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Reconciling Rwanda: unity, nationality and state control

Jennifer Melvin

Institute of Commonwealth Studies/Human Rights Consortium

In July 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) set out to stabilise and secure Rwanda, a country decimated by genocide.  This mandate was later extended to include the herculean task of promoting unity and reconciliation to a population torn apart by violence.  More than two decades later, these goals appear to have been achieved. 

Beneath the veneer of reconciliation lies myriad programmes and legislation that do more than seek to unite the population – they keep the RPF in power.  In Reconciling Rwanda: Unity, Nationality and State Control, Jennifer Melvin analyses the highly controversial RPF and its vision of reconciliation to determine who truly benefits from the construction of the new post-genocide Rwanda.

How does a country reconcile in the wake of genocide? In Rwanda in 1994 neighbour killed neighbour; dehumanising propaganda stirred up unresolved grievance, and one in ten of the population died. Melvin examines how the Rwandan government has tried to eradicate impunity while nurturing national unity. Her understanding of the gacaca process, where courts based on traditional justice provided swift justice, is ground-breaking. Her objective analysis shines a much-needed light on a modern challenge: how do fractured and traumatised societies come to terms with individual responsibility for atrocities while finding a shared truth?

Rebecca Tinsley, founder of Waging Peace

Jennifer Melvin’s meticulous critical analysis of the post-genocide Rwandan regime’s policies for national unity, reconciliation and justice shows that in reality they served rather different functions. It deserves to be widely read.

Martin Shaw, author of What is Genocide?


How MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies student, Sylvester Chapotera, aims to fulfil a lifetime goal

Sylvester Chapotera was awarded the Guy-Goodwin Scholarship on the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies. He tells us about how his programme of study contributes to his ambition to become a future leader in refugee protection.



Refugee Law Initiative: leading and promoting research in international refugee law