Skip to main content

Post-Conflict Reconciliation: A Humanitarian Myth?

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
The Humanitarian Challenge
  • 957 Accesses


The aim of the paper is to question the scope and limits of reconciliation as an effective peace-building process. It is to problematize a notion that is often taken for granted and to contribute to the understanding of the dynamics that take place between former enemies, and between various groups of actors on each side (be they survivors, policy-makers, perpetrators or outsiders such as international donors, practitioners, diplomats and scholars). To understand these dynamics, it seems fundamental to question the normative frame of reconciliation after wars and mass atrocities. Is reconciliation an unequivocal goal to be pursued whatever the circumstances? Beyond a theoretical interest, this question has a direct impact for practitioners; a better understanding of the issue is actually a sine qua non condition for more efficient interventions. The paper is divided into three parts. The first emphasizes the major conceptions of reconciliation as a peace-building process. The second stresses the attitude of the reconciliation advocates in Rwanda. Beside the official authorities, most peace builders called for reconciliation and forgiveness. The third and final part serves as a reminder that some survivors decided to resist this call for reconciliation.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 39.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD 54.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. 1.

    Gardner-Feldman (1999) distinguishes philosophical-emotional and practical-material components of reconciliation. In the same line, Long and Brecke (2003) analyse two main models of reconciliation: a signalling model and a forgiveness model. Hermann (2004) discerns cognitive, emotional-spiritual and procedural aspects of reconciliation. Nadler (2002) puts an emphasis on socio-emotional and instrumental reconciliation. Schaap (2005) emphasizes restorative and political reconciliation approaches. Galtung (2001) refers to no less than 12 different conceptions of reconciliation.

  2. 2.

    Herman Van Rompuy, 1 July 2013, Zagreb.

  3. 3.


  4. 4.

    Filmed over the course of 3 years, Icyizere Hope is a documentary by filmmaker Patrick Mureithi about a reconciliation workshop in Rwanda that brings together ten survivors and ten perpetrators of the 1994 genocide (2009, 1 h 35, Josiah Film). As We Forgive is the 2008 student documentary film by Laura Waters Hinson (53 min, produced by Stephen Maceevety). The film tells the story of two Rwandan women who come face-to-face with the neighbours who slaughtered their families during the 1994 genocide. The documentary Ingando – when enemies return (2007, 33 min, Safari Gaspard) tells the story of the troublesome relationship between ex-combatants and genocide survivors. The film by Martin Bush Larsen and Jesper Houborg follows two former soldiers’ lives in the Ingando, and gives a voice to their thoughts and dreams of a positive return. In Raindrop over Rwanda, the American philanthropist Charles Annenberg Weingarten tours Rwanda with host Honore Gatera to uncover the tragedy of the 1994 genocide (2010, 23 min, Annenberg Foundation).

  5. 5.

    See the website of As We Forgive.

  6. 6.

    See the of As We Forgive documentary film.

  7. 7.

    See the documentary Beyond Right and wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness, The Forgiveness Project.

  8. 8.

    In 2012 only, see the speeches made on 7 February, 30 March, 9 and 13 April, 16 May, 3 et 9 July. See the website, accessed 6 October 2014. The notion of resilience has also been chosen to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the independence of Rwanda. See in this regard the event “A journey of Resilience” organized on 30 June 2012 the Embassy of Rwanda in Washington.

  9. 9.

    In 2012, see among others the speeches pronounced on 31 January, 1st and 21 May, 13 June, 31 August, 3 and 11 September.

  10. 10.

    Interviews made in Washington between February and June 2011.

  11. 11.

    See, for instance, the radio series produced by the Belgian NGO RCN—Justice et démocratie, “Si c’est là, c’est ici”, the impressive number of prizes won by the documentary film As we forgive or even the TV success of Immaculée Ilibagiza on CNN and CBS. The development of a real market in this field is also significant. See, for instance, the possibility to buy the ‘As we forgive movie event kit’ or the ‘4give T-shirt’ (during the screenings of the film and on line), the possibility to register for a conference, a retreat or even a pilgrimage (in Kibeho in Rwanda or in Banneux in Belgium) with Immaculée Ilibagiza. In 2012, the fees to participate in the Kibeho’s trip were 2,950$ (the price of the flight being not included). See, accessed 6 October 2014.

  12. 12.

    This part of the chapter is based on a research carried out with Brudholm and Rosoux.

  13. 13.

    All the stories can be read on the website of The Forgiveness Project.


  • Ackermann A (1994) Reconciliation as a peace-building process in postwar Europe. Peace Change 19(3):229–250

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Arendt H (1961) Condition de l’homme moderne. Calmann-Lévy, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Autesserre S (2012) Dangerous tales: dominant narratives on the Congo and their unintended consequences. Afr Aff 111(443):202–222

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Backer D (2010) Watching a bargain unravel? A panel study of victims’ attitudes about transitional justice in Cape Town, South Africa. Int J Transit Justice 4:443–456

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bar-Siman-Tov Y (2000) Israel–Egypt peace: stable peace? In: Kacowicz A et al (eds) Stable peace among nations. Rowman and Littlefield, Boulder, pp 220–238

    Google Scholar 

  • Bar-Siman-Tov Y (ed) (2004) From conflict resolution to reconciliation. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Bar-Tal D, Bennink G (2004) The nature of reconciliation as an outcome and as a process. In: Bar-Siman-Tov Y (ed) From conflict resolution to reconciliation. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 11–38

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Belfior S (2011) Declaration made in Kigali, 1st April 2011, Accessed 6 Oct 2014

  • Braeckman C (2004) Rwanda, dix ans après. Politique Internationale 103:417

    Google Scholar 

  • Brudholm T (2008) Resentment’s virtue: Jean Amery and the refusal to forgive. Temple University Press, Philadelphia, Philadelphia

    Google Scholar 

  • Brudholm T, Rosoux V (2013) The unforgiving. Reflections on the resistance to forgiveness after atrocity. In: Hirsch A (ed) Theorizing post-conflict reconciliation: agonism, restitution and repair. Routledge, New York, pp 115–130

    Google Scholar 

  • Crocker DA (1999) Reckoning with past wrongs: a normative framework. Ethics Int Aff 13(1):43–64

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Galtung J (2001) After violence, reconstruction, reconciliation, and resolution. In: Abu-Nimer M (ed) Reconciliation, justice and coexistence. Theory and practice. Lexington Books, Lanham, pp 3–23

    Google Scholar 

  • Gardner-Feldman L (1999) The principle and practice of ‘Reconciliation’ in German Foreign Policy: relations with France, Israel, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Int Aff 75(2):333–356

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goodman D (1997) Justice drowns in political quagmire. Mail and Guardian, 31/01

    Google Scholar 

  • Graybill LS (2002) Truth and reconciliation in South Africa: miracle or model? Lynne Rienner, Boulder

    Google Scholar 

  • Hatzfeld J (2003) Une saison de machettes. Seuil, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Hatzfeld J (2007) La stratégie des antilopes. Seuil, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Hermann TS (2004) Reconciliation: reflections on the theoretical and practical utility of the term. In: Bar-Siman-Tov Y (ed) From conflict resolution to reconciliation. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 39–60

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Ilibagiza I (2007) Left to tell: discovering god amidst the Rwandan holocaust. Hay House, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Kacowicz A et al (eds) (2000) Stable peace among nations. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham

    Google Scholar 

  • Kayitesi B (2009) Demain ma vie. Enfants chefs de famille dans le Rwanda d’après. Editions Laurence Teper, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Lederach JP (1998) Beyond violence: building sustainable peace. In: Weiner E (ed) The handbook of interethnic coexistence. Continuum, New York, pp 236–245

    Google Scholar 

  • Long WJ, Brecke PB (2003) War and reconciliation. Reason and emotion in conflict resolution. The MIT Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Mamdani, M. (1997) When victims become killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  • Mujawayo E, Belhaddad S (2004) Survivantes. Rwanda, histoire d’un génocide. Éditions de l’Aube, La Tour-d’Aigues

    Google Scholar 

  • Mujawayo E, Belhaddad S (2006) La fleur de Stéphanie. Entre réconciliation et déni. Flammarion, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Mukayiranga S (2004) Sentiments de rescapés. In: Coquio C (ed) L’Histoire trouée. Négation et témoignage. L’Atalante, Nantes, pp 776–785

    Google Scholar 

  • Nadler A (2002) Post resolution processes: an instrumental and socio-emotional routes to reconciliation. In: Salomon G, Nevo B (eds) Peace education: the concept, principles and practices around the world. Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahwah, pp 127–143

    Google Scholar 

  • Oppenheim G (2008) Acts of Reconciliation. Washington Post, 05/07

    Google Scholar 

  • Penal Reform International (2005) Rapport de synthèse de monitoring et de recherche sur la gacaca, phase pilote janvier 2002 - décembre 2004,

  • Philpott D (ed) (2006) Politics of past evil: religion, reconciliation, and the dilemmas of transitional justice. University of Notre-Dame Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosoux V (2004) Human rights and the ‘Work of Memory’ in international relations. Int J Hum Rights 3(2):159–170

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rosoux V (2014) Réconciliation: les limites d’un conte de fée. In: Andrieu K, Lauvau G (eds) Quelle justice pour les peuples en transition? Presses universitaires de Paris Sorbonne, Paris, pp 113–126

    Google Scholar 

  • Schaap A (2005) Political reconciliation. Routledge, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Sémelin J (2005) Purifier et détruire. Usages politiques des massacres et génocides. Seuil, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  • Shriver DW (1995) An ethic for enemies: forgiveness in politics. Oxford University Press, New York

    Google Scholar 

  • Staub E (2000) Genocide and mass killing: origins, prevention, healing and reconciliation. Polit Psychol 21:367–362

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Steward J (2009) Only healing heals: concepts and methods of psycho-social healing in post-genocide Rwanda. In: Clark P, Kaufman Z (eds) After genocide. Transitional justice, post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation in Rwanda and beyond. Columbia University Press, New York, pp 171–189

    Google Scholar 

  • Stover E, Weinstein HM (eds) (2004) My neighbor, my enemy: justice and community in the aftermath of mass atrocity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • The Forgiveness Project. Accessed 6 Oct 2014

  • Tutu D (1999) No Future without Forgiveness. Doubleday, New York

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Valérie Rosoux .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2015 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Rosoux, V. (2015). Post-Conflict Reconciliation: A Humanitarian Myth?. In: Gibbons, P., Heintze, HJ. (eds) The Humanitarian Challenge. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics