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After Genocide :: Review by Philippe Rieder

Review by Philippe Rieder

Reviewer: Philippe Rieder
Source: Canadian Journal of Political Science, Volume 43, Issue 4 (2010)

After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post-Conflict Reconstruction and
Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond

Phil Clark and Zachary D. Kaufman, eds.

Hurst & Company, London, 2008, pp. 432.


Clark and Kaufman’s anthology, originating from a series of conferences held in
Oxford in 2004 and 2005 in commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, provides a
detailed survey of current debates on transitional justice, post-conflict reconstruction
and reconciliation efforts in Rwanda and beyond.

The editors’ stated intention is to illuminate the complexity of the challenge
that the Rwandan genocide of 1994 and its legacy poses to work on conflict and
post-conflict issues and represents “an attempt to respond holistically to the complex
challenges of rebuilding lives after genocide” (19). The book should also be understood
as the editors’ expression of dissatisfaction with the “worrying trends” (4) they
discern in the discourse on the Rwandan genocide. Clark and Kaufman perceive an
increasing proliferation of revisionist views and neglect of basic truths about the genocide
recently, even among Western scholars (see, for example, Tom Ndahiro’s essay
on “genocide laundering”). According to them, recent debates increasingly revolve
around issues “marginal” to the genocide, such as alleged massacres by the Rwandan
Patriotic Front (RPF), and although such matters have to be addressed and are discussed
by some of the contributors (e.g., Hintjens or Lemarchand), the editors advocate
re-focusing the narrative of the genocide on the genocide itself and the plights
of victims and survivors.

The major benefit of the anthology consists in its examination of the multiple
facets of post-genocide reconstruction and the highlighting of key tensions among
the final objectives of post-conflict societies: reconciliation, peace, justice, healing,
forgiveness and truth. Clark and Kaufman succeed in providing a platform for nuanced
debate of these issues by aligning contributors with differing views and opposing
perspectives on such controversial issues as the politicization of memory or the significance
and implementation of transitional justice. Giving theorists as well as practitioners,
political actors as well as survivors a chance to speak, they address the
conflict in its individual, communal and national as well as international dimensions.
The selection of contributors has to be commended particularly for letting the
voices of survivors be heard, which still happens too rarely in literature on Rwanda.

The anthology divides itself into four parts, addressing the historical background
of the genocide (chapters 1–3), the debate on the politicization of memory
and identity (chapters 4–9), transitional justice and its significance for reconstruction
and reconciliation (chapters 10–16), as well as the legal and institutional lessons
to be learned from the Rwandan genocide (chapters 17–20). A very commendable
point is that the contributors seem to be aware of the content of other essays and take
the opportunity to address the positions of other authors directly. The reader thus is
able to directly compare the opposing positions of contributors, such as the argument
between President Kagame and René Lemarchand on the politicization of memory
or between Martin Ngoga, prosecutor-general of the Republic of Rwanda, and Hassan
Bubacar Jallow, prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda
(ICTR), on the impact of the ICTR on transitional justice.

The first two parts are unified in their contention “that history is invariably
politicized and that Rwanda’s future hinges on the ability to navigate divergent interpretations
of the past” (8). Opinions on dealing with memory and the legacy of genocide
are largely divergent, even among survivors: Whereas, for example, Jean Baptiste
Kayigamba (33–42) emphasizes the need to end the culture of impunity that led to
the genocide and advocates a primacy of justice for reconcilliation, Solomon Gasana
(145–70) highlights the importance of a mutual process of forgiveness and healing
as a precondition to peace and development. The fundamental tensions within postconflict
societies emerge from the emphasis that the actors in power put on particular
reconstructive goals at the expense of others.

The current Rwandan government, for example, focuses on stability, fostering
national unity by banning ethnical identities and promoting a publicly owned process
of transitional justice to punish the perpetrators of 1994, a policy described by President
Kagame himself as well as Rwandan Prosecutor-General Martin Ngoga. This
policy, however, promotes a certain memory of the genocide that, according to Hintjens
and Lemarchand, tends to globalize guilt of the Hutu population and enforces a modus vivendi of “chosen amnesia” (Buckley-Zistel, 129) among the population. The roles
of victim and perpetrators become fixed without giving people the opportunity to
process their personal memories. True reconciliation with the past is substituted with
an uneasy coexistence of victims and perpetrators that makes new political identities
unlikely to emerge. The editors contend that in regard to the finite resources of the
juridical apparatus, the moral responses to the genocide have to be shaped by “political
and moral pragmatism” (11), meaning the prioritization of bringing genocide
perpetrators to justice before trying alleged RPF massacres. I would tend to disagree
with this position because it moves Rwandan transitional justice into the realm of
victor’s justice and might actually exacerbate the tensions between ethnic groups feeling
disenfranchised, similar to what Dominik Zaum has observed in the Kosovo (see
Zaum, 363–80).

The anthology succeeds in revealing that the challenges for post-conflict societies
in dealing with their inheritance are manifold and complex, that the pitfalls of
violence are lurking everywhere and that easy solutions are unlikely to be found.
Crucially aware of the difficulty of balancing the objectives of reconciliation, peace,
justice, healing, forgiveness and truth, the book, apart from its uncompromising stance
against revisionism and denial, does not advocate specific policies for rebuilding postconflict
societies. Its content is also too detailed and specific for a general audience
unfamiliar with the general history of the Rwandan genocide. For scholars and practitioners
already working in the field, however, it provides valuable insights to refine
the responses to the political, social and legal challenges that the Rwandan genocide
continues to pose.

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