OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Apology / Forgiveness

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In many protracted and deep-rooted conflicts, apology and forgiveness are essential for reconciliation and conflict resolution. As long as one side continues to blame the other (or both sides blame each other) for their problems, healing cannot occur, and normal relationships based on mutual acceptance and trust cannot be formed. (Montville 1993, pp. 112).

Apology is often a difficult step, as it requires acknowledging guilt. However, the lack of apology suggests to the other side that its opponent thinks that its behavior was appropriate. This creates the fear that the opponent’s unjust or violent behavior will continue. An apology is a signal, more than anything, that the opponent regrets its actions and wants to rebuild a new relationship on a stronger foundation.

Forgiveness is also critical for reconciliation. Many people refuse to forgive, feeling that forgiveness is essentially "giving up" or "letting the enemy get away with" their actions. Revenge or punishment, they feel, is the only way to achieve "justice." Yet the need for revenge or punishment can delay or even prohibit the resolution of a conflict, as fear of retaliation can keep an opponent from accepting guilt and apologizing. For this reason, it is often superior to forgive an opponent’s deeds--even if they were atrocities, to stop further atrocities from happening.

Daniel McFarland argues that forgiveness is not giving up, but is rather an acknowledgment of the past and a willingness to move on in a new way for the benefit of both sides. This is superior to revenge, he maintains, because revenge only continues the conflict and the pain. "The more common misperception is that by performing acts of revenge, one’s hurt will go away. This notion blocks people from coming out of their pain and moving on." McFarland, 1995, p. 10.

Forgiveness becomes institutionalized when amnesty is granted for war crimes or political crimes against a particular ethnic group (as occurred in South Africa in the apartheid era, for instance). Some people, both within and outside the victim groups, feel strongly that such crimes should be prosecuted and the perpetrators punished. This is the only way to obtain justice, it is argued, which many believe is required before a lasting peace can be obtained.

Others, however, agree with McFarland, saying that prosecution and punishment will just prolong the pain, not end it. A better solution, many argue, is recognition of the past, and amnesty for the perpetrators of violence. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is one example of this approach. There perpetrators of violence on both sides of the conflict (white and black) are encouraged to testify about their deeds, after which they are granted amnesty for their actions. While some South Africans object to the Reconciliation Commission, it seems evident that the successful transition to black majority rule could not have occurred as it did without such an amnesty process.


Links to More Information and Examples of Apology, Forgiveness, and Amnesty:

Neil J. Kritz -- The Dilemmas of Transitional Justice
This article summarizes the dilemmas of moving from one regime to another, especially when the first regime was repressive and violent.  Questions arise in many areas regarding what past people and behaviors to prosecute, and which to forgive or ignore.  
Dennis Sandole and Hugo van der Merwe --Brezhnev visits West Germany, 1972.
This is a short story about the importance of even implicit apology and forgiveness.
Dennis Sandole and Hugo van der Merwe -- Unilateral forgiveness proves ineffective in Nicaraguan political conflict
This is a very short anecdote that illustrates that forgiveness does not always result in reconciliation.
Dennis Sandole and Hugo van der Merwe -- Transactional forgiveness has some success in El Salvador
This is a short illustration of how priests can act as intermediaries in the apology, forgiveness, and reconciliation process.
Goldberg, Green and Sander--Saying You're Sorry
In this essay, the authors discuss the utility of apologies in conflict resolution.
South Africa's Bumpy Road to Democracy
This article discusses South Africa's approach to transitional justice.  Unity can be achieved, it is asserted, only by bringing the truth about the past to light.
John Paul Lederach -- Building Peace, Introduction and Framework
In this summary, Lederach explains the relationship between justice, truth, and mercy.
Wanda Lofton -- Systematic Forgiveness: A Possibility for African Americans?
This brief article examines the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation between Blacks and Whites in the U.S.
James Notter -- Theory, Practice, Success, and Failure: A Journey of Learning in Cyprus
Apology and forgiveness were key elements of workshops run by the Institute for Multitrack Diplomacy in Cyprus.
Trudy Govier -- The Ethics of Forgiveness
In this article, Govier explores the notion of forgiveness with respect to attempts at reconciliation between victims and agents of Stasi spying in the former East Germany.   This effort failed, largely due to the Stasis unwillingness to acknowledge any wrongdoing.
Estrada-Hollenbeck -- Understanding Forgiveness
This article discusses how the analysis of narratives can illustrate how people think about forgiveness.
Religion and Reconciliation in Bosnia
This short article discusses the importance of apology and forgiveness to reconciliation in Bosnia.
Stephen Ryan--Peace-Building and Conflict Transformation
In this chapter, Ryan discusses alternative peacebuilding strategies including forgiveness.  Though forgiveness is an important component of peacebuilding, it has limits, which he discusses in this summary.
Tanya Glaser--Truth and Reconciliation Commission; South Africa
The South African Truth Commission granted amnesty for those who acknowledged their role in apartheid era violence.  A summary of the Commission's approach is given here.
Mary Albon --  Justice in Times of Transition
This is one of a number of articles on transitional justice--the justice pursued by new governments which replace older more repressive regimes.  The question of who should be prosecuted for what, and who should be given amnesty and hence be forgiven, is a difficult dilemma.
Jose Zalaquett -- Confronting Human Rights Violations Committed by Former Governments
This is a second article that compares prosecution to amnesty in transitional situations.
Jamal Benomar -- Justice After Transition
This is a third article that compares prosecution to amnesty in transitional situations.

Links to Outside Sources of Information

Papers on Restorative Justice
These papers from the Center for Peacemaking and Conflict Studies of Fresno Pacific University take a Christian view of forgiveness and redemption.

Links to Related Approaches

Criminal Prosecution


Coexistence and Tolerance

Trust Building

Conflict Transformation



Links to Related Sections

Ostracizing Losers

Pursuing Force to the Bitter End

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu