Vol 33 (2013): Special Issue: Confronting Mass Atrocities

(Oral) History of Violence: Conflicting Narratives in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Yolande Bouka
American University
Published November 19, 2013


Following the 1994 genocide, Rwanda deployed a series of comprehensive transitional justice projects seeking to hold criminally accountable all who participated in the violence. An investigation of former genocide detainees’ journeys through the post-conflict justice system reveals divergences between how they choose to remember and relate the violence surrounding the 1994 genocide in relation to the current government’s official narrative. While incongruities between the official narrative and the memories of ordinary Rwandans have been thoroughly documented in recent research, this article focuses on the form and content of released prisoners’ discourses and offers an investigative window into how those who became objects, subjects, and products of the post-conflict justice system understand concepts of justice, criminal accountability and reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda. My research took place in the fault lines of the authorized discourse on justice in Rwanda and like many other social scientists investigating post-conflict Rwanda, I relied on oral histories. As this article will demonstrate, investigating the narratives of released prisoners of the genocide and pinning them against the official narrative exposes how they interpret the causes and consequences of the episode of violence they lived through and offers an interesting vantage point from which to conceptualize and analyze criminality and victimhood during episodes of mass violence.