Source: (2009) African Studies. 63(1): 1-28.

The past cannot be changed, but we can learn from it. The purpose of this article is to explore some of the lessons that can be learnt from the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The first of these is that the ge´nocidaires should not be dehumanised. This is simply to engage in the very process that made genocide possible in the first place. Rather, they should be given a voice. As the work of authors such as Hatzfield, McDoom, Mironko and Straus demonstrates, perpetrators’ stories can offer an important ‘insider’ perspective into events and add richness and texture to top-down elitist accounts of the genocide. The second lesson is that while it may be comforting to believe that genocide is only carried out by monsters and psychopaths – by people ‘not like us’ – the reality is that it is ordinary people who, under certain circumstances, commit genocide. Hence, it should not be seen as a crime that can only occur in ‘faraway’ places. The final lesson, which pertains to how we deal with the perpetrators of genocide and mass crimes, is that retributive justice is not a panacea in either post-genocide Rwanda or in post-conflict societies more generally. Perpetrators should be held accountable for their crimes, but criminal trials have limitations, particularly in facilitating reconciliation. Rather than relying exclusively on retributive justice, therefore, post-conflict societies should wherever possible seek to combine criminal trials with restorative justice mechanisms. (Author's abstract).