The 1994 genocide shattered Rwanda. Unwilling to accept the terms of an internationally brokered peace agreement, an extremist government ordered the majority Hutu population to kill their Tutsi neighbors. An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered, while the world stood by. When the forces of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), composed primarily of Tutsi refugees who had grown up in Uganda, seized control, they found a country whose infrastructure was destroyed, its economy in shambles, inter-ethnic trust in tatters, and survivors traumatized. Since then, Rwanda has done a remarkable job of recovering from the pervasive social and physical devastation of this violence. Economic development has been robust and community level courts, known as gacaca, have tried over 1.2 million genocide cases. However, the process of reconciliation and social healing has only begun.
Karuna Center has conducted a variety of programs in Rwanda since 1995. Rwanda was also the site for our annual field seminar for the CONTACT (Conflict Transformation Across Cultures) Graduate Certificate Program in Conflict Transformation, which we ran in partnership with the SIT Graduate Institute from 2002-2012. In 2011 Karuna Center conducted a conflict assessment for USAID/Rwanda and in 2012 consulted with the USAID mission on how to implement the findings in its five-year strategic plan and programs in democracy and governance, education, health, and economic growth.
Healing Our Communities
In 2016, Karuna Center was awarded a 2-year program-specific grant from USAID to deepen our work with three Rwandan partner organizations: Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities, Aegis Trust/Rwanda, and the Institute for Dialogue and Peace. The program will focus on 16 places across the nation where post-genocide tensions remain high. In these communities, our consortium will integrate trauma healing, dialogue, joint problem solving, and volunteer projects to help the most vulnerable. Meanwhile, we will empower youth to use low-cost technology for reconciliation conversations nationwide.
Women and Men as Partners in Peacebuilding
Recently, Karuna Center for Peacebuilding worked in close partnership with two Rwandan organizations—Rwanda Men's Resource Centre and Benimpuhwe—through the Women and Men as Partners in Peacebuilding program that we co-facilitated with Men's Resources International from 2012 through early 2016. By engaging these three organizations with 5 other regional partners from across Rwanda and Burundi, this program piloted a new paradigm of cross-gender partnerships that will more effectively address the interconnected cycles of community-based and gender-based violence that affect Burundian communities.
The violence and trauma visited upon the population during the war years served to reinforce the patriarchal gendered norms that legitimize sexual and domestic violence against vulnerable men, women, and children. The Gender Monitoring Office in Rwanda estimates that 41.7% and 22.3% of Rwandan woman are survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence respectively. Though statistics are sparse, the portion of the Rwandan National Police Force’s monthly caseload dedicated to investigating and addressing child abuse has risen as high as 75%.
In 2015, organizations participating in the Women and Men as Partners in Peacebuilding Program formed a regional alliance to continue to advance violence prevention through female-male partnerships: Alliance Femmes/Hommes pour la Paix (Alliance of Women and Men for Peace).
Learn more about the Women and Men as Partners in Peacebuilding Program.
The Rescuers Project
In 2010-2011 Karuna Center developed a Rescuers Project with the education department of the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Museum. An exhibit of genocide rescuers, developed by Karuna Center partner Proof: Media for Social Justice, traveled to Rwandan high schools and was used to promote dialogue on tolerance and reconciliation. The lessons learned from this pilot are being used by the museum to develop a travelling exhibit that will present the facts of the genocide from multiple perspectives. Karuna Center and the museum are developing a model for how this exhibit can be used to promote community-led approaches to reconciliation.
Rwandan Women’s Peace Leadership Project
Between 2003 and 2005, Karuna Center led a peacebuilding training and mentorship program for members of ProFemmes Twese Hamwe, an umbrella organization of 58 women’s organizations, ranging from grassroots associations to a women’s caucus in the parliament, that promote peace, gender equality, women’s empowerment and development. Participants developed skills in analyzing conflicts, resolving disputes within their communities and organizations, and teaching these skills to others. Those we trained our now involved in an innovative and successful reconciliation program in partnership with International Alert. Survivors, perpetrators, and former combatants are joining in community dialogues and trauma healing workshops and then working together in micro-enterprises and agricultural cooperatives.
Capacity Building for Rwandan Government Institutions on Reconciliation
In 2005, KCP led seminars for the Rwandan government’s National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) to help build the capacity of their commissioners, staff, and partners to manage conflict and post-genocide reconciliation. In 2002, we held a seminar for the Department of Justice to anticipate the kinds of community tensions that could arise with gacaca and ways of mitigating them.
Youth participants in Healing Our Communities perform a song, February 2017.