Apologizing for Atrocity: Rwanda and Recognition

In Alice MacLachlan & C. Allen Speight (eds.), Justice, Responsibility, and Reconciliation in the Wake of Conflict. Springer (2013)

Lynne Tirrell
University of Connecticut
Apology is a necessary component of moral repair of damage done by wrongs against the person. Analyzing the role of apology in the aftermath of atrocity, with a focus on the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, 1994, this article emphasizes the role of recognition failures in grave moral wrongs, the importance of speech acts that offer recognition, and building mutuality through recognition as a route to reconciliation. Understanding the US role in the international failure to stop the ’94 genocide raises the question of how any response could mitigate a world-shattering wrong like genocide. With a focus on survivors, this article explains the concepts of recognition harm and spirit murder to illuminate what survivors experience and need. The third section develops a theory of apology as offering recognition to the victim of wrongdoing —through both the act of speaking-to and through its content. The article examines US President Bill Clinton’s 1998 apology to Rwandans, to understand it as an apology, and to see how it began reconciliation between Americans and Rwandans. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the inter-related significance of apology and material reparations.
Keywords apology  genocide  recognition  moral repair
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