Preventing violence and generating humane values: Healing and reconciliation in Rwanda

31-12-2003 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 852, by Ervin Staub

The origins of violence between groups and the prevention of renewed violence, with reference to Rwanda as the main example, are the focus of this article. The author argues that devaluation of “the other”, a history of cultural devaluation and past victimization may all contribute to genocide. The prevention of renewed violence requires the healing both of victims and of perpetrators and an understanding of the roots of violence.


Ervin Staub
Professor of Psychology, University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author, inter alia, of The Roots of Evil : The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1989, and The Psychology of Good and Evil : Why Children, Adults and Groups Help and Harm Others?, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2003. 

This article explores the roots of violence between groups and the prevention of renewed violence, using Rwanda as a primary example. It also explores how can children be raised so that they will adopt humane values and act according to humanitarian principles, making violence between groups less likely. Devaluation of the other, a history of devaluation in the culture, the psychological consequences of past victimization, and an evolution in the course of which individuals and groups change as a result of their own harmful and violent actions are among the contributors to genocide. To prevent new violence requires healing by survivors, who are profoundly affected by their victimization, as well as by perpetrators and members of the perpetrator group whose violent actions or passivity create psychological wounds in them. Such healing makes the beginnings of reconciliation possible. A series of interventions in Rwanda are noted, focused on the general population, national leaders, journalis ts and others, aiming to promote healing and reconciliation, together with an experimental evaluation of one of them, showing positive effects. The role of understanding the origins of violence, specifically the roots of the genocide in Rwanda, in facilitating healing, reconciliation, and preventive actions by leaders is stressed. The development in children of " inclusive caring " that extends caring to people beyond one's group and the role of the fulfillment of basic psychological needs in this are discussed. The development of moral courage that makes active bystandership more likely, and of altruism born of suffering, are also examined.


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