The people who received the maximum sentence for crimes during the 1994 Rwanda genocide have been released. DW spoke with a sociologist about what the process of reentering society entails.Can someone who committed genocide ever be reintegrated into society? The people convicted of genocide in Rwanda have served the maximum sentence and have been released.

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The authors of DW's Science unscripted podcast, Conor Dillon and Gabriel Borrud, discussed this with Hollie Nyseth Nzitatira, professor of sociology at Ohio State University. She interviewed 168 convicted Rwandans before and after they were released from prison.

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DW: How were the individuals who once used a machete against former neighbors welcomed home in Rwanda? Or, what exactly is a successful reintegration into society after genocide?

Hollie Nyseth Nzitatira: It's a dual process. As they're coming back from prison, they are internally grappling with the fact that they committed genocide and that they're going back to communities where they're known as people who committed genocide. They are trying to figure out how they are going to apologize to the family members of the people that they killed. For most of the people I spoke to in the study, they were incredibly remorseful.

Four months after being released from prison — when I spoke to them — many had already apologized. And broadly, they presented a narrative of how they had changed, and that they wanted to be received as redeemed individuals, as people who had changed, and as people who could be viewed as ordinary Rwandan citizens.

If I'm totally honest, my natural instinctual reaction would be to kick them out of my neighborhood upon their return and tell them to stay away from me.

It is hard.

I've also spoken with 74 people who survived the genocide, and they underscored that it is certainly hard to see these people back in their communities, even after 30 years. That said, many have also underscored that they want to try to live together once again. They believe that to have a country that does not see violence in the future, it's important to at least try. I wouldn't say that people are fully being successfully welcomed, that everything is 100 percent rosy, but rather that survivors are open to the idea of reconciliation, to having these individuals back in their communities.

You've sat down and spoken at length with murderers who say they have done their time and are good people again. Do you believe that?

Well, yes and no.

Many of the people in this study did try to emphasize that they have become "good." I do believe that how they see themselves is important. And in research on violence, we know that if people see themselves as redeemed, they're a lot less likely to commit violence in the future. If someone sees themselves as a bad person, this type of individual is a lot more likely to go on to do something bad. It's important for these individuals to see a shift in themselves if they're not going to commit violence in the future.

What is the point, ultimately, of your research?

The point of the research is to understand how genocide is possible. There have been over 40 genocides since the Holocaust. We're not talking about isolated occurrences. This means that it's important to consider what happens after genocide. How do communities rebuild? If there were no reintegration happening in Rwanda, if perpetrators were being ostracized, this would likely cause these individuals to return to violence. Their children might be returning to violence. Each of these 240,000 individuals are tied to children, to spouses. This is a broad group of society. If all these individuals were ostracized and not allowed to return, this could set up a dangerous situation that would perpetuate cycles of violence for years to come.

It's incredibly uncomfortable to think about these people returning home. But I think many Rwandans realize the gravity of the situation, that cycles of violence cannot continue. They want to do something to truly live up to those large words "never again." That is what a lot of folks say but that is difficult in practice.

This interview is an excerpt from our podcast Science unscripted. You can subscribe to the podcast here.

The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Apr 05, 2024 03:20 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website