Tracking Reconciliation?

Monitoring and Evaluation is one of the fastest growing areas in the fields of international development, conflict resolution, and project implementation in general. It provides the basis for determining the effectiveness of a given project and allows for changes and adjustments to be made in order to ensure that the project is reaching its intended outcome. For certain projects this is can more easily be done than for others. Take for example a small-scale development project where the project is to build a medical facility in a given community. This process is fairly systematic. A plan is developed, funding is secured, the project is put into action, and the medical center is continuously monitored to ensure that it is meeting its community health objective. In this case, monitoring and evaluation is someone of a checklist. Is “x” working; yes or no?  What about “y”? And so on and so forth. The same cannot be said when it comes to monitoring an evaluation of projects involving reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a deeply personal process. It involves a change within each individual, a decision to let go of the pain and atrocities that they have endure, a decision to more forward, to let the past be the past. This is a primary concern in the conflict resolution field. How do we get conflicting parties to set aside their differences and at best live and work together or at least civilly tolerate one another? Some projects focusing of this area have sought to bring conflicting parties together on neutral territory with a neutral activity using sports, dance, music, art, farming, community work, or some other cultural activity that would allow both parties to participant. The hope of this activity is that through working/playing together, through having contact with one another, the conflicting parties come to realize that humanness of the other and begin to remove any preconceived conceptions they may have had. But how can we monitor and evaluate this process? How do we tell if someone’s hatred for another has diminished, if there fear of the other is lessened, if they are more apt to work with and along side of someone traditionally considered to be from the outgroup? How do we monitor and evaluate something so personal, someone’s soul?

Simon Wiesenthal‘s book The Sunflower demonstrates the complexity of forgiveness in his true account of a Nazi solider (Karl) who asks Jewish concentration camp detainee (Simon) for forgiveness on his deathbed for killing another Jewish family. The questions of forgiveness that Wiesenthal addresses are thought provoking, prompting the reader to question his or her own beliefs. Can forgiveness be granted ion someone else’s behalf? Karl is not seeking Simon’s forgiveness for a grievance caused to Simon, but rather is seeking forgiveness for the murder of another family. Since Karl cannot seek forgiveness from the dead, he asks for Simon’s forgiveness instead. If the circumstances had been different, if the family Karl wronged remained alive, would Karl have still asked Simon to forgive him for his wrongdoings? And if so, would Simon have been able to grant forgiveness on behalf of the family? The probable answer is no. If Karl could have sought forgiveness from the family he murdered, he would have done so and Simon would have no right to grant forgiveness on the family’s behalf. Should these circumstances be different if the wrongdoing resulted in death and the forgiveness of the wronged person cannot be granted? There are some circumstances in which the bereaved victims do grant the perpetrator forgiveness (this can sometimes be seen in murder trials), but to give anyone this right would dishonor the dead. Thus, Simon did not have the right to forgive Karl the atrocities Karl committed, as they were not inflicted on Simon, and Simon does not have the right to grant forgiveness on someone else’s behalf.

With an issue as complex as forgiveness, how can an organization seek evaluate progress made in their reconciliation efforts? The Spirit and Education Movement (SEM), a South-East Asian organization working in the area of post-conflict reconciliation, uses surveys to help bridge this gap. They conduct surveys before the project is implemented and after the project is implemented in an attempt to gage the ‘feelings’ of those who participated in the process. Although this is one why to capture how someone is feeling, is only captures their feelings on a particular moment in time, a feeling that could be swayed by multiple factors ranging from the weather outside to problems at home or at work. In spite of having conducted these surveys, SEM recognizes that monitoring and evaluation what it comes to questions of reconciliation is extremely difficult. So the question remains, can it be done?

The reality is that reconciliation is a process, an extremely long and sometimes incredibly painful process at that. It takes time and cannot be constricted on single project or activity. There is an old saying that goes “time heals all wounds”, note the word time. Consequently, monitoring and evaluation of reconciliation efforts should be carried out in the long-term, not the immediate aftermath.


Is There Room for Forgiveness in Criminal Justice?

On March 28th 2010, 19-year old Connor McBride shot Ann Margaret Grosmaire, his fiancé and girlfriend of three years in the midst of a heated argument between the two. Ann died in the hospital four days later. Rather than flee or try to cover up his actions, Connor walked into the Tallahassee Police Department in Tallahassee, Florida and turned himself in. Previously, Connor had never been in trouble, he was youth leader in his community, and had become a part of Grosmaire family. In any other case, Connor would have likely been convicted of first-degree murder, a conviction that, in the state of Florida, carries a minimum life sentence or the death penalty. But in this case, Connor only got 20 years imprisonment plus 10 years of parole. The reason: forgiveness.

Ann’s parents, Andy and Kate Grosmaire, were practicing Catholics, with forgiveness at the very essence of their practice. This moral grounding drove their actions in the coming days, weeks, and months after Ann’s death. Rather than retaliate or seek retribution, the Grosmaires searched forgiveness. What they wanted was closure, to understand how and why their daughter died. Moreover, they did not want Connor to spend his life imprisoned.  So, they decided to take part in a restorative-justice diversion program: victim-offender dialogue.

Victim-offender dialogue allow for the airing of the truth. Both parties confront one another and state the facts, as they understand them. This process creates a space in which reconciliation can begin and is thought to reduce recidivism rates. This practice was typically used for drug cases or more minor offense, and had never previously been attempted for a murder case. The Grosmaires, however, were insistent, and the prosecutor eventually agreed to participate, though did not promise to rescind the first-degree murder charges.

The dialogue took place on June 22nd 2011, with the Grosmaires, the Prosecutor, a mediator, and Connor. Connor told the story of how he shot Ann, step-by-step, and after he was finished, the Grosmaires were given the chance to ask questions. At the end of the session, the mediator asked the Grosmaires to recommend a sentence for Connor. Kate asked for no less than 5 years imprisonment and no more than 15; Andy asked for between 10 and 15 years imprisonment. The ultimate decision however, lay with the prosecutor. Having been impacted by the process, he eventually rescinded his original charges and gave Connor the option of 25 years imprisonment or 20 years in prison with 10 years of parole.

The case calls into the question the very premise of the criminal justice system. Criminal justice is, by nature, retributive – it is punishment for wrongdoings. The question is, what is the purpose of criminal prosecution. Arguments are made for its capacity to deter criminal activity and bring closure to the victims and their families; however, in this case, restorative justice was more beneficial to the victim’s family than the traditional system would have been. What is gained through punishment by imprisonment or, in the United States, the death penalty? Are there criminal cases when forgiveness should play a role and restorative justice should prevail?

In answering this question, it is important to remember the particulars of this case. Ann’s murder was not an accident, but it was not meticulously planned either. Given the circumstances of her death, it is unlikely that Connor would have ever killed again. This was a crime of passion, in the heat of the moment, and that opens the door for restorative justice.

This is not to discount the role of the criminal justice system. It is a tremendously important piece in the maintenance of law and order in a given society. But it is to say that the system is incomplete, lacking the reconciliation factor that allows one to move beyond the crime; allowing criminals to be better reintegrated into society, allowing victims to make their peace. It shouldn’t be one or the other – retributive or restorative justice. There should be space for the two systems to work together. There should be space for forgiveness.


Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. You can email her at, follow her on twitter @joleneh340, our read her blog at

The Génocidaires: Rethinking Justice

Genocide is a crime and like any other crime it contains two parties: the perpetrators and the victims. When the story of a crime is told, it is the victim’s narrative that is remembered. Even now, 18 years after the genocide, the atrocities that were committed and the impact the have on the victims both in the past and in the present remains at the forefront of most discussions. Knowing these stories is tremendously important to the reconciliation process, to the memorialization process, and to ensuring that such atrocities are not repeated. However, these stories only reveal a portion of the picture. The stories of the perpetrators (or the génocidaires as they are called in Rwanda) also need to be told, particularly in the case of Rwanda, as they have been instrumental in the reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction of the country.

The Rwanda génocidaires faced criminal justice on one of three levels. Those who were deemed most culpable and responsible for the genocide were brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania; those who were deemed to me mid-level perpetrators with relatively high levels of culpability faced the National Courts of Rwanda; and all other perpetrators were brought before the gacaca courts.

The gacaca courts are a community-based system of justice implemented to alleviate stress on the traditional justicesystem resulting from the high volume of prisoners. Between 2005 and 2011, more than 12,000 gacaca courts tried 1.2 million cases relating to the 1994 Imagegenocide. Despite its ability bring about swift trials, reduce the pressure on the severely overpopulated prison system, and document the genocide into case fact, the gacaca courts have been highly criticized. Human Rights Watch called them ‘Justice Compromised’ in their 2011 Report due the flaws in the trial process that lead to miscarriages of justice. However, given Rwanda’s post-conflict development, it becomes apparent that a tradeoff made in this regard. Although justice was not achieved to an international standard, the sentences brought down by the gacaca courts have greatly assisted in the post-conflict reconstruction of Rwanda.

Travail d’Intérêt Générale (TIG) is a community service organization for prisoners. Those génocidaires who confessed to their crimes were sentenced to reduced prison sentences and/or community service with TIG. In the wake of the genocide Rwanda was in ruins. Buildings, houses, and entire communities had been destroyed in the violence, leaving Rwanda in a perceived state of disrepair. Those perpetrators who have come to work for TIG are participating in development projects to reconstruct Rwanda – the very buildings, homes, and communities they helped destroyed during the genocide. One Rwandan described this very eloquently in reference to one community outside Kigali:

“The people who have made them homeless are the people who have brought them back to life.”

The perpetrators the genocide are quite literally rebuilding the communities they destroyed. They are building houses, schools, and community centers for the victims and in doing so, helping Rwanda transition to a stable post-conflict society. Moreover, this participation in community development has reduced the animosity between perpetrators and victims. Taking responsibility for the crimes that they have committed and actively helping to rebuild what was destroyed during the genocide has played a significant role in the reconciliation process in Rwanda. The victims are grateful for the rebuilding of their community and are satisfied with justice being achieved through community development.


This brings to light an important question: what is more important, justice or reconciliation? Had these individuals been sentenced to 10, 20, or 30 years imprisonment and not had the option for community service many communities in Rwanda would still be destroyed. Moreover, the continued segregation of perpetrators and victims by imprisonment does not foster reconciliation between these two groups. That is not to say that those who were higher up in the chain of command, those who orchestrated the genocide, should get off with mere community service as their punishment. But it should be noted that these were not the majority. The vast majority of genocidaires were individuals acting not out of malicious premeditation, but rather out of fear and uncertainty resulting from the context of civil war, state power, and pre-conceived notions of ethnicity as Strauss demonstrated in his book The Order of Genocide. For these individual who have sincerely repented their actions, is the unity of Rwanda not more important? In these cases, should reconciliation and post-conflict development not be the ultimate goal? It can be argued that Rwanda is where it is today because of programs such as TIG, so how can we argue with such success? Can justice and reconciliation be achieved simultaneously, or are the mutually exclusive?

Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law.  Currently she is travelling to Rwanda with Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar with the Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace Program.  You can email her at or follow her on twitter @joleneh340

Creating a Collective Identity out of the Dust of Atrocity

Since the genocide, Rwanda has been stigmatized as being eternally divided by two ethnicImage groups: Tutsi and Hutu. However, reducing the country’s history to this internal ethnic dynamic is not only highly simplistic but also incredibly inaccurate. Rwanda has a deep history that transcends these divisions. The idea of a Rwandan identity – an identity that supersedes ethnic divisions, creating a unified Rwanda – has been a primary goal in Rwanda’s post-conflict reconciliation process; a goal that is evident upon visiting the Kigali Memorial Center.

The theme of the Rwandan reconciliation process, and consequently the Kigali Memorial Center, can be summarized in one quote written on the first panel when one enters the museum’s first exhibit:

“We are one people. We speak one language. We have one history.”

The goal of the exhibit is to tell a very specific narrative: Yes the genocide happened, yes it occurred along ethnic divisions, but Rwanda has historically had a unified identity and there is a need to recreate this identity to unify Rwandans once again. The exhibit commences with a strong statement against colonialization:

“We did not choose to be colonialized”.

In effect, this statement places blame on colonization for the creating of strong Hutu/Tutsi divisions within Rwanda, divisions that would result in a constant strong between these two groups culminating in the 1994 genocide. Prior to colonialization, as the exhibit denotes, Rwandans associated themselves with one of eighteen different clans. Moreover, although the categories of Hutu, Tutsis, and Twa did exist, they were fluid socio-economic divisions within these eighteen clans, changing based on individual circumstance. Thus, prior to colonialism, were was no strong societal division based on Hutu/Tutsis/Twa ethnic categories. Colonialism, however, constructed these divisions and solidified them in 1932 when the identity cards were issued to Rwandans. The determination of one’s ethnicity was based on the number of cattle owned: anyone with ten cows or more was deemed to be a Tutsi and anyone with less than ten cows was labeled a Hutu. Moreover, Belgium colonialist chose to elevate the Tutsis, perceiving them to be more ‘European’ and thus more capable of colonial administration. This created a system in which Tutsis were seen a ‘superior race’ and were given positions of power in the government. The resulting structural violence against the Hutus fostered animosity between these two colonial defined groups.

In giving this storyline, the exhibit creates the narrative of colonialism being the force that disrupted the unified Rwandan state, created ethnic divisions within the country, and planted the seeds for the genocide. After detailing the precursors to the genocide and the genocide itself, the exhibit come full-circle to reiterate this point by giving the following statement:

“There was no ethnic war. There was a civil war. But genocide happened and it was something different.”

In this statement, the exhibit reiterates the point that there was not an ethnic war in Rwanda. The conflict in Rwanda was a civil war; a struggle between exiled Tutsis and the Hutu extremists for control of the country. Genocide happened within the context of this civil war, not separate from it. It was not isolated, but rather the culmination of decades of propaganda and fighting.

The Kigali Memorial Center clearly frames colonialism as being the root cause of Rwanda’s ethnic tensions. Consequently, the goal of its reconciliation is the return to post-colonial state.  This narrative is also apparent in other Rwandan memorial sites and from the mouths of local Rwandans. One Rwandan who I have met, referred to the genocide as ‘The War’ rather than the ‘Tutsis genocide’. His use of the word ‘war’ rather than ‘genocide’ is demonstrative of the understanding that Tutsis and Hutus were both victims of the genocide. Although Tutsis were undoubtedly targeted, statistics also suggest that between 100,000 and 200,000 Hutus were killed doing the outbreak of violence in 1994. Although this sentiment appears small, it is instrumental in the reconstruction of the Rwandan identity.

Identity reconstruction is not something that happens over night. It takes time, generations in fact, for these identities to be adopted. The history of colonialization has demonstrated that ethnic identities can be constructed; therefore, the reconstruction of identity should also be possible. This, however, needs to start with education. This generation of Rwanda’s children, the generation post-genocide, has been educated to adopt the Rwandan identity rather than a Hutu, Tutsis, or Twa identity. If this education is maintained, and the Rwandans continue to be responsive to this concept, then the creation of a renewed, collective Rwandan identity is hopeful. Identity is one of the foundations of human behavior. It can bring people together, but as the Rwandan genocide has demonstrated, it can also tear people apart. This is why the creation of a collective Rwandan identity, an identity that encompasses all Rwandans irrespective of ethnicity, is tremendously important in the creation of a strong, stable, and peaceful Rwanda.

Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Currently she is travelling to Rwanda with Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar with the Zones of Conflict, Zones of Peace Program. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. You can email her at or follow her on twitter @joleneh340