Lessons from the Genocide against the Tutsi – A Round-table Discussion

On Friday 23rd of October, Paul Rukesha from Aegis Trust Archive and Documentation e team, and Andreas Loepsinger from GIZ organized and moderated the first roundtable discussion at the archive library. This discussion focused on Janine Clark’s article titled “Learning from the Past: Three Lessons from the Rwandan Genocide”. Janine Clark is a Senior Lecturer at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham.

In the discussed reading Clark talks about three lessons that can be learnt from the genocide against the Tutsi. The first lesson is that genocide perpetrators should not be dehumanised and should be given a voice; the second is that genocide is not carried out by monsters and psychopaths but by ordinary people who, under certain conditions turn into perpetrators; and the third lesson is that retributive justice alone is not enough to facilitate reconciliation in post-conflict societies.

This discussion started by encouraging participants to share their opinions about the reading, and the moderators clarified that they did not necessarily share the views expressed by the author. The first point to come up was how the title of Clark’s article was a bit problematic as it refers to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi as the “Rwandan Genocide”. The term “Rwandan Genocide” is frequently used by several authors when referring to the genocide against the Tutsi, but this appellation is ambiguous because it does not clearly reflect what happened in 1994 as it was confirmed by the United Nations Security Council.

The discussion continued with an elaborate debate on why perpetrators should be given a voice, and how it could be done. Participants settled that giving perpetrators a voice is useful to documenting the genocide, and helpful in educating young people about accountability and the consequences of the genocide on a personal and national level. Participants also noted that perpetrators testimonies tell unique stories that could help scholars and researchers to better understand the genocide against the Tutsi.

Additional points of discussion explored circumstances that can facilitate ordinary people to become perpetrators. Most participants concurred that genocide perpetrators are indeed ordinary people who have committed unordinary crimes. The discussion continued by examining if there were ways to reverse the conditions that enable these ordinary people to become perpetrators. Participants agreed that cultivating and practicing values like compassion and empathy could prevent ordinary people from committing genocide crimes.

This blog entry cannot do enough justice to the heated debates that took place while discussing the points mentioned above. It is not always that members from different Aegis Trust departments meet to discuss thought-provoking subjects such as the ones brought up by Clark in her article and how they relate to the work we do. I commend Rukesha and Loepsinger for initiating these roundtable discussion series, and am eagerly looking forward to the next one!

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