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Essay II
Last Updated: 04/11/2008
Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Rebuilding Society
Samantha Figueroa Garcia

Samantha Garcia discusses social and institutional mechanisms for post-conflict reconstruction, with an emphasis on the need for cooperation and coordination between UN programmes, and between the UN and regional organizations. In this way, the specificities of each post-conflict situation, and the wide range of challenges faced by conflict-affected communities and individuals can be most appropriately addressed.

Key Words: El Salavador, Peacekeeping, Post-Conflict Reconstruction.


Conflicts are as old as time; however the methods may have changed, the occurrence has not. That is not to say that the typology of conflicts has not transformed. There has been a shift from inter-state conflicts to post World War II intra-state conflicts. According to Frances Stewart, conflict arises when there are perceived inequalities. Furthermore, he adds, “For violence to occur, the motivated groups must generally: share perceptions of inequality at family and community levels; believe that conflict would result in increased benefits to them; be convinced that they could prevail militarily over their opponents; and posses the material and the financial resources to engage in armed conflict. When these conditions are present, specific events or actions cause a simmering dispute to boil over into violent conflict.”[1] As evidenced from the number of conflicts today (18 current peacekeeping missions worldwide),[2] inequality or perception of it is an underlying issue that must be addressed when attempting to rebuild society in a post-conflict situation.  This paper seeks to analyze the criteria that must be met to achieve successful post-conflict reconstruction.

The preamble of the United Nations Charter reaffirms “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.”[3] Due to the United Nations strong and unwavering belief in peace and security many different funds, programs, departments, organs, and specialized agencies exists whose mandates allow for methods to implement the Charter’s objectives. One of these departments is the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). The mission statement of this department entails and strives to “integrate the efforts of UN, governmental and non-governmental entities in the context of peacekeeping operations. DPKO also provides guidance and support on military, police, mine action, and logistical and administrative issues to other UN political and peacebuilding missions”[4] It is important to note that peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction are two different instruments. The former of which sets the stage for the latter. While multifunctional peacekeeping as a concept has been introduced, for the purposes of this analysis the distinction must be made between the aforementioned concept and post-conflict reconstruction. Although peacekeeping can be extended into the process of post-conflict reconstruction utilizing "multifunctional peacekeeping" the two instruments are not interchangeable.  

According to Sir Marrack Goulding, former Under-Secretary-General in charge of the U.N.’s Peacekeeping Operations, post-conflict reconstruction refers to a “broad concept” consisting of six elements. These elements are as follows:

·        Security

·        Political reconstruction

·        Justice

·        Human rights

·        Economic and social reconstruction

·        Civil society[5]

It can be argued that peacekeeping helps ensure security; however, once this has been established the process of political, economic, and social reconstruction must begin. The process must take into consideration the implementation of the rule of law and justice, moreover, emphasis should be placed on the protection of human rights. Reparation of those affected must transpire e.g., internally displaced persons, refugees, ex-combatants, including rehabilitation for child soldiers. Successful implementation of the concepts above has the potential to aid in confidence building and thus increase the probability of long term peace.

In order for a state to avoid slipping back into conflict, the underlying issues which originally caused the conflict to surge must be addressed. In order for this to take place a minimum threshold of trust must be met. This trust can be acquired by ensuring the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of parties involved. Transparency and encouragement of involvement by civil society is key to re-establishing links with the community. While the United Nations is a relevant international organ to aid with the prevention of the resurgence of a conflict, regional mechanisms must also be considered. Regional blocks may be better suited to contextualize the conflict and assuage the parties in a manner which would be more challenging for outside parties. In terms of UN policy on cooperation with regional organizations, "The General Assembly stresses that [...] the relevant tasks and responsibilities should be carried out with full respect for the provisions of Chapter VIII of the Charter, relevant decisions of the Security Council and of the General Assembly, as well as the respective mandates of regional arrangements or agencies and the Declaration on the Enhancement of Cooperation between the United Nations and Regional Arrangements or Agencies in the Maintenance of International Peace and Security, approved by the General Assembly in its resolution 49/57 of 9 December 1994.”[6]

Long lasting peace without addressing the root causes of the conflict is challenging to accomplish. While the most predominant causes must be tackled the indirect issues must also be analyzed in order to reach a better understanding of the dispute and decrease likelihood of future resurgence. There exist many remedies for reaching this objective, which include but are not limited to, the Secretary General’s Good Offices, United Nations Development Programme, the Peacebuilding Commission and Peacebuilding Fund, recommended by Kofi Annan’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.[7]

Consistent monitoring after conflicts must be instituted in order to assure the balance between Quick Impact Projects (QIP) and long term peace sustainability.  Long term peace sustainability includes rebuilding democracy among fragmented groups and ethnic divides. This is imperative to successful post-conflict reconstruction. As expressed by Rawwida Baksh-Soodeen, “democracy does not call for dissolution of ethnic diversities, but careful cultivation of common or shared values and identity.”[8] The 2006 United Nations peacekeeping operation in Burundi helped aid in the post-conflict reconstruction by “help[ing] build domestic institutions and give a still fragile society a lasting chance at peace.”[9]

A critique to the current paradigm in post-conflict reconstruction is the lack of efficient communication among the involved parties, e.g., UN specialized agencies, national NGO’s, I.O.’s etc. This lack of communication can lead to tensions which are counter-productive to the main objective of long term peace. As Rafeeuddin puts it, “Effective inter-agency cooperation remains a challenge. Strong commitment, well formulated strategies coupled with clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each agency and reduction of bureaucratic impediments can substantially improve effectiveness. Overwhelmingly, there is a need to recognize that emergency relief, rehabilitation and development are not sequential, but that they must often be undertaken simultaneously.”[10] It is necessary to allow for flexibility with respect to viable solutions for reconstruction. There is no formula to follow, or strict guidelines to adhere to, rather it is important to remain cognizant of each situation’s idiosyncrasies and react accordingly.

A case of relative success in both peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction is El Salvador. The war in this country commenced in 1979 and as a result the deaths of approximately 100,000 nationals ensued, as well as a mass exodus of refugees into neighboring countries.[11] After intense negotiations the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed in 1992. It can be argued that the simultaneous and sequential programs implemented allowed for addressing the direct ramifications of the conflict. An example of these programs was the National Reconstruction Programme which encompassed democratic institutional support, demobilized ex-combatant support and poverty alleviation programs.[12] The ex-combatant program allowed for demobilization and reintegration which considered the ex-combatants need to subsist in a post-conflict era. These considerations included agricultural training, land transfers, credit for agricultural production and scholarships.[13] While several lessons were learned through the El Salvador process, this case illustrates the outcome of a multi-faceted approach in post-conflict reconstruction.

In summary, several factors must be considered when attempting to “intervene” and aid in reconstruction. It must be noted that while there may be similarities in situations, no two post-conflict zones are alike. Therefore, each situation must be assessed on an individual basis taking into consideration ethnic, gender, and historical concerns, as well as the social context present. Regional and domestic mechanisms must be encouraged to participate in the process to bolster progress and engage civil society. Steps must be taken to alleviate communal misgivings and programs must be implemented to build trust. The parties involved should take care to not become over-confident which can lead to a cavalier attitude and superficial analysis of underlying causes of the conflict. Coordination and effective communication between parties involved must be practiced to galvanize the state into a democratic period. Lastly, there must be a continued long term monitoring commitment by neutral parties to ensure against a resurgence of conflict.


[1] Rafeeuddin Ahmed, Manfred Kulessa and Khalid Malik. Lessons Learned in Crises and Post-Conflict Situations. UNDP 2002.

[2] Sixty-second General Assembly, Fourth Committee, 13th meeting GA/SDP/382 31 October 2007. Available from http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2007/gaspd382.doc.htm. Accessed 19 December 2007

[3] United Nations Charter. Preamble.

[4] United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Available from http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/info/page3.htm. Accessed 18 December 2007.

[5] Sir Goulding’s Lecture on 14 December 2007. University for Peace. P. 7

[6] Resolution adopted by the General Assembly Agenda. A/RES/51/242 United Nations. Item 10. December 1994 Chapter III. Available from http://www.un.org/documents/ga/res/51/ares51-242.htm. Accessed 18 December 2007

[7] United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Available from http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/dpko/info/page3.htm. Accessed 18 December 2007.

[8] Rawwida Baksh-Soodeen. Report of the Sierra Leone National Consultation Freetown, Sierra Leone 21-24 May 2001. Commonwealth Secretariat

[9] United Nations Peacekeeping Factsheet: Available from http://www.un.org/Depts/dpko/factsheet.pdf. Accessed 18 December 2007.

[10] Rafeeuddin, Lessons, 2.

[11] Ibid., 81.

[12] Rafeeuddin, Lessons, 82.

[13] Ibid.


Samantha Figueroa Garcia is a graduate student at the United Nations Mandated University for Peace in the International Law and Human Rights Program. She holds a B.A. in Public Relations from the Universidad Latina of Costa Rica.
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