Mental health 15 years after the killings in Rwanda: Imprisoned perpetrators of the genocide against the Tutsi versus a community sample of survivors


  • Research was funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation). We would like to thank the respondents for their trust and openness and the prison staff in Butare and Kigali for their support. We thank Inga Schalinski, Heike Riedke, and the following Rwandan psychologists for their help in data collection: Pierre Bisengimana, Emmanuel Hakizimana, Ernest Hakizimana, Felix Harindintwari, Charles Ingabire, Peace Kabihogo, Télesphore Nambajimana, Agnes Nyirabizimana, Anatole Nzabakurana, and Léopold Rwemeraturame.


Objectives of this study were to compare rates of mental health disorders in Rwandan genocide perpetrators with those of genocide survivors and to investigate potential predictors of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression for both groups. We expected high rates of mental disorders in both study groups and hypothesized that symptom severity would be predicted by female gender, older age, lower level of education, higher level of trauma exposure, lower level of agreement to reconciliation, and the participation in killing. Structured clinical interviews were carried out with 269 imprisoned perpetrators (66% men) and 114 survivors (64% women). Significantly more survivors than perpetrators met symptom criteria for PTSD (46% vs. 14%) and suffered from anxiety symptoms (59% vs. 36%). A substantial proportion of both groups suffered from clinically significant depression (46% vs. 41%). PTSD severity in perpetrators was associated with trauma exposure, high levels of agreement to reconciliation, and no participation in killing; the severity of depression was associated with trauma exposure and no participation in killing. In the survivor sample, the severity of PTSD and depression were both correlated with female gender, trauma exposure, and low levels of agreement to reconciliation. Results suggest that both groups exhibit considerable psychiatric morbidity.