Facilitators' Summary of Observations and Recommendations from Leaders Seminar conducted by Ervin Staub, Ph.D. and Laurie Anne Pearlman, Ph.D.,

with assistance by Adin DeLaCour, M.S.W.

Kigali, Rwanda August 8, 9, 13, 14, 2001

Organized by Rwanda National Unity and Reconciliation Commission


In August 2001, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda organized** a four-day seminar for high-level leaders in Rwanda. Ervin Staub, Ph.D., and Laurie Anne Pearlman, Ph.D. facilitated the seminar, which focused on understanding and preventing group violence and psychological trauma. Participants included political, government, and religious leaders, of whom 20 to 35 attended each day. The seminar took the form of presentations by Professor Staub and Dr. Pearlman, followed by large and small group discussions. In addition, small working groups spent time applying some of the ideas to the current concerns in Rwanda. The following summary includes issues and ideas from both participants and facilitators that were discussed in the seminar.



Guided by government policy and the strong commitment of individual leaders to this approach, the words Hutu and Tutsi have been greatly discouraged and have overall not been used in recent times. In response to Ervin Staub's discussion of devaluation of the other and related references to "groups," seminar participants stated that past divisions were artificially created and that there are no groups in Rwanda. Slowly the group moved toward acknowledging that, while there may be no "scientific" or biological basis for the differentiation between Hutu and Tutsi, socially (in terms of interpersonal behaviors such as discrimination) and psychologically for individuals (in terms of seeing themselves and others as belonging to one or the other group) there has been differentiation.  


 Also, the two groups carry the genocide in very different ways, which cannot be faced and discussed without reference to how their different experiences were based on being members of their groups. One participant said at one point, "I wonder what they say about each other in their homes." One cannot understand the evolution of group violence nor prevent it without talking about and understanding the social and psychological meanings of groups in the history of Rwanda. One cannot deal with the deep feelings toward the other that have developed historically and were greatly strengthened by the genocide, without acknowledging that at least psychologically, there is an “other.”



There is a need for a truthful history of Rwanda that describes the facts and represents the experiences and perspectives of the different people living in Rwanda. Such a history, a shared “collective memory,” would promote the resolution of long-standing conflicts and provide a basis for instructing children about history in a way that lays the groundwork for a more peaceful future.


Some participants believed that history is objective, that there is only one factual account of events, while others expressed the belief that there are different perspectives. Some participants expressed doubt that the Rwandese people could come to a common understanding of their history, while acknowledging and expressing the belief that this was necessary for the peace of the next generation. A number of participants had not been aware that there is currently a commission working on writing a history that can be used in the schools. 


An inclusive history would be extremely valuable for Rwanda and could provide a model for other countries. This history ideally would both emphasize an earlier shared past of peaceful coexistence, while also describe the bad treatment and violence between groups in Rwanda and provide a framework that makes events comprehensible, identifying the forces that led to violence–which makes mutual empathy possible. One possible process for creating such a history would be for people to write parts of such a history from the perspective of the other group and use this material as basis for dialogue. In small group discussions the group discussing the need for and ways of creating such a history attracted many participants and led to intense and productive engagement.



The group felt that it is important to continue to acknowledge the extent of trauma and woundedness that exists in Rwanda in the wake of the genocide. It is important to acknowledge that in addition to survivors of the genocide, perpetrators as well members of the perpetrator group who witnessed the violent actions by their group are wounded in varied ways, that leaders are also traumatized, and that those who are assisting others experience vicarious traumatization. All those who have been traumatized need to heal; the whole population needs to heal.


The group also discussed the fact that many Hutus were also killed, and that the experiences of Hutus were quite varied, from perpetrators to onlookers to people who helped as much as they could. The group recognized that difficult as this is to for survivors so soon after the genocide, with the horrors and losses such fresh memories, it is very important for reconciliation to recognize the heroic and brave acts of Hutus who endangered themselves to save others.


The facilitators made some suggestions in the course of the seminar that were discussed. They suggested that for reconciliation to occur, it is essential to involve Hutus in processes of national healing and reconciliation. They also suggested the importance of telling every aspect of the truth, from the horrors of the genocide to the bad treatment of Hutus before 1959 (to the killing of refugees in the Congo, during Kabila's advance; and so on–this last example was not discussed in the seminar). It requires acknowledging the violence by the perpetrators of genocide against moderate Hutus. It requires noting and celebrating attempts at rescue and successful rescues as part of commemorating the genocide, in testimonials, and so on. It requires considering the origins of genocide, the forces that would move people to such violence against others. This in turn may lead to acknowledgment by Hutus of their own actions, such as passivity in the face of propaganda, as bystanders to violence, and so on, and possibly to apology by those who did not participate in the genocide for the actions of their group and their own passivity.


Possible actions:

Provide a forum that includes a skilled facilitator, for leaders to begin a dialogue about their own trauma. This could begin within groups so people can begin to address difficult feelings where it feels less threatening, then move to include people from both groups. (It could start one to one within groups and then move to pairs of people from the two groups). (Ervin Staub and Laurie Pearlman have offered to facilitate such a dialogue.)

Provide trained counselors to work with groups of convicted perpetrators in the prisons to begin to talk about what they have done. Perpetrators need to begin to heal, to enable them to reenter society as productive participants and acknowledge their behaviors with remorse and compassion for those they have harmed.

Show perpetrators videos of victims telling their stories, in order to begin to create or increase empathy, and confront the truth.

Include information about rescue of Tutsis by Hutus in ceremonies of commemoration.



The group discussed the importance of the international community providing material and other kinds of assistance to Rwanda, in part to begin to compensate for its actions during the desperate need at the time of the genocide, ranging from complicity to the neglect of the Rwandese people.


Possible actions:

Invite international media to Rwanda to see what is happening now, including both progress and needs.

Encourage these media to expand coverage of Rwanda in their home countries.

Highlight for the international media and other parties the importance of calling for material assistance for Rwanda from the international community

Seek funds from the international community for memorial sites, gacaca trauma support process, compensation of victims, and compensation of gacaca judges.



There was considerable discussion of the question of memorials: how they have affected and continue to affect people, how their effects are different for different people. Memorials have many purposes, including honoring the dead, as well as the heroes, and informing the public about what happened in the service of preventing future violence.


The best approach to developing such memorials is to engage people from all sectors of the population in dialogue about how they feel about memorials, what they need, how they are affected, as well as considering how ceremonies surrounding memories may combine grieving about loss and pain while also pointing to a more hopeful, better future. Otherwise, the annual commemoration and other memorials risk re-opening wounds and deepening the division between groups.


Possible actions:

Create memorial sites and ceremonies where all Rwandese people are represented, including those who rescued others.

Consider ways to create memorials and ceremonies that don't retraumatize people.

Encourage national dialogue about the dates of remembering (April 1 vs. April 7, one week vs. three months) with a goal of pluralism (many voices) rather than competition or enmity.

Construct memorial sites in airports for all visitors to see.

Let the population know about processes underway to account for all of the dead as well as to develop lists of heroes or rescuers

Ceremony/remembrance days should be national holidays so everyone knows what is happening and can take time to honor both those who died and those who survived.



The group discussed the value of providing education for leaders in psychology and philosophy. Leaders have a challenging and complex job, which could be facilitated by deeper understanding of individuals' motives and behaviors and of larger frameworks such as those that can be provided by philosophy and psychology.


Possible actions:

Give lectures on the origins and prevention of violence and psychological trauma and healing to students at the university, and make this information available for leaders and others in the society, perhaps over the radio, as well as in seminars.



The group expressed a strong desire to continue to move to democracy. They viewed the following processes as potentially useful to that end:

Develop management skills among leadership

Develop plan for peaceful succession of leaders

Develop checks and balances within government          

Encourage free press with attention to hate messages

Examine laws critically to avoid overrestrictiveness



The group agreed that the gacaca process is likely to reactivate trauma for everyone. It may also generate renewed hostility in both groups. They expressed concern that everyone will need support: witnesses, alleged perpetrators, judges, people in the hills, families of victims, people who knew alleged perpetrators as neighbors and now see them as enemies, etc. People need preparation in advance, support during the process, and opportunities to process their experience afterwards. They need help to use the process for reconciliation.


Possible actions:

Develop radio (especially important) and television programs and print news articles that provide information about psychological trauma and healing. These programs could include conversations among people in all roles, with the entire range of experiences during the genocide, from all sectors of the population. They could include conversations between counselors and people (either actors or real people).

Mixed teams convey a lot when they work together. These teams could be formed to go to the hills, talk on the radio, offer print interviews for the press, be videotaped in dialogue, the tapes of which could go out with mobile units.

Train trauma counselors from local and international NGO's and other support people in a few basic trauma principles to be developed by relevant parties. Trauma counselors could then train others to help support and educate people and encourage dialogue about what people expect, fear, feel, and need during the gacaca process

Train people at every administrative level (including key community leaders such as teachers, political leaders, clergy, health care workers, local government workers, retirees, political opinion leaders) to recognize signs of traumatic stress so they can provide support and referrals. Perhaps ministry of health could recruit these people.

Ask all political parties and commissions to form gacaca support programs and/or teams. They could send members out to the hills to open dialogue about the gacaca process from their particular perspective (education, reconciliation, security, etc.). They would need training. The goal is for everyone to own the gacaca process, to focus constructive national and international attention on it so that it achieves the goals of justice, healing, and reconciliation.

Develop referral sources for those seriously affected (perhaps the trauma counselors could be available for this). Activate the international trauma community if needed

Mobile units to go into countryside with information (videos, counselors)

Seek outside (USAID, IRC, EU, etc.) funding to support this work

Coordinate local organizations that have trained trauma counselors (MOUCECORE, ACRT, World Vision, Avega, Solace Ministries, others) that might be able to divert their counselors to this effort for this crucial time

Support (physical presence) of leaders during testimony (to the extent this is possible and practical) is useful unless their relatives are directly involved as victims or alleged perpetrators, in which case they should not attend. Question: would leaders' presence inhibit judges? To be discussed (possibly among judges as part of their training)

Judges should withdraw from cases in which they have personal/family involvement

Judges also need training in trauma and vicarious traumatization. This seems especially important, since sensitivity by judges–to witnesses as well as the accused, can limit retraumatization and other problems. (Understanding by judges of the origins of violence may also be useful).

Compensate judges for their work on gacaca. The goal is to make it less likely that judges will take bribes, although participants expressed concern that judges then would be viewed as working for money rather than for a higher purpose.

Prepare health centers to receive traumatized people. (Need transportation for people to health centers.)

Prepare prisoners for what they may experience (reactivation of their own trauma, guilt, shame; negative public responses to them, especially if they testify without remorse). Develop lectures for consciousness-raising, dialogue groups among prisoners with trained counselors, videotapes of victims telling their stories to increase prisoners' empathy and prepare them for confrontation with victims.

Reactivation of trauma includes reactivation of fear. People from URC, prisons, or ministries and/or political leaders should be present at the trials to increase witnesses' sense of physical security. Problem: the presence of authorities may inhibit witnesses & reduce the ability of alleged perpetrators to tell the truth. What can be learned from other countries (e.g., South Africa)?

An important part of preparation is information. Everyone should know where and when trials are taking place and should be encouraged to participate.



The group discussed a strong desire to make compensation available for survivors for basic material needs (food, shelter). They expressed a wish that funding for such compensation would come from the international community.



Victim/perpetrator meetings that take place with structure and support could be very useful for the purpose of dialogue. Local groups (e.g., MOUCECORE, World Vision) in collaboration with international helpers could facilitate such groups.



**The facilitators' expenses were covered by grants from the United States Institute for Peace and the Dart Foundation.




December 13, 2001