Attribution of Guilt to Offspring of Perpetrators of the Genocide: Rwandan People's Perspectives

Date01 September 2015
Published date01 September 2015
C R Q, vol. 33, no. 1, Fall 2015 75
© 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. and the Association for Confl ict Resolution
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( • DOI: 10.1002/crq.21128
Attribution of Guilt to O spring of Perpetrators of
the Genocide: Rwandan People’s Perspectives
Immaculée Mukashema
Etienne Mullet
is study, conducted in Rwanda, examined the attribution of guilt
to off spring of people who were directly involved in mass atrocities: To
what extent can the son or grandson of a small farmer who participated
in the genocide be considered as guilty of his father’s or grandfather’s
deeds? Two qualitatively diff erent views were found.  e majority view
was that off spring were totally free of guilt.  e minority view was that
perpetrators’ off spring inherited at least part of their genitors’ guilt, espe-
cially that of their fathers.
When a person has committed bad deeds toward someone or a group
of persons, this person is deemed to be guilty. Guilt is attributed
on the basis of a discrepancy between this person’s behavior and social
norms (e.g., the law). In some European and African countries, guilt can,
for this reason, be associated with the absence of any concrete deed. For
example, when a person has witnessed others’ bad deeds and has decided
not to do anything to redress the situation, this person is also deemed to
be guilty, even if he or she has not personally benefi ted from the perpe-
trator’s deeds (Belgium n.d.; Germany n.d.; Rwanda n.d.b). Although
guilt from a juridical viewpoint is a dichotomous concept, retribution
for being guilty is not.  e level of severity of punishment or penalty
depends on the many circumstances that surround the presence of anti-
social behavior or the absence of prosocial behavior (e.g., attenuating
C R Q • DOI: 10.1002/crq
Feeling Guilty
When people have objectively performed bad deeds or did nothing to
redress a harmful or unjust situation, they usually feel guilty (Baumeister,
Stillwell, and Heatherton 1994). But some people, under the same circum-
stances, may not feel guilty because they do not consider that their behavior
was contrary to social norms or are not personally troubled (e.g., they have
a psychopathic personality; Skeem et al. 2011). People may also feel guilty
in circumstances where they have not performed any bad deed—when, for
example, they have falsely been convinced that they are the perpetrator of a
crime or suff er from psychopathology (e.g., pathological guilt; Shapiro and
Stewart 2011). Still another situation is when a person feels guilty for not
doing anything to repair the many injustices committed around the world,
especially when this person lives where justice prevails and affl uence is the
rule. In summary, objective guilt (e.g., as determined by the law) and feel-
ings of guilt are only loosely related at the personal level. One can be objec-
tively guilty and not feel so, and one can experience strong feelings of guilt
without any objective basis. A dramatic example of disconnection has been
off ered in a study by Kanyangara, Rimé, Philippot, and Yzerbyt (2007)
showing that people rightly accused of having perpetrated the genocide in
Rwanda expressed surprisingly moderate levels of personal guilt (see also
Johnsson et al. 2014).
People can also feel guilty by association (Branscombe 2004, Doosje
et al. 1998). People live in groups of various sizes: families, neighborhoods,
communities, clans, tribes, cities, nations, and states. When, for example,
members of a person’s family have done harm to other people, this person
can feel guilty by identifying herself with the family, even when the event
took place decades ago.  is process, called depersonalization (Turner et al.
1987), occurs by the introduction of past family members as more or less
central parts of the current self. It can also occur by the introduction of
more abstract entities such as the clan, the city or the country, and even
humanity as a whole. Although this person has not committed any act
that would qualify her as objectively guilty, she may still feel so, even if she
never directly benefi ted from the harmful act.
Alternatively, this person may feel personally not guilty but may instead
feel angry at her past family members or fellow countrymen or compas-
sionate toward the victims of her family’s or countrymen’s past deeds,
and as a result, feel that she has a special duty toward the victims or the

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