Forgiving Former Perpetrators of Violence and Reintegrating Them into Colombian Civil Society: Noncombatant Citizens’ Positions

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Abstract

The study examined Colombian people’s positions on forgiving former actors in the armed civil conflict and on reintegrating them into society. A convenience sample of 550 adults living in Bogota was presented with 12 realistic stories depicting a former perpetrator of violence (a member of the guerillas, the paramilitary, or the military) who begged a victim’s family for forgiveness. The vignettes were created by combining the levels of 4 factors—Identity × Apologies (has apologized and offered compensation or not) × Type of Crime (murder or destruction of property) × Level of Responsibility (mere agent or organizer)—in a Latin square design. Three different rating scales were used: a willingness to forgive scale, an acceptance in the neighborhood scale, and an acceptance as a coworker scale. Through cluster analysis, 4 personal positions regarding forgiveness were found: a never forgive under any circumstances position (29%), a hesitant position (23%), an always forgive position (18%), and a depends on circumstances position (13%). Few participants adopted positions showing that at least minimal deliberation (weighing the pros and the cons) had taken place before responding. In addition, 17% of the sample was totally undetermined. Ninety-two percent of the participants who were hostile to forgiveness or hesitant were unwilling to have former perpetrators live in their neighborhoods, and 94% were unwilling to have them as coworkers. The corresponding figures were 62% and 66%, respectively, for participants holding an always forgive position. The gut reaction to former perpetrators found regarding the possibility of forgiving extended to the issue of reintegration. Overall, and despite the fact that, from a practical viewpoint, reintegrating people into society does not imply full forgiveness, Colombian people’s views on reintegration are not more favorable than are their views on forgiveness.

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