Review by Noam Schimmel

Reviewer: Noam Schimmel, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK
Source: Terrorism and Political Violence, Volume 22, Issue 2 (March 2010), pp. 324-28

Volume 22, Issue 2 of Terrorism and Political Violence contains a review by Noam Schimmel, London School of Economics and Political Science, of After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond.  The full piece is reproduced below.


Phil Clark and Zachary Kaufman. After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post-Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond. London: Hurst Publishers, 2008. 399 pp., $50.00 cloth. ISBN: 978-1-85065-918-1.


Reviewed by Noam Schimmel

London School of Economics and Political Science

London, UK


An invaluable work, After Genocide is intellectually rigorous, morally nuanced and mature, and comprehensive in its analysis of transitional justice, reconstruction, and reconciliation in Rwanda. The diversity of voices assembled here, from the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, to genocide survivors, whose voices too often are marginalized if they are heard at all in such works, captures a broad range of perspective and opinion and contributes greatly to the overall integrity of the work. The overlapping but sometimes competing and contradictory aims of promoting justice, reconciliation, peace, healing, truth, and forgiveness are explored in depth in the essays with careful deliberation.

Contributors address hard truths and complex social, political, and psychological realities without flinching; the end result is a work unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom and to raise issues that have been underexplored in the extant literature. A few of the essays are overtly ideological in nature and morally obtuse, however. Rene Lemarchand elides information that undermines his ideological proclivities in his effort to problematize some of the more simplistic accounts of Rwanda’s history and the context of the genocide. While raising important questions about freedom and political and ethnic identity in Rwanda today, and championing human rights as universal values which cannot and should not be respected in a partisan and sectarian way, Helen Hintjens shows flaws in her knowledge of contemporary Rwandan society and the nature of the racist Hutu supremacist ideology that dominated Rwandan politics and society from 1959–1994.

Although the chapters by genocide survivors, in particular Jean Kayigamba, vigorously address the right of genocide survivors to justice and to live in physical safety, away from the threats of genocide perpetrators, the volume would have benefited from an essay addressing the urgent challenges that genocide survivors face in Rwanda today to actualize their human rights to housing, healthcare, education, and psychological support services. The deprivations of these rights to genocide survivors remains one of the greatest social injustices facing Rwanda today and a major failure to protect the rights of its most vulnerable and persecuted minority.

The incorporation of the subject matter of psychological healing and trauma reduction is commendable, and the subject matter is explored with sensitivity and humility. Greater attention to the psychological and mental health implications of Rwanda’s policy of settling genocide survivors beside genocide perpetrators would have added significantly to the value of the volume, as this is a subject that has not been addressed in depth by academic literature and is of great concern to genocide survivors and a centrepiece of the Rwandan government’s reconciliation policies. There is little discussion in the volume of the need for and relative lack of ‘‘de-Hutu-Powerification’’—Rwanda’s equivalent of the de-Nazification policies implemented in Germany by the allies at the end of the Holocaust and World War II. Given that the racist Hutu supremacist political and social philosophy of ‘‘Hutu Power’’ was so powerful a component of Rwandan political and social life from 1959 to 1994, and responsible for organizing and enabling the periodic massacres of Tutsis during this period and for the genocide itself, it is a topic deserving of attention.

Phil Clark’s commentary on the gacaca process of community implemented trials is particularly illuminating and insightful. It offers a careful and analytical perspective based on extensive research and a profound understanding of the context in which gacaca has taken place and its political, social, and moral implications. The concise but impassioned and tightly argued essay by Paul Kagame offers an unusual glimpse into the thinking of Rwanda’s president, and a sharp rebuttal to the essay by Rene Lemarchand. Martin Ngoga, Prosecutor-General of the Republic of Rwanda’s scathing critique of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda offers a necessary corrective to the almost utopian characterization provided by The ICTR’s chief prosecutor, Hassan Bubacar Jallow.

In his essay, Jallow claims that,


The trial process, is, in itself, an important means of promoting peace and reconciliation in Rwanda, providing catharsis to survivors . . . No longer faceless or nameless, survivors testifying as witnesses before the ICTR are reminded that they are not objects, but individual human beings whose hardships are deserving of formal and official recognition. The act of giving testimony offers solace and relief from a silence that only perpetuates fear and suspicion. (pp. 263–264)


Yet the trial process takes place in Arusha, Tanzania at a distance of hundreds of miles from Rwanda. There has been highly inadequate outreach on the part of the UN Tribunal to Rwandans, such that in the Rwandan countryside where the overwhelming majority of Rwandans live there is little access to the trial deliberations. Many survivors testifying before the Tribunal find their experiences to be deeply traumatizing and dehumanizing, rather than honouring their individuality and experiences, as Jallow argues. While some may find solace and relief in giving testimony, many lament the lack of adequate witness support programs and the general feeling of being objectified by the tribunal which is interested in their testimony only inasmuch as it advances the cause of the trial, and the examination of the guilt or innocence of the accused. Because the UN has not provided reparations for genocide survivors, survivors receive little benefit from sharing their testimony and little recognition of the immense psychological and practical challenges that public testimony of their experiences and witnessing of rape, torture, and mass violence entails. Ngoga notes that the Tribunal has suffered from widespread nepotism and corruption, and that the Tribunal has hired genocide suspects to serve as defence investigators, undermining its mission and trustworthiness substantially.

             After Genocide gives voice to survivors who, while grateful for the leadership of the RPF in ending the genocide, call into question what they consider to be its overly conciliatory approach to genocide perpetrators. Jean Baptiste Kayigamba writes,


Today my fear is that, just as failure to bring past perpetrators of violence to justice made the genocide of 1994 possible, so another culture of impunity is being cultivated in post genocide Rwanda that may again sow the seeds of ethnic hatred and violence. The difference today is that this new culture of impunity comes under the guise of calls for reconciliation . . . Many survivors feel that the present Rwandan government, and the world at large, are making the same mistakes as past Hutu regimes, by not administering full justice to those found guilty of genocide crimes. (p. 41)


Many human rights groups have focused on demanding formal legal mechanisms to protect the rights of the accused to a fair trial in Rwanda’s gacaca system. But there has been relatively little attention paid to this issue of the early release of genocide perpetrators from prisons and how their release perpetuates psychological (and sometimes physical) violence against the survivors of the genocide and may sow the seeds for future violence. Over 160 genocide survivors have been murdered in Rwanda since the end of the genocide, many of them by perpetrators of the genocide that have been released from prison. Survivors frequently report intimidation, threats, taunting, and abusive behaviour on the part of released genocide perpetrators.

Lemarchand’s essay is simultaneously polemical and analytical, on the one hand providing a wealth of thoughtful commentary and on the other hand making extreme claims and oversimplifying Rwandan history. His criticism of the Rwandan government for not sufficiently acknowledging the tens of thousands of Hutus who were killed during the genocide of the Tutsi because they were members of opposition parties and because many believed in equality for Tutsis and in democracy is fair and eloquent. He notes that Hutus who rescued Tutsis at great risk to their lives have not been sufficiently acknowledged either. But Lemarchand makes the unjustified assertion that “There would have been no genocide had Kagame not decided to unleash his refugee warriors on 1 October 1990, in violation of the most elementary principle of international law” (pp. 70–71). This is not a reasoned argument based on evidence; it is simply Lemarchand’s belief, which seems more a testimony to his antipathy towards Kagame and the RPF than anything else. Lemarchand conveniently ignores the fact that Kagame and his “refugee warriors” were seeking to return to Rwanda, a country which had expelled them through massacres and state–sanctioned discrimination and violence and refused to allow them to return to their homes and country of origin and citizenship. It is not clear to which “most elementary principle of international law” Lemarchand is referring, but it is clear that the worst and most extensive violations of international law and of the right to life were taking place in Rwanda under the Hutu Power regime in the form of massacres against tens of thousands of innocent Tutsi civilians and continuous discrimination against them. Furthermore, had the Belgians and the French not intervened to support the racist Hutu Power regime the RPF would likely have defeated the Hutu Power regime in 1991, averting the genocide all together. Lemarchand wishes to create moral equivalency between the histories of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda where there is no moral equivalency. He conflates the RPF with Tutsis, neglecting to acknowledge that while several hundred thousand Hutus, including tens of thousands of civilians, participated in the genocide of the Tutsi, crimes committed against Hutus were generally not undertaken by Tutsi civilians but by RPF soldiers, far fewer in number than Hutus who attacked Tutsi.

Helen Hintjens betrays a lack of knowledge of Rwanda’s current economic and social context when she claims that, “Despite economic growth, few inroads are being made into tackling deteriorating and chronic rural poverty, and there are signs of rising social insecurity in urban areas” (p. 79). The opposite is the case, particularly because of the Rwandan government’s provision of universal health care to all Rwandans through the Mutuell de Sante program, a massive classroom building campaign to increase educational opportunity for children and youth and a huge increase in total number of students enrolled in higher education, and well documented and acknowledged strides in lowering malaria rates of transmission. Promoting human development is an area where the Rwandan government has achieved great success and been well recognized for this by aid agencies, the United Nations, and various world governments contributing to these efforts. Rwanda’s urban residents enjoy exceptionally high standards of personal safety—amongst the best in Africa.

Most problematic and presumptuous in Hintjens’ essay is her accusation that by self-identifying as a Tutsi, Jean Baptiste Kayigamba, a survivor of the genocide, falls into the trap of racist logic and thinking that led to the genocide. Hintjens states,


In official accounts, Rwanda’s past is reinterpreted as demonstrating a continuous genocidal threat against the Tutsi. “I am just sickened,” said Jean Baptiste Kayigamba, a genocide survivor and an author who relates his harrowing story in Chapter 2, at a conference in May 2004, “by the fact that we knew that one day we would be killed.” The problem with this statement is its implicit reference to a racially-defined “we,” thus falling into the logic of the genocidal ideology of race hatred. (p. 86)


On what basis does Hintjens have the right to question Kayigamba’s self-identity as a Tutsi? Identifying oneself as a Hutu or a Tutsi does not automatically imply essentializing these identities and submitting to a racist discourse and logic. Although Hutus and Tutsis do share a religion, culture, and language they have for decades identified as such. The acknowledgment of having a Hutu or Tutsi identity—however potentially fluid and dynamic these terms may be—is entirely legitimate. It reflects the human right to identity and participation in a community with whom one feels a connection: historical, emotional, ethnic, or otherwise. Moreover, given that Tutsis were discriminated against in Rwanda since 1959 and faced mass violence as a result of their sometimes distinctive features, particular heritage, and common preference for cow herding rather than intensive agricultural development, it is entirely understandable why they would self-identify as a distinctive community within Rwanda. Kayigamba and other Tutsis have every right to self-identify as they wish without being defamed as falling prey to racism. The same applies for Hutus. Many “moderate Hutus” who were killed in the politicide that accompanied the genocide of the Tutsi identified as Hutus but fervently believed that Tutsis should have equal rights and enjoy freedom and full participation in Rwandan government and society. Their identifying as Hutus did not preclude them from acknowledging their fundamental human and moral equality with their fellow Tutsi and Twa co-citizens. The same holds for Hutus who choose to identify as Hutus in contemporary Rwandan society but who advance democratic values of freedom and equality for all.

For those interested in grappling with Rwanda’s contemporary and future societal challenges, After Genocide is an ideal place to begin or continue exploration of the subject. Academics and policymakers alike have much to benefit from reading it and it is an original and significant contribution to the literature of an exceptionally high calibre.


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