Psychosocial reintegration of ex-genocide prisoners enhanced by sociotherapy intervention in the Southern province of Rwanda.
The three years’ project entitled “Mvura Nkuvure! Intergenerational healing and community reconciliation for sustainable peace” started in 2019. This project is being implemented by Prison Fellowship Rwanda in partnership with Community Based Sociotherapy (CBS), under the funding of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands. The overall objective of this particular project is to contribute to strengthening and sustaining a peaceful Rwandan society, through the facilitation of bottom-up, inclusive and trauma-informed reconciliation process. The intervention has three outcomes: Psychosocial reintegration of Ex-Prisoners-Addressing the intergenerational legacies of Genocide and -Increased ownership among local leaders and communities over the reconciliation process.
The reconciliation between genocide perpetrators, genocide survivors, and their family members needs to be enhanced as now 26 years after the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, many genocide prisoners are being released and reintegrated into their communities. After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, over 120,000 perpetrators were imprisoned for their involvement in killing Tutsis. According to Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS, 2019) twenty-five years later, genocide prisoners fall to approximately 27,370, while 8,857 ex-genocide prisoners are due for release and reintegrated into the community over the period 2019-2023.
While in prisons, usually prisoners have limited opportunity to interact with the people they offended. In so far as this interaction is possible, psychological distress resulting from the crimes committed and the life in prison constrain prisoners from engaging themselves in reconciliation processes. As a result, they are mostly focused on their own suffering and tend to overlook that of others. If left unaddressed, this impoverished psychosocial well-being is likely to hamper processes of social reintegration and reconciliation upon their release. In time this might fuel future conflicts and violence at family and community level.
Prison Fellowship Rwanda is implementing sociotherapy project in Muhanga ,Nyanza , Nyamagabe districts as in two prisons. To contribute in psychosocial reintegration of ex-prisoners, 23 groups of sociotherapy worked on the psychosocial reintegration of prisoners or ex-prisoners. More than 300 people (ex-prisoners, genocide prisoners, and genocide survivors ) attended sociotherapy sessions. As outcomes, there were an increased level of trust between graduates and this has an impact on their families in general regarding socialization and co-habitation, forgiveness and reconciliation are taking place: ex-prisoners went beyond judicial release from prisons and realized the importance of face-to-face meetings with genocide survivors for apologizing. Increasing level of openness and truth sharing between ex-prisoners and genocide survivors, decreased level of hate and revenge ideation.
sociotherapy graduates said “I prayed God before, but I was not able to forgive genocide perpetrators. I learned to forgive in sociotherapy” another said “I was always angry against those who killed our beloved relatives and, I was not able to talk with them, but now I feel relieved and ready to collaborate with them since I attended sociotherapy”.
Some of challenges encountered for example was the tendency for accusing each other in sociotherapy sessions, and particularly between genocide survivors and ex-genocide prisoners. Some severe cases of trauma that need more follow up after graduation. Needs for financial support to socio-economic activities of sociotherapy graduates.
Sociotherapy is also being implemented in two prisons of the southern province targeting mainly genocide prisoners who are about to be released. Sociotherapy sessions do not only help inmates to cope with the prison impediments, but do also help them to overcome fears and other psychosocial impediments that could jeopardize their reintegration process once realized.
One of inmates sociotherapy graduates said “Sociotherapy changed my thoughts and feeling. Before I was thinking that I was the one who suffered a lot, but through sociotherapy, I thought of my responsibility in genocide crimes and realized that the person I killed is the one who has most suffered. I no longer think that they had betrayed me for me to be imprisoned. A genocide survivor who has lost his/her relatives is still wounded by that loose. After attending sociotherapy sessions, I decided to write a letter of apology to those I offended during genocide. After my release, I am planning to visit them, asking them forgiveness, I hope they will accept and forgive me so that I could feel relieved and live with them again in harmony”.
The critical success of sociotherapy interventions focusing on psychosocial reintegration of genocide/ex-genocide prisoners stem from the fact that the intervention in communities brought together ex-prisoners, genocide survivors and family members of genocide prisoners in the same sociotherapy groups. This helped them to start together reconciliation and therapeutic journey together, during which they were able to overcome their feelings of suspicion, mistrust, and fear. As consequence, barriers that separated them were broken down steps towards social cohesion and promising reconciliation process have been taken. More to this, sociotherapy graduates have created groups for socio-economic activities that will help then not only to improve their livelihood, but enhance their relationship.
In conclusion, Sociotherapy interventions are contributing to facilitate the psychosocial reintegration of ex-prisoners in ways that generate reconciliation between them and genocide survivors, but also with their family members. Sociotherapy as it is implemented in prisons, serves as a bond between prisoners and the rest of community members. It is giving a new perspective for inmates to embrace the reconciliation process together with genocide survivors in a way that can generate truth and true forgiveness that can relieve both sides, and therefore, a rehabilitative measures leading to sustainable peace and social cohesion.
As recommendations, PFR could increase sociotherapy interventions in prisons targeting particularly genocide prisoners who are about to be released, but also those with life sentences, prior release therapeutic interventions are fundamental for an effective family and community reintegration of ex-prisoners. This recommendation also applies for the post release sociotherapy interventions, mainly targeting the groups of ex-prisoners, genocide survivors, family members of genocide prisoners as well. PFR also is recommended to advocate toward other stakeholders for socio-economic activities of graduates. Local authorities and other stakeholders are recommended to back the outcomes of sociotherapy; particularly by providing financial and capacity building supports to sociotherapy graduated groups.