Northeastern Illinois University Department of Justice Studies Chair Cris Toffolo has returned from a March trip to Rwanda, where she joined 16 scholars from around the world in a study tour of the country’s 1994 genocide that resulted in the deaths of 800,000 people in 100 days.
Toffolo, a participant in Northeastern’s Genocide in Africa Research Group, and her colleagues examined how the country has developed various strategies in the past 21 years to recover from the genocide.
“Rwanda is a very important case to understand for many reasons,” Toffolo said. “It is often seen as the worst genocide since the Holocaust and it raised the world’s consciousness about the need to be more proactive when warnings are raised. Along with the former Yugoslavia, it is responsible for the world finally creating the International Criminal Court, an institution which was envisioned after World War II but came into being only after it was necessary to set up special international tribunals for the atrocities that occurred in the early 1990s in these two countries.”
Organized by the new director of graduate research at the University of Rwanda, Dr. Alphonse Muleefu, the trip gave its participants unprecedented access not only to major sites that document and memorialize the genocide, but to those in leadership positions in the government, courts, police, military, prisons and work camps, as well as the church, arts and economic sectors.
Toffolo and the other researchers learned about the three levels of courts used to punish those who perpetrated the genocide, and about the various strategies the government is using to chart a new future for the country—economically, educationally and politically.
“Rwanda is also unique in that it came up with Gracaca courts, a local way of dealing with the over one million people who were actively involved in the killing,” Toffolo said. “It is a new model of restorative justice which is now being carefully studied around the world.”