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Fern Leaves

Genocide and Its Aftermath
Reentry and Reintegration of Rwandans Convicted of Genocide

I have worked with Dr. Hollie Nyseth (Brehm) Nzitatira on her project exploring the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide since 2019. The study consists of multiple waves of surveys and in-depth interviews. I have coded and overseen the coding of 300+ interviews in NVivo and maintained survey data in Qualitrics. Dr. Nyseth Nzitatira and I are currently working on a paper about state narratives of violence (described below), as well as a policy brief for Rwandan Correctional Services officials.


Following the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans were sentenced to prison and/or community service camps for their participation. As their sentences have begun to expire during the past decade, these genocidaires have begun to reenter society. Their successful reentry and reintegration into their communities is essential for peace and stability in the country.


Despite the hundreds of thousands of people around the globe who have been convicted of genocide, served sentences, and returned home, we don’t really know what that looks like for these genocidaires.

The Challenge

The goal of the larger project is to develop theories of prisoner reentry and reintegration in the context of genocide, as well as uncover the obstacles convicted genocidaires face as they reenter society. To begin to answer these questions, this specific project focused on how cultural narratives have the power to shape collective memories in the wake of shared trauma.


“They [participants] are like any of us. Anyone can be manipulated. They were manipulated by the government. I know top officials didn’t pick machetes to kill, but they influenced the ordinary people to do the undesired…Anyone can be influenced by the state.” -Abel


The narratives of attributions of blame for participation in the genocide, particularly external causes, help neutralize people’s actions and allow non-participants to understand how they could have committed genocide. That external causes were most commonly cited for participation in the genocide may be aiding in genocidaires’ reentry and reintegration into society—53 out of 74 interviewees (72%) narrated at least one external cause of participation.


Although dominant narratives of violence—such as framing the old government as “bad” and reinforcing the current government as “good”—are problematic, this research does indicate that framing the genocide mostly as a result of external factors is impacting how people perceive participants, and may aid convicted genocidaires’ reentry and reintegration


We uncovered three categories of the causes of participation: external, internal, and both.

These categories are presented below. Tip: hover over each category to see relevant quotes from participants.

External Causes (n=36)

  • Cited external causes of individuals' participation

  • Almost all cited the government’s role in influencing people to participate and teaching people to kill

  • 4 respondents referenced long history of colonialism

People participated because the poor government supported the genocide. If they didn’t, then we wouldn’t have faced it.”


“They had been trained and taught hatred since day one, which led people to dehumanize others. They were sure of killing snakes or cockroaches, not human beings.”


Internal Causes (n=21)

  • Believed internal, personal traits caused people to participate

  • Greed was most common internal trait cited as motivation to participate

  • Other traits listed were ignorance, jealousy, and selfishness

“Men wanted to get possession of victim’s cattle and houses.”


“It was selfishness, to wish to have other’s properties. They thought if they kill people, they will take all their properties.”


“It was because of ignorance.”


Both Internal and External Causes (n=17)

  • Attributed participation to both internal and external causes

“The reason people participated was bad leadership. Bad leadership plus people who were greedy and wanted to take people’s belongings and were motivated by bad leaders.”


“Of course, they were taught by the bad government and also people were greedy, and it led to genocide…”


Research Design

We were interested in hearing from people who survived the genocide or who did not participate in the violence to investigate how government-imposed narratives of the genocide impact how people perceive the genocidaires returning to their communities. Specifically, we looked at what these Rwandans understood as the causes of people’s participation in the genocide.

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We planned to conduct these interviews in person, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we pivoted to having Rwandan interviewers conduct the interviews. They had worked on several projects with Dr. Nyseth previously and underwent rigorous training.

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