Post-genocide exhumations and the creation of a DNA database can help genuine post-conflict reconciliation in Rwanda, says the latest installment in the policy brief series issued by the Africa Initiative (AI) and The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

In Promoting Reconciliation Through Exhuming and Identifying Victims in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, field-researcher and AI Research Grant recipient Erin Jessee reports there is widespread support “for renewed efforts to identify and repatriate the anonymous victims of the 1994 genocide, both to reduce the psychological and spiritual distress the survivors experience and to provide definitive evidence of the genocide for future generations.”

Her findings are derived from research gathered in Kibuye, where she spoke to genocide survivors as well as community leaders, aid workers and government representatives from across Rwanda. Support for these efforts exists despite previous attempts, commissioned by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which failed to “locate, identify and repatriate the victims of the 1994 genocide.”

Jessee, who is a Human Security Postdoctoral Fellow with the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia, makes the following recommendations for Rwanda’s government:

  • Establish a forensics training facility and laboratory to specialize in the location of mass graves, and the exhumation, identification and repatriation of the anonymous victims of the 1994 genocide;
  • Create a database of DNA samples from survivors of the 1994 genocide;
  • Pursue scientifically rigorous exhumations mandated to retrieve DNA samples from any human remains recovered from mass graves or incorporated into the Rwandan genocide memorials, and cross-reference them with the survivor DNA database to provide definitive identifications wherever possible; and
  • Ensure that any identified remains are returned to surviving relatives to bury with respect in the manner they choose.

Such efforts, Jessee explains, “would make Rwanda a leader in Africa for DNA and forensic analysis, which could then be applied to other conflict zones on the continent, from Uganda to South Sudan.” They would also be a key component in helping to repair some of the psychological and spiritual harm suffered by survivors as a result of the genocide.

Promoting Reconciliation Through Exhuming and Identifying Victims in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide is published by the Africa Initiative and CIGI as part of a policy brief series which presents analysis and commentary emerging from field-based research on issues critical to the continent. Findings and recommendations in this peer-reviewed series aim to inform policymaking and to contribute to the overall African research enterprise. 

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Kevin Dias, Communications Specialist, CIGI
Tel: 519.885.2444, ext. 7238, Email: [email protected]

The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank on international governance. Led by experienced practitioners and distinguished academics, CIGI supports research, forms networks, advances policy debate and generates ideas for multilateral governance improvements. Conducting an active agenda of research, events and publications, CIGI’s interdisciplinary work includes collaboration with policy, business and academic communities around the world. CIGI was founded in 2001 by Jim Balsillie, then co-CEO of Research In Motion, and collaborates with and gratefully acknowledges support from a number of strategic partners, in particular the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario. For more information, please visit


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