The devastating effects of genocide are still profoundly impacting the lives of Rwandans. The post-genocide government of Rwanda chose to respond to the genocide aftermath by placing justice at the heart of the country's reconstruction strategies. It installed a form of justice (gacaca) which was in operation for 10 years. The system aimed to establish peace and stability in the country through justice, reconciliation and healing. Evaluations of the achievements of gacaca have had widely different conclusions. The unintended consequences of a much more retributive than restorative form of justice that affect both sides of the conflict are lingering on.
The paper presents how community-based sociotherapy in Rwanda, which was introduced in Rwanda in 2005 and has evolved over the years in a nation-wide program, offers a complementary approach to gacaca. The current sociotherapy program (2014-2016) is designed to facilitate and link psychosocial healing and peace- building processes at the grassroots level. It has been argued that, all too often, psychosocial practitioners do not see their work as directly related to social change, while those involved in peace-building activities can have a limiting focus on mental health and psychosocial wellbeing on the level of individuals and families. There is a need for narrowing this gap in post-conflict societies. Community-based sociotherapy in Rwanda has taken up this challenge by linking mental health and psychosocial support with peace-building in a variety of ways. The objective of this presentation is to show how the latter is done and what the outcomes are. It will be argued that in order to effectively rehabilitate survivors/victims of the genocide also former genocide perpetrators need to be rehabilitated.
Contrary to centers for individual trauma counseling or mental health care which tend to be situated away from communities, sociotherapy is delivered in the social contexts where genocide survivors as well as their former perpetrators (ex-prisoners) and their families continue to live. It is these social contexts which often serve as on-going sources of distress in the aftermath of collective traumas. Sociotherapy brings community members together in the space of a sociotherapy group. The groups facilitate them to identify, acknowledge, share, and manage together their everyday psychosocial problems related to the recent history of political violence and its aftermath. One of the outcomes of this process is that when perpetrators are socially rehabilitated, this leads not only to their mental wellbeing but as a ricochet the survivors are socially rehabilitated and their mental wellbeing improves.
Funding & No Conflicts Declaration
The three-year community-based sociotherapy program in Rwanda (2014-2016) is funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Rwanda.