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Mindful Healing: Balancing Mental Health, Justice, and Reconciliation in Conflict-Torn Societies

By Rahul Ramakrishnan

In pursuing justice for victims in international mass conflicts, the delicate balance between punishment and mercy is crucial. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRCs) have emerged as vital post-conflict mechanisms to foster healing, reconciliation, and justice (Tait 5). They are pivotal in addressing human rights violations, offering victims an opportunity to share their experiences and shed light on the truth. In Europe, the strained tensions between Ukraine and Russia have escalated into a full-blown war characterized by civilian casualties and the thousands displaced (Defense Media Activity). Unfortunately, TRCs have not been effectively utilized to address the grievances and deep-rooted divisions fueling the conflict. Despite concerns that TRCs may compromise the pursuit of punitive justice, its emphasis on comprehensive accountability and healing ensures a balanced approach to justice.

TRCs are crucial in holding perpetrators accountable and providing solutions for past atrocities. According to the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, "To date, there is no evidence that Russia is committed to sustainable peace efforts. ... Russia's withdrawal from Ukraine was ‘out of the question’. Putin knows that authoritarian regimes rarely survive a military defeat" (Simonet 3). It highlights Russia’s aversion to pursuing lasting peace with Ukraine. Achieving a meaningful compromise consequently becomes unlikely without sincere responsibility and willingness to address grievances, which TRCs should have provided. Similarly, a University Vice President underscores the historical and ongoing struggles indigenous communities face, where children lack the opportunity to recall their heritage due to systemic pressures (Lamoureux). By acknowledging past wrongdoings and promoting dialogue, TRCs uncover the truth about the injustices suffered by such communities. As for the Russo-Ukranian War, they must provide a forum for discussing the impacts of assimilation and discriminatory policies, coercing Russia to take responsibility for the barriers hindering the preservation of Ukrainian culture.

Critics may argue that by prioritizing reconciliation, TRCs undermine the demand for punitive measures against perpetrators, compromising the victims' sense of justice. However, by addressing the root causes of conflicts and promoting empathy, TRCs can provide victims with the broader context surrounding their suffering, leading to a more encompassing form of justice. According to Dr. Mohd Karim, “We ... ask [armed Rohingyas] politely ... to leave our territory ... and go back to Myanmar. ... We will not tolerate any extra insurgent groups operating in our area.”. Likewise, for the Russo-Ukrainian War, he would emphasize that by providing victims with an opportunity to engage in dialogue, TRCs ensure that justice goes beyond retribution, focusing on the prevention of future conflicts. He emphasizes the value of discussions in fostering understanding, leading to a more merciful justice.

My hypothetical TRC would achieve a balanced form of justice by creating a safe and inclusive space for victims to share their experiences and be heard. It should prioritize the recognition of victims' suffering, ensuring their voices are central in the reconciliation process (Wilson-Raybould 213). Through transparent investigations, the TRC would uncover the truth about past atrocities, identifying perpetrators and understanding their motives. It would address the root causes of conflicts and work toward reforms to prevent future injustices. It would offer reparations to victims, both material and symbolic, aiming to restore their dignity.

Overall, TRCs facilitate healing, reconciliation, and justice by providing victims with an opportunity to express their stories and illuminate the truth. Amidst the chaotic backdrop of the Russo-Ukrainian War, the prolonged conflict has resulted in dire ramifications, including the death and displacement of many, engendering an environment of distress and hopelessness. Without a comprehensive framework to tackle the root causes of grievances and encourage reconciliation, the deep divisions within society are poised to intensify, perpetuating a cycle of violence and obstructing the trajectory toward enduring peace.


Works Cited

Defense Media Activity. "Russian War in Ukraine: Timeline." U.S. Department of Defense, revision 18, 26 June 2023, Accessed 27 June 2023.

Karim, Mohd Aminul. Videoconference interview. Conducted by Hana Kim, 10 Aug. 2021. k76DGlcmMOuF&index=7. Accessed 24 June 2023.

Lamoureux, Kevin. "Truth and Reconciliation." TEDxUniversityofWinnipeg, 25 Sept. 2015. Speech. Accessed 24 June 2023.

Simonet, Loïc. Putin’s War in Ukraine: How to Get out of It? OIIP - Austrian Institute for International Affairs, 2023. JSTOR, Accessed 29 June 2023.

Tait, Theo. "Truth and Reconciliation." New York Times, 8 Aug. 2004, Accessed 27 June 2023

Wilson-Raybould, Jody. True Reconciliation: How to Be a Force for Change. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 2022.


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