunity and the search for a sustainable peace. Generally the efforts oriented toward restoring the dignity of victims and toward ensuring the accountability of perpetrators is considered to be a priority. However, one often forgets that the offenders (generally former combatants) also have the right to be reintegrated into civilian life under the rule of law as holders of duties and human rights (civil, economic, social and cultural rights). Particularly the former combatants have to meet their basic needs and those of their families (in other words ‘legal livelihoods’) in a new context which, generally speaking, is hostile toward them because of the prejudice, discrimination and social rejection that result from their actions in the past.

There is no recipe for a perfect process of social and economic reintegration. In fact, there are not many certainties about the role that this kind of reintegration plays in searching for a balance between the demands for justice and reconciliation. Some people criticize the fact that human rights violators can be “awarded” sooner or later with opportunities (jobs, money, etc.) while other vulnerable sectors of the population do not have access to the same benefits.

This paper will address the question about the importance and challenges of social and economic reintegration of former combatants for peacebuilding. Based on the “positive peace” theory (Galtung 1969) and “human needs” theory (Burton 1990), I argue, from a human-rights perspective, that the social and economic reintegration of former combatants is a process that must be based on the values of justice and reconciliation in order to contribute positively to “peacebuilding” (Spence 2001). Offering alternative means of subsistence, which can be extended to the host community, represents a concrete element for social acceptance and inclusion of former combatants in a post-conflict society (Guaqueta / Orsini 2007: 5). Besides increasing self-esteem, a social and economic reintegration “also offers routines of social interaction that differ from the routines of war and criminality”. This allows ex-combatants to (re-) build social ties and to calculate risks (Guaqueta / Orsini 2007: 5). Nonetheless, if the need for justice in the host community is not taken into account, the reintegration process can lose its legitimacy and acceptance. The aforementioned could become as dangerous as the rejection of supporting a social and economic reintegration of former combatants.

The structure of the paper is divided into five parts. In the second part I will provide a theoretical framework. Here I will examine basic concepts based on which I will develop my argumentation. Then in the third part I will present an overview of the social and economic reintegration of former combatants. Here I will present some mechanisms and short illustrative cases from recent history in El Salvador and Colombia. Having presented the main information that motivates this paper I will reflect on the role that social and economic reintegration plays in peacebuilding in the fourth part. With critical reflection, the concluding remarks examine the validity of my main argument mentioned above.

2. Theoretical framework

2.1. Post-Conflict from a peacebuilding perspective

Post-conflict can be defined as the first decade after the outbreak of peace (Mac Sweney 2008: 14). This stage shows a unique set of challenges which are not limited to the need for a physical reconstruction of infrastructure and service delivery systems but also to the need for facing the legacy of violence, trauma and social fragmentation. Different studies share the view that the first decade after the “outbreak of peace” is crucial for the definition of the future of a society which has experienced a violent conflict (Mac Sweney 2008: 13). Especially when one argues that “during this time […] there is a big chance of conflict being renewed” but if “peace can be maintained […] the likelihood is that it will endure” (Mac Sweney 2008: 13).

What makes then a post-conflict process successful? Fischer et al. (2000: 126) suggest that the goal in every post-conflict situation should be the establishment of conditions that can meet the basic needs and aspirations of the population. This can be achieved by recognizing that the physical reconstruction (focusing on the physical needs), the psychological reconstruction (helping individuals to deal with the past) and social reconstruction (re-building relationships based on reconciliation, truth, mercy, justice, etc.) must be oriented toward helping the affected communities move forward toward building a new common present and future (Fischer et al. 2000: 126). This holistic post-conflict understanding goes beyond a peace agreement or a cease fire (negative peace). It is based on both the need for meeting human needs (Burton 1990: 36 -48), generating conditions of human security[3] (UN 2008) and on an approach of conflict transformation which aims at ending something undesired (violence) and toward building something desired through the transformation of relationships and the construction of conditions for peace (Lederach 2000: 45-55).

Spence (2005) goes a step further by defining peacebuilding as follows:

“[…] those activities and processes that: focus on the root causes of the conflict, rather than just the effects; support the rebuilding and rehabilitation of all sectors of the war-torn society; encourage and support interaction between all sectors of society in order to repair damaged relations and start the process of restoring dignity and trust […]” (Spence 2001: 24-26)

From a peacebuilding perspective, the success of post-conflict situation toward sustainable peace lies in integrating both the negative peace (absence of physical violence) and the positive peace (absence of structural and cultural violence) (Galtung 1969: 167-191). In other words “[it] must address the underlying causes of conflict in addition to the surface manifestations […]” (Lambourne 2004: 3).

2.2. Post-Conflict and Human Rights

Bearing in mind that a post-conflict understanding from a transformative perspective of peacebuilding, in this part I will present an overview of the relationship between human rights and post-conflict.

2.2.1. A complex relationship

In order to understand the relationship between human rights and post-conflict, it is necessary to first look at its relationship with the conflict itself. Mertus and Helsing (2007: 5) suggest that the denial of, demand of and the violation of human rights could be both a cause and symptom of conflict. The authors identify basically the following relationships:

a)“Demand for human rights as a cause of conflict”; b) “State’s inability or unwillingness to protect rights as a cause of conflict”; c) “Instrumental use of human rights violations by politicians”; d) “human rights violations as a conflict escalator”; e) “human rights violations as direct symptoms of violent conflict” and f) “human rights violations as a direct or indirect consequence of violent conflict”[4] (Mertus /Helsing 2007: 6-7).

As expected, the definition and scope of this relationship is very broad and has given rise to many interpretations and approaches. Among them, the authors mentioned three schools: a) human rights approach (the promotion of respect for human dignity); b) conflict resolution (this focuses on resolving, managing, preventing, or transforming violent conflict, whether through coercive or non-coercive methods) and c) humanitarian law (based on international law, the conduct of war and the protection of civilians during armed conflict) (Mertus /Helsing 2007: 5).

Nevertheless, these schools in practice tend to be similar to each other because, according to the authors, “they share more in common […] namely, a fundamental commitment to maximizing human dignity and minimizing civilian harm” (Mertus /Helsing 2007: 8)

2.2.2. Human Rights and post-conflict from a Transitional Justice approach.

It has been said that if a society wants peace, it must first seek justice. In this sense, the relationship between human rights and post-conflict usually has been operationalized through the mechanism called transitional justice, which is defined as follows:

[…] a package of judicial and non-judicial responses to human rights violations, implemented by either government officials or nongovernmental advocates or both, after a period of violence or repression when a society is confronted with the difficult legacy of the past." (Zupan / Servaes 2007: 4)

Anderlini et al. (2004) stresses the following goals of the transitional justice:

“a) addressing, and attempting to heal divisions in society that arise as a result of human rights violations; b) bringing closure and healing the wounds of individuals and society, particularly through “truth telling”; c) providing justice to victims and accountability for perpetrators; d) creating an accurate historical record for society; e) restoring the rule of law; f) reforming institutions to promote democratization and human rights; g) ensuring that human rights violations are not repeated and h) promoting co-existence and sustainable peace.” (Anderlini et al. 2004: 1)

Justice and reconciliation are two underlying values of transitional justice. In this sense the big dilemma that transitional justice faces is how to achieve a balance between the aforementioned values. On the one hand there is an urgency to stop violence and to create structural conditions for reconciliation (sometimes by offering amnesties and a weak punishment to the offenders) and on the other hand there is a need to install jurisdiction based on international law in order to punish atrocities committed against human beings. The final disposition of both values of justice and reconciliation generally mirrors a combination of elements from the so called retributive, restorative, restitutive and distributive justice. The former is based on the principle that “people who have committed human rights violations, or ordered others to do so, should be punished in courts of law or, at a minimum, must publicly confess and ask forgiveness” (Anderlini et al. 2004: 2). The second mentioned type of justice is based on the principle of “healing of wounds and rebuilding of relationships. […] [it] does not focus on punishment for crimes, but on repairing the damage done and offering restitution” (Anderlini et al. 2004: 2).


[1] Article „Ensayo y Error“ (Trial and error) in: (Accessed 15 January, 2009)

[2] According to Jhon Galtung (1969: 167-191), positive peace comprises the absence of direct violence and the absence of structural and cultural violence (e.g. poverty, hunger, social exclusion, etc).

[3] Human security is a human-centered view of security that suggests that the individuals should be the referent for security rather than the state.

[4] See annex Nr. 1: The relationship between human rights and conflict

Excerpt out of 25 pages


Social and economic reintegration of former combatants: Challenging human rights and peacebuilding
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg  (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)
Human Rights and Conflict
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
541 KB
Conflict, Peacebuilding, Human Rights, DDR, Disarmament Demobilisation and Reintegration, Reintegration, Menschenrechte, Ex-Kombatanten, Post-conflict, Post-Konflikt-Situationen, Konflikt
Quote paper
Andrés Home (Author), 2009, Social and economic reintegration of former combatants: Challenging human rights and peacebuilding, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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