My column marking the tenth anniversary of the start of the Rwanda genocide is out in Thursday’s Christian Science Monitor. I reflected quite deeply before writing it, and it seems to have come out more or less as I wanted.
This afternoon (Wednesday), I spoke at a gathering an energetic, social-activist student at U.Va. law school called Heather Eastwood had organized, to commemorate the genocide. I used some of the ideas from the column, but talked at greater length about many aspects of the genocide. The crowd was larger than either Heather or I had expected. (They have exams coming up there soon.) And then, people asked some really good questions and we had a good discussion.
One of the big points I made was that the standard, familiar-to-Americans, ‘criminal-justice’ approach to dealing with the legacies of atrocities is not necessarily the best one. These were nearly all law students! And the ones who came to the talk were probably disproportionately supporters of the human rights movement’s broad global campaigns in favor of war-crimes courts for every atrocity… But still, the sheer gravity of the kinds of problems I described with that approach them seemed to strike them.
One of the last questions had to do with whether I thought the Rwandan government could have gotten both accountability and reconciliation. That gave me a welcome opportunity to explore that question more than I had until then. I noted that there is often, in practice, a trade-off between the attainment of these two goals; that attaining each of them requires a serious investment of time, resources, and attention; and often societies simply cannot attain both and therefore have to choose between them.
I talked a bit about the very different set of choices made by Mozambique in 1992… Anyway, it was a good discussion.
I note that inside Rwanda itself, President Kagamae presided over large-scale commemorative activities in which he blamed mainly the “international community” for the genocide, and identified the victims as merely “Rwandans”… This, in continued pursuit of his argument that the categories “Hutu” and “Tutsi” don’t exist any more.
Well, as you can see if you read my CSM column, I certainly think the internatinal community has plenty of “blame” due to it for what happened in 1994. But I’m really not sure how helpful it will be for him over the longer term to continue to assign blame in this way.
Displacement of blame away from one’s local compatriots is, I note, a common strategy in the aftermath of “intimate” atrocities, that is, atrocities within societies that afterwards try to live together again. I’ve certainly seen that strategy at work in Mozambique. There, the blame for the atrocities of the civil-war era is generally assigned to an amorphous entity called, in general, “the spirit of violence”, or “the era of violence”. (And it was that entity that was exorcized from people’s lives and consciousness through the cleansing rituals that anyone who came into contact with it performed at the time of their return to civilian life.)
Sometimes, the blame was put on “outsiders” there, too– not an irrational move, given the high degree of involvment by the white regimes in Rhodesia and then apartheid-era S. Africa in fomenting the civil war.
Anyway, “Rwanda: never again!” But how about Western Sudan? I see Kofi Annan has been issuing some possibly helpful warnings about the tragic siotuation there.