Managing Mass Graves in Rwanda and Burundi : Vernaculars of the Right to Truth

Jamar, Astrid and Major, Laura (2022) Managing Mass Graves in Rwanda and Burundi : Vernaculars of the Right to Truth. Social Anthropology, 30 (3). pp. 56-78. ISSN 1469-8676 (

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The governments of Rwanda and Burundi exhume mass graves with the promise of revealing truths about the contested histories of past conflict and genocide. In Rwanda, exhumations recover and conserve the bodies of victims of the genocide against the Tutsi. Since December 2019, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Burundi has also begun mass exhumations; these efforts are motivated by truth-seeking and reconciliation aspirations that articulate a specific narrative of victimhood and state legitimacy. The state employs vernacularised forms of forensic practices and ‘international’ rights-based discourses in both cases. Drawing on our respective ethnographic fieldwork, we describe and analyse exhumation practices in Rwanda and Burundi. The ‘forensic turn’ in post-conflict settings has been the subject of much discussion and debate among scholars since the proliferation of the practice over recent decades. We add to these debates in our consideration of two linked settings in which the exhumations had become powerful political tools, in this case serving as a source of power for specific regimes.