Victim-Perpetrator Dichotomy in Transitional Justice: The Case of Post-Genocide Rwanda

Margarida Hourmat

Abstract

Transitional justice processes often lead to the construction of a victim-perpetrator dichotomy, which guides and is further reinforced by the transition. The present paper aims to problematize this dichotomized understanding of people’s roles in conflict, by locating it within the recent dominant model of transitional justice and demonstrating how it is the result of an inherently political (and disputed) choice, part of the process of constructing post-conflict narratives and dominant discourses on violence and victimhood. Settling for a single conflict story and defining a rigid victim-perpetrator dichotomy can be profoundly excluding and limited in capturing the diversity of victimhood and perpetration experiences, memories and perceptions; and can also (re)produce former and new unequal relations of power. The paper will illustrate this discussion through the case study of post-genocide Rwanda, where a dominant discourse on the 1994 violence has been established, based on a Tutsi victim-Hutu perpetrator dichotomy. The latter not only obscures the plurality of violence and victimization experiences within these groups, but also renders invisible the role of the Twa community. This case aptly illustrates the critique of the often unacknowledged limits and politics of mainstream transitional justice discourse, as well as provides grounds for a deeper reflection on the implications and consequences of leaving these issues unaddressed for countries’ long-term prospects for reconciliation, in particular, Rwanda’s. 

Keywords

transitional justice; Rwanda; victim; perpetrator; genocide

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