Scholarship on Reconciliation


Bystanders and Rescuers

In the aftermath of 20th century genocides, many stories that were told by survivors described “bystanders” and rescuers as well as the perpetrators who tortured and killed helpless victims. The survivors of Rwanda’s 1994 catastrophe likewise identified countless individuals who risked their own lives to save others. Increasingly, the stories of heroic rescuers, including many who died as a result of their courageous efforts, are documented and widely appreciated for their educational and inspirational value.

Some who were bystanders trapped in the maw of murderous activities found themselves participating in the violence, fearing that they or their loved ones would suffer retribution if they did not. At other times they saw opportunities to save others and did so. Thus the categories — perpetrators, bystanders, and rescuers – were not exclusive.  Many who opposed the persecution of people from another group did at times actively or passively facilitate the crimes. The behavior of ordinary people was a consequence of their personal character  and their situations, which varied considerably. In Rwanda the proportion of (Hutu) civilians who were pressured to participate in the killing of Tutsis was much higher than in most other genocides. To be sure, it took unusual courage for those who did act in opposition to authorities and even their friends, relatives, and neighbors.

Research on the character of  rescuers during the Holocaust in Europe suggests that they typically had a general sense of that all humans deserved rights and respect regardless of race, religion or ethnicity; they expressed values such as equality and social justice. Surprisingly, perhaps, a small minority (less than one in five) said they were motivated by their religious faith.

In Rwanda, some of the rescuers identified in the stories here said they acted spontaneously, others calculated the risks to themselves or family members before they acted. Many said they were motivated by their religious faith. As some of these stories suggest, people who were under great pressure to obey and participate in the searches and killings were able to protect and save endangered Tutsis or Hutus. For many of the heroic rescuers in Rwanda, religion was an important factor that motivated their behavior; for many others their motivation was less clear. Readers of the stories on this blog who are interested in the research on rescuers in genocides and reconciliation in Rwanda are encouraged to consult some of the sources below.


Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999.

Linda Melvern, Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwandan Genocide, London: Verso, 2004

Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton University, NJ, 2001, especially in the concluding chapter on “political reform after genocide”, pp 264-282.

Villia Jefremovas, Acts of Human Kindness: Tutsi, Hutu and the Genocide
Issue: A Journal of Opinion, Vol. 23, No. 2, Rwanda (1995), pp. 28-31

Phil Clark and Zachary D. Kaufman (eds.) After Genocide: Transitional Justice, Post Conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Beyond (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009) is an excellent collection of essays on reconciliation politics in Rwanda

Wendy Whitworth, ed. We Survived Genocide in Rwanda: 28 Personal Testimonies (Notinghamshire, UK: Quill Press/Aegis, 2006)

Eugena Zorbas, “Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Rwanda” African Journal of Legal Studies (2004) AJLS 29-52,

TRIBUTE TO COURAGE by Rakiya Omaar of African Rights on those Hutus (and others) who protected Tutsis. “These stories of bravery in the face of huge personal danger re-ignite the appalled emotions felt at the time of the genocide.” (There are stories of 17 rescuers summarized on this weblog.)

Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Cambridge, MA: DelCapo, 2003

Samuel and Pearl Oliner, The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe (New York: Free Press, 1988) documents the attitudes and activities of rescuers during the Holocaust still relevant to readers who attempt to understand the motivation of ordinary people who courageously risked their lives in order to save others.

One Response to “Scholarship on Reconciliation”

  1. Martin Rutagarama Says:

    Nitwa Martin. mubyukuri nanegezwe nukuntu Mubarak yafashije abantu cyane cyane Abatutsi baziraga uko bavutse. ndamushimira kandi imana izamuhemba kuko yakoze ibyananiye abayobozi hamwe namahanga yatereranye abanyarwanda.
    Ikindi ndashima Paul Conway wagize uruhare mugushiraho ururubuga kuko nawe yafashije abantu kumenya abarokoye abandi mubihe byari bikomeye kuko iyo atarushiraho sinarikubimenya ko Mubarak yafashije abantu hamwe nabandi nashije kugenda mbona.

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