The Program in Holocaust and Human Rights Studies at Cardozo Law School in NYC hosted a conference on March 30, 2009. The conference, entitled “Healing the Wounds: Speech, Identity and Reconciliation in Rwanda,” featured presentations by anthropologists, lawyers, professors, civil servants and Rwandan genocide survivors. The speakers came together to present their ideas about the Rwandan government’s attempts to eradicate a “genocide ideology” since the events of 1994 and to discuss their differing opinions about how to best use the legal system to achieve justice and to move forward.

Professor Timothy Longman of Vassar College addressed the concept of how the local justice system in Rwanda reinforces identity. It is a “maximal” justice system that attempts to hold as many people accountable for acts committed during the genocide of 1994. These acts even include property crimes. Professor Longman explained that the local (gacaca) courts in Rwanda have tried over a million people- over half of the Hutu men in the country. This statistic suggests to Rwandan people that virtually all the Hutu were guilty. Hutu in Rwanda live in fear of being accused of a genocide crime. There is an assumption of guilt- a collective guilt- among Hutu men.

The death of Alison des Forges, who was instrumental in creating and organizing the event, gave the conference an air of sadness.  A special tribute to her was held during the time in which she was scheduled to speak. A memorial service is planned for des Forges in NYC on May 21st, 2009. Please check Human Rights Watch for details about the event.

Written by Claire R. Thomas