Finding Forgiveness from Atrocity
The rebels picked … my father and came over to me and ordered me to kill him.
-- Ugandan woman recalling violence at the hands of the Lord's Resistance Army
Stories of extreme violence that defy the imagination—and the difficult process of living with the trauma of such events—are at the core of a project that brings a sharp focus to the role love and forgiveness can play in addressing the fallout of mass conflict.
The Fetzer Institute is partnering with Phil Clark of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, on a research project informed by in-depth interviews in post-genocide Rwanda and post-civil war northern Uganda with mass atrocity survivors, perpetrators, and individuals who saved others from injury or death. The project aims to discover what makes possible or stymies forgiveness and reconciliation in communities that have suffered extreme violence.
Through 50 interviews in each country, some with people who have been both victims and perpetrators of heinous acts during the bloodshed, Clark says those who share personal experiences of forgiveness and reconciliation “haven’t expressed some innate cultural disposition but rather wrestled with overwhelming feelings of anger, pain and loss—often over lengthy periods—to seek ways to rebuild themselves and their communities…. Many individuals have meanwhile found it too difficult to forgive or reconcile—showing that these processes are neither unconscious nor automatic.”
To capture these personal recollections, Clark and colleagues made repeated trips to Rwanda and Uganda, recording interviews with atrocity survivors and perpetrators. Interviews were then transcribed and produced into radio broadcasts played in both countries to highlight the key role of forgiveness and reconciliation as Rwandan and Ugandan communities work to recover from mass atrocity.
The radio programs capture the vivid imagery of the countries’ landscapes and people and the difficult and candid stories found there. One story that puts the situation in stark focus involves a woman who had been abducted, then forced to kill her father. Years later, she meets the man who forced her to commit patricide, and has to decide whether to forgive him.
“The purpose of this journey was to find out why (forgiveness) happens,” Clark says. “Forgiveness takes personal initiative, it takes courage and it takes action. But it also needs an environment of support and it involves other people.”
Read more thoughts from Phil Clark in his blog posting.
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on the Social Sciences.