Enhancing our Understanding of the Social Reintegration of Ex-Combatants ~ The case of Aceh

Since the First Generation DDR programs were launched, there has been a major concern on how to socially reintegrate ex-combatants into the community. The social reintegration process as understood within DDR has focused on ex-combatants and the importance of transforming their identity from combatant to civilian. To avoid the return to war and reduce the threat they pose to domestic peace and social cohesion, DDR programs have emphasized the importance of providing them with jobs and economic assistance. Measurement are first and foremost linked to the element of economic reintegration.

Gradually, the importance of including community members into the social reintegration process has also been highlighted. The reason is discussed in regard to the broken relationship between ex-combatants and community members, which is argued to create a potential stigmatization of ex-combatants. More specifically, previous research has looked upon the issues of acceptance, trust and forgiveness by community members towards ex-combatants. When discussing these aspects a polarizing rhetoric has often been used, where ex-combatants are seen as perpetrators and community members as victims. This understanding of social reintegration is closely connected to the field of transitional justice, where different kinds of healing mechanisms, such as truth and reconciliation commissions, are said to promote the success of social reintegration.

While it is clear that social reintegration is about the relationship between ex-combatants and community members, the ways of measuring this relationship have been inadequate. One reason is the lack of conceptual clarity, which, in turn, has to do with the tendency of lumping a diverse set of community members under a single voice and opinion. Moreover, the discussion of community has focused primarily on the individual level and the relationship between ex-combatants and their family, friends and neighbors. As a result, there is little discussion about how the relationship between ex-combatants and community members materializes at the community level, despite the fact that the Integrated DDR Standards (IDDRS) recognizes that social reintegration of ex-combatants occurs at the community level.

In an attempt to develop our understanding of the community, and consequently bring more clarity to the concept of social reintegration, a field study in Aceh was conducted. The field study was based on a the idea of social citizenship – that all citizens have certain social rights, such as the right to education, work and health care. More specifically, it was argued that the social reintegration of ex-combatants should be defined in terms of ex-combatants and community members having equal access to different social sectors within community.

To measure this, community members in four different sectors (the job sector, health care sector, religious sector and general community sector) in two antipodal type areas were interviewed. One area where the social reintegration of ex-combatants was considered to be successful, according to the theoretical argument that reintegration is less problematic where ex-combatants receive support from community, and another area where the opposite situation was said to prevail.

The role of power
The findings showed that ex-combatants and community members had different access to the social sectors under consideration. What became clear was that this is strongly related to a power dimension

When looking at the social reintegration process in Aceh, one could see that the relationship between ex-combatants and community members varied due to how much power the ex-combatants had within the different sectors and whether community members’ attitudes towards ex-combatants were negative or positive. More specifically, community members talked about ”high” and ”low” level ex-combatants as well as ”good” and ”bad” ones.

In the area where reintegration was considered successful, ex-combatants were, on the one hand, referred to as powerful. On the other hand, attitudes towards them where mixed. While interviewees from the job sector explained how difficult it was to run their own businesses because of threats they faced by the ex-combatants, and sometimes even killings, interviewees in the religious sector referred to the ex-combatants as highly educated and respected. In the health sector, it turned out that ex-combatants had tried to use their power to get special health care treatment earlier on in the post-war period, but that they did not have any special power anymore. As a result, attitudes had become more positive towards the ex-combatants. In contrast, in the area where social reintegration was considered unsuccessful, the power of ex-combatants was weak. Often they were referred to as uneducated, poor and followers, and some interviewees even felt sorry for the ex-combatants because of the hard life they were living.

This shows that within the area where social reintegration was considered as successful, there where tendencies of ex-combatants excluding community members from some of the social sectors investigated. However, within the area where social reintegration was considered as unsuccessful, there where no signs of community members excluding ex-combatants. Nevertheless, one explanation to this can be related to the difficulties of finding an area clearly characterizing an unsuccessful reintegration, since the conflict in Aceh did not use atrocities against civilians as a war strategy to the same extent of many other civil wars.

Based on the findings, the following recommendations aims to provide a better discussion on how the Second Generation DDR programs should define and measure the concept of social reintegration.

  1. DDR research and practice seem mostly to have talked about social reintegration in relation to post-war situations where community members’ attitudes towards ex-combatants are likely to be negative. In turn, this may increase the likelihood of exclusionary behavior by the former towards the latter. However, little attention has been paid to the potential of ex-combatants acting exclusionary towards community members, which might be the larger issue in cases where the power of ex-combatants is strong. Important, therefore, is to identify whether ex-combatants are most likely to exclude community members or the opposite way around in each post-conflict context as well as to discuss how DDR programs can help to promote an equal power balance between ex-combatants and community members. For example, how do DDR programs focus on economic reintegration and affect the relationship between ex-combatants and community members in terms of power?
  2. The result shows that to consider community only in terms of family, friends and neighbors cannot fully measure the social reintegration process at the community level. Therefore, DDR programs must create clear indicators for social reintegration at the individual, community and national level in order to capture different problems within the social reintegration process. At the community level, this would, among other, imply investigating which sectors in each specific post-conflict context it is that ex-combatants might have greater interest in increasing their participation. Thus, which sectors within the community can result in greater material or non-material benefits for ex-combatants?
  3. A better understanding of the social reintegration process at the individual, community and national level is necessary in order to capture different aspects of failure and success within the social reintegration process. That would also enable DDR programs to better identify what role they can and should play in the social reintegration process.

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