The Trauma of Truth Telling: Effects of Witnessing in the Rwandan Gacaca Courts on Psychological Health

Truth telling has come to play a pivotal role in postconflict reconciliation processes around the world. A common claim is that truth telling is healing and will lead to reconciliation. The present study applies recent psychological research to this issue by examining whether witnessing in the gacaca, the Rwandan village tribunals for truth and reconciliation after the 1994 genocide, was beneficial for psychological health. The results from the multistage, stratified cluster random survey of 1,200 Rwandans demonstrate that gacaca witnesses suffer from higher levels of depression and PTSD than do nonwitnesses, also when controlling for important predictors of psychological ill health. Furthermore, longer exposure to truth telling has not lowered the levels of psychological ill health, nor has the prevalence of depression and PTSD decreased over time. This study strongly challenges the claim that truth telling is healing and presents a novel understanding of the complexity of truth-telling processes in postconflict peace building.