Facing History for Social Healing


Claude Shema R., M.D. – TRANSCEND Media Service

Personal and community level

In the past, I was thinking most of the time that I was the only one who thought that “remembering is my right” as a victim of the unspeakable genocide , and day-by-day I learn that I share the same thoughts and feelings with other different victims of violence violent conflict all over the world.

As Martha Minow said, refusing the victims to remember their past sufferance is like insulting them and leaving rage to fester( Martha Minov, in Between vengeance and forgiveness p.118).

The time to remember my horrible life I went through during the genocide in 1994, helps me to reunite with my family members that I lost that time, and it helps me also to endeavor toward my peace of mind through honoring them. I so doing, the communal remembering

( together with others) it helps to understand much more the importance of life, and the confessions made by our former perpetrators contribute positively to the reconciliation process.

Communal facing history

Remembering is part of human nature, and it helps to overcome the post-traumatic stress disorders in many ways. But it is also important to mention that, too much of every thing

( might be) is too bad. In the past, in my home country, we had been trapped under the deep remembering time, which had impacts on some survivors and non-survivors, even affected some people who never been in Rwanda during the genocide, due to the strong testimonies and images of horrible atrocities. This led to the same question asked by Martha Minow : How do we keep the past alive without becoming its prisoner?( Martha M, in Between vengeance and forgiveness p 119), and how the significance of righting old wrongs is or at what extent?(Marc Galanter, righting old wrongs p.17).

In Rwanda, we learned to remember, yes, but in positive and reconstructive lens, so that the victims of the 21st century’s genocide won’t be prisoner of the past, in regard of rebuilding new Rwandese society for a better future. Some genocide survivors righteously did not like the idea, because they just want the entire human community to really understand the unspeakable brutal and cruelty they went through. This is also important, to find a way to express yourself, and share your grievance with others, in order to prevent the same chaos and mistake to occur again, and letting your victimizer know that you are “on guard” and you do remember, and pleading for “never again” slogan.

But as William Gladstone said in his example relating to the conflict in Ireland: the problem is that Irish will never forget and the British will never remember. Thus, we need to meet at a moderate point : remembering for a positive chance, and accepting some degree of forgetfulness for a better dwelling in the future. That would be the best median point.

Some examples in Rwanda

a) TIG

The TIG ( community benefits activities ) undergoing in the country after 1994 genocide, done by the convicted perpetrators, is a good example of restorative justice, because it is a volunteer-or choice- by the convicted genocidaires who chose between spending their sentences in prisons or outside the jail within community, work for community. Among others, they build schools, clinical centers, and many other important public and communal infrastructures like roads etc, or just rebuilding houses, shelters for the survivors of the genocide. Despite some criticism related to the past Rwanda history, saying that before independence ( before 1959) Tutsis governed the country in monarchial dictatorial manner, and Hutus became servants to Tutsis. According to the criticism, they are doing the same ” forced works” they were doing during the monarchial era. This raises also another concern of Hutu traumas and may impede sustainable reconciliation process. But to the other hand, it helps for healing on Tutsi-survivors of the genocide.

To me, the ideal way to help both side would be to look through both side’s perceptions and needs in the context of justice and rights, so that the concept of TIG would fill up the gaps in terms of  perceptions and its sustainability. Otherwise, we heal trauma for survivors, which is greater initiative, but at some point we victimize another category of people. Who will heal them? What is the long term impact to the new traumatized group within society?

b) Story telling, confession and solidarity rebuilding

Justice Jackson argued to the judges in Numberg that if you were to say of these men that they are not guilty ( while you know that ) it would be as true to say that there have been no war, there re no slain, there had been no crime(Martha Minow, in Between vengeance and forgiveness,p.123).

That means that we have to face the reality, the story, in order to skip the label of being the prisoners of the past,  I am sure this will help remarkably in tackling the possible upheaval or as a remedy in case of fresh wrongs.(Marc Galanter, righting old wrongs,p.3). The truth telling by genocide perpetrators helps a lot to know the truth and heal the psychological wounds, and create a bridge toward reconciliation.

c) Ingando-solidarity camps

Apart of Gacaca courts( regardless the failures encountered so far and for long term) , some initiatives conceived by Rwandese new government like “Ingando solidarity camps” is one of best ideas that help in healing wounds, and rebuilding the trust among Hutus and Tutsis at different levels of society ( youth, women, leaders,etc…). Because it brings together both ethnic groups, to play together, sing and dance together, and sleep under the same roof and the same house.

Ingando is an old traditional word, literally means ” long-last gathering”, and it is a pathway for a better future of Rwandese, if it could be combined with some other relevant ingredients and pillars of human basic needs claimed by the both wrongdoers families and victims.


Dr. Claude Shema affiliation & links:








This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Apr 2010.

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