THE MEN WHO were tried for their role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide that killed up to 1,000,000 people want you to know that they actually are very good people. That is the most-common way accused men try to account for their actions in testimony before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, a study has found. Researchers examined more than 10,000 pages of testimony from 27 defendants at the ICTR to determine how these men tried to explain their involvement in the genocidal violence. An "appeal to good character" was used by defendants more than all other explanations combined to say why they were not guilty of the horrible crimes they were accused of committing.
"Genocide has been called the crime of crimes, and these accused perpetrators very much understood that," says Hollie Nyseth Brehm, coauthor of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University. "They were trying to protect their reputation. Rather than acknowledging their role, they emphasized what good people they were and talked about their good deeds and admirable character traits."
Nyseth Brehm conducted the study with Emily Bryant (Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Boston University), Emily Brooke Schimke (behavior analyst from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), and Christopher Uggen (Regents Professor and Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Law at the University of Minnesota). Their results appear in the journal Social Problems.
In 1994, mass violence claimed up to 1,000,000 lives in the East African nation of Rwanda. Most of the victims were Tutsi, killed by the majority Hutus. The United Nations created the ICTR and, between 1995-2015, 75 individuals were tried for planning and executing the violence.
For this study, the researchers focused on 27 defendants, all men, who testified on their own behalf for one to 17 days. They were political and military leaders, or wealthy businessmen. Nearly all were indicted for complicity in genocide and either genocide or conspiracy to commit genocide. Within this sample, 19 defendants received sentences and eight were acquitted. Convicted defendants received sentence ranging from 12 years to life in prison.
The researchers analyzed the testimony using a classic criminology theory that suggests people utilize five specific techniques to neutralize their guilt and justify their participation in criminal activities: denial of responsibility; denial of injury; denial of the victim; condemnation of the...