Rebuilding institutional legitimacy in post-conflict societies: an Asia Pacific case study, Phase 1A

Cherney, Adrian, Fisk, Kylie, Hornsey, Matthew and Smith, Andrew (2009) Rebuilding institutional legitimacy in post-conflict societies: an Asia Pacific case study, Phase 1A Brisbane QLD, Australia: University of Queensland

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Author Cherney, Adrian
Fisk, Kylie
Hornsey, Matthew
Smith, Andrew
Title of report Rebuilding institutional legitimacy in post-conflict societies: an Asia Pacific case study, Phase 1A
Formatted title
Rebuilding institutional legitimacy in post-conflict societies:  an Asia Pacific case study, Phase 1A
Publication date 2009-06-03
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Publisher University of Queensland
Place of publication Brisbane QLD, Australia
Start page 1
End page 82
Total pages 82
Collection year 2009
Language eng
Subjects 360000 Policy and Political Science
160299 Criminology not elsewhere classified
160606 Government and Politics of Asia and the Pacific
160609 Political Theory and Political Philosophy
170113 Social and Community Psychology
169903 Studies of Asian Society
160205 Police Administration, Procedures and Practice
940405 Law Reform
940401 Civil Justice
940302 International Aid and Development
940303 International Organisations
940203 Political Systems
940201 Civics and Citizenship
810101 Air Force
1605 Policy and Administration
1699 Other Studies in Human Society
Research Report for an External Body - Public Sector
Abstract/Summary An increasing amount of research on post-conflict reconstruction has highlighted the central role that legitimacy plays in the sustainability and ultimate success of international programmes concerned with rebuilding failed states. Legitimacy in the broad sense refers to the belief (i.e. perception) that authorities, institutions and social arrangements are appropriate, proper and just. A key area of concern for post-conflict reconstruction programmes has been to achieve political legitimacy (e.g. derived from claims based on the interpretation of international law) for international efforts to intervene in host countries and engage in peacebuilding programmes. An under researched and neglected dimension of legitimacy pertains to building and sustaining domestic legitimacy among the population subject to peacebuilding and peacekeeping efforts. This is important to the functioning of governmental institutions (e.g. police, judiciary and government) that post-conflict reconstruction is particularly concerned with transforming – often referred to as statebuilding. Domestic legitimacy refers to the acceptance of post-conflict interventions and resulting institutions among the local population, which has been identified as influencing the sustainability of peacebuilding programmes. This project focuses on two factors proposed to influence domestic legitimacy: voice and social identity. Voice refers to the opportunity for groups to have some level of input into processes that affect them. Voice provides for some level of local control and is premised on notions of local accountability and participation in the reconstruction process. This is essential for ensuring that reconstruction efforts are perceived as meeting local needs and expectations. Social identities are attitudes, values, behaviours and memories that are drawn from group membership. Group membership acts as a heuristic that tells people who can be trusted and who cannot, independent of any history of interpersonal exchange. Since citizens draw assumptions about which groups are responsible for rebuilding or reforming institutions, the social identity of reconstruction agents may affect perceptions of trust and legitimacy. The aim of Phase 1A was to examine the dimensional properties of legitimacy in East Timor and Nepal via textual analysis of various sources (academic, official, and primary). These results were used to understand the configuration of post-conflict reconstruction strategies in these selected sites and help define legitimacy processes. Results will also be used to inform subsequent phases of research that will involve fieldwork in selected sites. Results from East Timor were characterised by a disjunction between the ideals of academic literature, the aims of reconstruction programmes and the perception of the reality on the ground. The academic literature discussed legitimacy with equal attention across a broad range of institutions, including economic, health, and security, whereas the official literature focused on government, and the primary literature on human rights and the judiciary, indicating potential different assessments of the relative importance of these institutions to reconstruction efforts. The presence of Timorese individuals such as Xanana Gusmao on primary profiles but not academic or official, suggests an underestimation of the power of the individual to influence perceptions of legitimacy via what can be termed charismatic authority. Though building participation and increasing voice is discussed in the academic literature and explicitly stated as an objective in the official literature, East Timorese still struggle with the impression of having little influence over the rebuilding of key institutions, especially within the context of key justice institutions such as the judicial system. This leads to perceptions of systemic bias and ineffectiveness, which thereby undermines domestic legitimacy. There is a strong indication that a lack of trust regarding Australia’s involvement in the reconstruction of East Timor affected the legitimacy of UNTAET (United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor), with suspicion of Australia’s motives as an out-group with disproportionate political power over Timor. Special issues raised in the East Timor profiles and worthy of further investigation include: the ill-conceived choosing of Portuguese as the national language; perceptions of transitional justice following Indonesia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; repercussions following the distribution of revenue from the Timor Petroleum Fund; and justice processes utilising customary norms versus a reliance on rebuilt judicial institutions. In general there were similar issues raised in Nepal, though analysis of social identity processes were more pronounced and complicated by the intricate socio-cultural system. Disentangling the relative importance of group identities in Nepal will be essential in any subsequent fieldwork. The academic profile was the only source to discuss the importance of NGO legitimacy, with the official and primary profiles more concerned with human rights and official corruption. As in East Timor, voice was a concept raised in all sources, though its discussion in the academic texts and stated importance in official sources was at odds with direct claims in the primary text of the marginalisation and denial of voice of certain groups. This finding is also at odds with the prediction that the primarily locally based reconstruction efforts and governance in Nepal would increase the perception of ownership and participation. It is possible that systemic exclusion of ethnicities and castes from the decision-making process has counteracted the positive effects of perceived devolution of ownership overall in Nepal. Special issues raised in the legitimacy profiles and worthy of further research include: the importance of the urban/rural distinction in Nepal; the legitimacy of NGOs given their prolific and significant role in reconstruction; integration of ex-Maoist insurgents into the police and military and its effect on domestic legitimacy; and perceptions of the US in Nepal given the Communist political philosophy of the Maoist government. Suspicions abound of outsiders and their motives in both countries, both at the stage of the international intervention and subsequently in reconstruction. This was exacerbated when the US or another high-status group were operating in the country in question. Locals in East Timor and Nepal were generally accepting of initial United Nations involvement, though it was evident that this support began to deteriorate over time due to the increased perception that foreign governments were “pulling the strings” of the operation. An overriding transitional authority as in the case of UNTAET aggravates the latter problem, where it can be viewed on the ground as operating on behalf of foreign governments, causing locals to overlook the humanitarian need for the involvement of international agencies. Surveys and interviews in subsequent phases of this project will determine the reasoning processes behind these perceptions, though it seems fair to conclude at this stage that there are social identity processes at work in the innate distrust of particular out-groups as represented by international agencies and their representatives in both East Timor and Nepal. While academics and reconstruction officials work on building institutions, locals are often left searching for a sense of justice for grievances experienced during the preceding and often ongoing conflict. Tied to this concept are issues of accountability and fairness, central to perceptions of domestic legitimacy. Independent investigations and war crimes tribunals are typically conducted in post-conflict environments with locals and officials placing emphasis on the extent to which these processes accord to procedural justice norms, with a lack of perceived legitimacy in the conduct of trials undermining their aims of providing local justice. It will be interesting to investigate further in East Timor and Nepal whether locals prefer retributive or restorative justice processes after conflict. However, these initial findings suggest that leaving war criminals unpunished is a major setback for the legitimacy of the judicial system and the government after conflict. Chapter one of this report outlines the framework underpinning this research and defines specific theoretical concepts that guided data analysis. Chapter two discusses the research methodology and describes how sources of information were divided into academic, official and primary texts. Chapter two also details the analytical method that was adopted using Leximancer. Chapter three presents the results from data analysis and discusses the content of the visual maps that were produced through text analysis. This is divided into different legitimacy profiles according to both text source and country of origin. Chapter four summarises the key research findings, the implications for further project phases and outlines how the adopted methodology and approach utilising the Leximancer text analysis system is applicable to other fields of research.
Keyword Post conflict reconstruction
Institutional legitimacy
Peace and conflict studies
Social identity theory
East Timor
United Nations
Q-Index Code AX
Q-Index Status Provisional Code

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Created: Thu, 25 Jun 2009, 22:06:28 EST by Dr Adrian Cherney on behalf of Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies