The truth about loyalty: emotions, ex-combatants and transitioning from the past

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Despite a rich body of literature on ex-combatants in transitional contexts, the reasons why former armed actors may be reluctant to engage with formal mechanisms of truth recovery have been less well explored. This article argues that ex-combatants’ antipathy towards truth recovery cannot be properly understood without a critical interrogation of the emotions vested in the combatant-ex-combatant experience and the intersection between emotions, politics and ideology. In particular, the paper focuses on the emotion of loyalty and its influence on pro-state armed actors. It uses the case of loyalist ex-combatants in Northern Ireland as a prism through which to explore this tension. Four overlapping notions of loyalty are identified - ‘Loyalty as Betrayal’, ‘Loyalty, Blame and Managing Shame’, ‘Loyalty as Silence’ and ‘Loyalty as Protection’. The paper concludes by suggesting the need for greater recognition of the role of loyalty in mediating relationships with and willingness to investigate the past.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)484-504
JournalInternational Journal of Transitional Justice
Issue number3
Early online date10 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2017


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