They Committed Genocide. Their Neighbors Welcomed Them Home.

In FOREIGN RELATIONS On

What happens when hundreds of thousands of people who committed genocide leave prison and return to the communities where they perpetrated violence? This might sound like the plot of a dystopian novel, but in Rwanda, it is reality.

Twenty-five years ago this month, Rwanda crumbled as violence swept across the country. Although political leaders orchestrated the genocide, several hundred thousand Hutu civilians participated by killing or raping members of the Tutsi minority. After the genocide ended, the new Rwandan government created a court system to hold those civilians accountable. Roughly 312,000 trials resulted in prison sentences — including 15,444 life sentences — propelling Rwanda to one of the highest incarceration rates in the world.

Over the past few years, tens of thousands of the convicted genocidaires have been completing their sentences and returning to their communities — once again becoming neighbors to families they harmed.

In 2017, we traveled to Rwanda to find out how these people and their communities are managing this tense situation. Since then, we have been following nearly 200 returning citizens from their final days in prison to their lives back in their communities.

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