When a society atones for mass crimes and violence, it sets an example for others. But what atonement means greatly depends on a given country’s past and present. How a conflict emerged and how it ended, what actors were involved and what became of them — these are factors that can differ greatly from case to case. Each society must find its own approach to dealing with a violent past. But this truism seems not to have reached Rwanda. Drawing arbitrarily on German practices after the war and on forms of commemoration in Israel, Rwandans developed a strategy for dealing with the past that does some things well but does many things badly, and it is the latter that have determined how Rwandans view atonement in general.
Gerd Hankel is a legal scholar and guest fellow at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research (with funding from the Hamburg Foundation for the Advancement of Research and Culture). He studied at the Universities of Granada (Spain), Mainz, and Bremen, and holds degrees in Romance languages and literature and in law. From 2000 to the end of 2001 he was on the team of researchers from various disciplines that created the Institute’s exhibition Crimes of the German Wehrmacht: Dimensions of a War of Annihilation 1941–1944. Gerd Hankel’s current research focuses on dealing with the legal aspects of the genocide and the reconciliation process in Rwanda and on the status of victims and perpetrators in cases tried before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Fatima Kastner was born in Tanger, Morocco, and studied philosophy and social sciences at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt/Main, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and the Collège International de Philosophie, Paris. She is a senior research fellow at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research and a lecturer at the University of Hamburg. She co-edited Niklas Luhmann: Law as a Social System (London 2004), and has published, among other topics, on the global spread of truth and reconciliation commissions.