Rethinking Reconciliation : Concepts, Methods, and an Empirical Study of Truth Telling and Psychological Health in Rwanda

Abstract: This dissertation combines psychology with peace and conflict research in a cross-disciplinary approach to reconciliation processes after intrastate armed conflict. Two overarching contributions are made to the field of reconciliation research. The first is conceptual and methodological. The vague concept of reconciliation is defined and operationalized (Paper I), and a method is proposed for how reconciliation may be studied systematically at the national level (Paper II). By discussing what reconciliation is and how we should measure it, comparative research on reconciliation is facilitated which is imperative if we wish to learn of its promises and pitfalls in post-conflict peacebuilding. The second contribution is empirical. There has been an assumption that truth telling is healing and thereby will lead to reconciliation; healing is the assumed link between truth and reconciliation. This assumption was investigated in two studies in Rwanda in 2006. A multistage, stratified cluster random survey of 1,200 adults was conducted to assess whether witnessing in the gacaca, the Rwandan village tribunals for truth and reconciliation, was beneficial for psychological health; thereby investigating the claim that truth telling is healing (Paper III). The results of the survey are disconcerting. Witnesses in the gacaca suffered from significantly higher levels of depression and posttraumatic stress disorder than non-witnesses also when controlling for important predictors for psychological ill-health such as gender or trauma exposure. To acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the experience of witnessing in the gacaca, in-depth interviews were conducted with 16 women genocide survivors who had witnessed in the gacaca (Paper IV). The results of this study challenge the claim that truth telling is healing, suggesting instead that there are risks for the individuals on whom truth-telling processes depend. Traumatization, ill-health, isolation, and insecurity dominate the lives of the testifying women. Insecurity as a result of the truth-telling process emerged as one of the most crucial issues at stake. This dissertation presents a novel understanding of the complexity of reconciliation in post-conflict peacebuilding, demonstrating that truth and reconciliation processes may entail more risks than were previously known. The results of this dissertation can be used to improve the study and the design of truth and reconciliation processes after civil war and genocide.