Rehabilitation & Reintegration of Ex-Combatants (REX)

The Need

Rehabilitating and reintegrating ex-combatants entails diverse challenges for ex-combatants, communities and other actors involved. Even where security, military, judicial, economic and social measures of a standard DDR process are implemented according to best practices, effective rehabilitation and reintegration may remain shallow if no attention is paid to more integrative,
psycho-social issues. Given the varied and longstanding impact of armed violence, a more complete DDR process is necessary to help divided communities and returning combatants break cycles of mistrust and violence and ensure a sustainable peacebuilding process.

Program Description

A 16-22 hour program, the REX program addresses psycho-social gaps in existing DDR infrastructure, focusing specifically on a range of challenges which are psycho-social, including but not limited to: post-traumatic stress; addiction; mistrust and alienation; depression, apathy, and perceptive disempowerment; victimization and an inability to take responsibility for past acts or current behavior; negative emotions such as anger, blame, and a desire for revenge; cognitive reliance on violence to achieve power or fulfil masculinities; and other identity challenges related to re-entry.
In addition, the REX program empowers participants to identify and achieve their goals in a non-violent way, helping them re-enter society as contributing and peaceful members.
Moving beyond elite-driven agreements, conflicts are transformed as people are supported to reconcile with the past and envision a new, more secure and inter-dependent future.
IAHV has delivered this program successfully to militants in Kashmir and Assam, Naxalites in India, the LTTE in Sri Lanka, warring tribes in Ivory Coast, the Kosovo Liberation Army, gangs in Panama, and Maoists in Nepal.
Prison-Smart

Case Studies

Assam, India (2012): Rehabilitation & Reintegration of Militants

For many years, Assam has been a hotbed of militancy of varied kinds related to tensions between state authorities and the government, local people and immigrants, and among tribal groups.

In 2012, IAHV offered a one-month rehabilitation and reintegration training to 240 militants, many of whom belonged to different extremist groups from an early age.

Participants practiced physical exercises to release accumulated stress and gain energy; powerful breathing techniques to release trauma and negative emotions of anger, fear and revenge; relaxation and fun processes to increase life-supporting emotions; discussion and reflection to broaden their perception and sense of identity; and vocational training and training in organic farming to earn their living in a non-violent way.

100% of the participants felt their lives changed for the positive with many renouncing violence, taking up agriculture, and becoming willing to contribute to sustainable and peaceful development of their communities. Here are some of their comments after the program (names have been excluded for security reasons):

“My fight was for the people. So maybe I have no regrets. But I realized that violence is not the path. I am now determined to build a strong harmonious community. I want to go back and resolve conflicts in my region, now that I am at peace with myself.”

“It’s a new life for me. I find a lot of enthusiasm and determination to lead a new life. I had a lot of physical and mental strain but just after two days of doing the Sudarshan Kriya and other practices, I can sit on the ground, and sleep soundly at night. I have a new zest to live life.”

“Coming here, I feel a lot of belongingness and respect for others. It is because I was given the same respect and welcomed with belongingness. I now recognize the struggle I was going through mentally. It seems I have found a tool to solve my problems. I can now see a way ahead. I have some land back home. I would like to take up organic farming.”

Naxal, India (2002—Present): From Bullets to Ballots

The Naxalites, or Naxals, are a group of far-left, radical Communists in India, supportive of Maoist political ideologies and armed violence. What began as a revolutionary peasants movement in Naxalbari, West Bengal, 1967, evolved into an ongoing armed uprising of mostly tribal inhabitants. Militant activity became concentrated along state borders in an area known as the ‘Red Corridor’, which runs through West Bengal, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh. Districts within this region are among the poorest in the country and have large indigenous tribal populations.

This conflict between Naxal insurgents and the Government of India (GOI) poses a grave threat to India’s peace and security. By 1980, disputing communist factions increased to 30 different militant groups with more than 30 000 official members. India’s Ministry of Home Affairs asserts that more than 6,000 civilians died in the crossfire, during more than 20 years of violent conflict.

Since 2002, IAHV’s sister organisation, Art of Living Foundation (AOL), has delivered peacebuilding programming to engage different layers of Naxalite society in order to develop a culture of sustainable peace. Trainers have been actively involved in providing trauma relief, healing and reconciliation programming as well as conflict resolution skills training throughout Naxal affected areas of India.

From 2002 to 2010, more than 500,000 people benefited from AOL trauma relief techniques. This resulted in restored peace and security in more than 1,000 villages in Naxal affected areas throughout 9 states. In addition, our team facilitated the rehabilitation of war-affected relationships through highly effective trauma relief programs for all actors engaged in Naxal related violent
conflict, including: Naxal militia cadre, members of the Central Reserve Police Force, tribal villagers caught in the crossfire of conflict, as well as tribal villagers living in Government Relief Camps who were forced to migrate from their villages as a result of the violent conflict.

AOL trainers facilitated the reintegration of ex-Naxal militia cadre into society, encouraging political participation and positive action. The implemented programs aimed to demilitarize minds, break down negative thought patterns and reconcile adversarial relationships thereby strengthening social cohesion and conflict resilience. Recurrence of violence was further prevented through human values based peace education that provided practical skills in conflict resolution and encouraged harmony in diversity. Results suggest that deeply embedded attitudes of hatred and fear dissipated and transformed into non-violent behavior.

This peace is largely sustained by selected AOL facilitators providing mediation between the GOI and ex-Naxal militants, facilitating high-level policy and peace agreement negotiations that seek a resolution to the ongoing Naxal insurgency.

Curundu, Panama City (2008): Reintegrating Gang Members

Living in the ghettos of Panama City, the gang of Los Cicarios agreed to join IAHV’s program for rehabilitation and empowerment. Gang members grew up in very poor living conditions in slums where families struggled to put food on the table and the lack of affection and parental love was prevalent. It became natural for members to bond with each other and form a gang in order to help provide income for their families and security from rival gangs.
Often times, young members were forced into criminal activities against their will. Without proper education or parental support, their options were limited and many felt they had to comply. Violence, vandalism and robbery were an easier solution to get what they needed and to stay alive. Passing time in prison became a habit due to their ongoing illegal activities while venturing freely in the streets was not possible due to different gangs occupying different areas.
In 2008, IAHV’s sister organisation, Art of Living Foundation (AOL) was approached for a transformative solution to cyclical violence and crime. One full gang of 11 members joined a 20-month program, benefiting from intensive training and rehabilitation. Members, mostly youth, were disciplined into healthier habits including breathing techniques, yoga and practical life skills
to reinforce self-esteem, open up their mind to new futures, empower them with renewed purpose of life and initiate volunteer-based programs to encourage service-oriented activities.
In partnership with local organisations, AOL participated in providing mediation between different gangs in the area, creating more peace in the area. Before long, Los Cicarios was known in their slums as the “boys that breathe,” and for their service in orphanages, sharing the breathing techniques and yoga practices as well as for their mentorship to younger children. For this they became known as the “Youth for Change.” Members organised weekly meetings to discuss and exchange ideas and solutions, giving them a platform to release newly accumulated stresses and reconnect with their inner space of tranquility and peace.

“I have found the same belongingness of a group here, but it’s not for vandalism, it’s a group to help others that need it and were in the same situation as we were before,” remarked an exgang leader.

“I want to move forward, I want to know more, and to learn more things that I don’t know. That’s what I want for my future, to have a good family, to be able to help my mom and my grandma because they deserve it. I am sure I’ll be able to get out of the ghetto and many more of us are going to get out,” said another ex-gang member about his experience with AOL.

Describing their work with the orphans, one ex-gang member poignantly remarked: “We used to behave even worse than them. Now we’ve changed and we come to teach them that there can be a change. All of them deserve a chance just as we had too. One of us could have died with all these problems, we could have gone to jail, I don’t know, but if we can change and take advantage of that, I think everybody can do the same. We have to stretch out our hand to help other people who also deserve a chance. We can teach them to change as a person, and to shift their mind, to become a good person and not to fix things only with bullets but to see there are different ways.”

Tamil Tigers, Sri Lanka

The conclusion of the war in Sri Lanka in May 2009 saw the displacement of over 275,000 people. Some of them who were serving in the erstwhile Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were placed under the custody and care of the government rehabilitation centers.

IAHV and Art of Living Sri Lanka delivered their rehabilitation programs to ex-LTTE combatants placed at the Boosa Prison and the rehabilitation centers in Omanthai and Maradamadu. The programs have helped more than 1800 ex-LTTE combatants to meaningfully reintegrate within mainstream society.