Apologies have the potential to heal victims and help end cycles of human rights violations. Nowhere are those elements at work more than in Rwanda, where genocide perpetrators are required to repent and apologize as part of the gacaca court system. Unfortunately, scholarly research on apologies relating to Rwanda has been limited to statements of contrition issued by nations and international organizations outside of Rwanda. This results in a lack of research into the rhetoric and impact of apologies issued by actual perpetrators, and it perpetuates a European/American-based understanding of apologetic rhetoric and reconciliation.

In this dissertation, I address these gaps through a sociocultural approach to generic rhetorical criticism that brings together multiple methods—such as Fantasy Theme Analysis, Afrocentric rhetoric, and collective memory—to analyze apologetic exchanges in gacaca trials. As part of my analysis, I include insight and artifacts from four different areas: (1) field research of cultural expectations; (2) actual apologetic exchanges from trial testimony; (3) official gacaca reports and documents; and (4) secondary research on Rwanda and the gacaca trial system. The result is a broad analysis that examines not only the common characteristics of gacaca trial apologies, but also how those apologies place the 1994 genocide on the public record as well as shape reconciliation, identity, and membership in post-genocide Rwanda.

In the end, I argue that contextual factors such as politics, cultural expectations and documentation shape the apologetic exchanges, which can in turn reshape identity and membership in communities once torn apart by hatred, genocide, and human rights violations.

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