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Last modified on: 12.02.2016

National Unity and Reconciliation Commission - Rwanda


Rwanda, nicknamed the Land of a Thousand Hills for its fertile, rolling terrain, gained its independence from Belgium in 1962.  Soon afterwards, increasingly violent power struggles began between Hutus, which makes up 80% of the population in Rwanda, and Tutsis, with approximately 15% of the population (a third group, the Twas, make up about 1% of the population and have long been subjugated by the other two). This civil war culminated in 1994 when 800,000 Tutsis, Twas and moderate Hutus were killed by their Hutu neighbours.

Though Tutsis and Hutus share the same language, religion and culture, the division between the two groups is a long-standing one. However, it was the process of colonisation that forever changed what was once a fluid essentially socio-economic distinction between Hutus (who were historically farmers) and Tutsis (traditionally herders) into a rigid ethnic separation. It is especially Belgian colonising forces that are to blame for the ethnic divisions that tear apart Rwanda today.  Indeed, it was the Belgians who imposed the use of identity cards that indicate race (Hutu, Tutsi or Twa). These cards were used during the genocide to decide the fate of their owner.  The Belgians considered the Tutsis, who are typically taller and lighter-skinned, more European and therefore superior to the Hutus.  For this reason, they placed the Tutsis in charge of the colonial administration and gave them certain privileges. For example, higher education and government jobs were reserved for Tutsis.  These policies created a sense of resentment amongst Hutus and they strove to take back control of Rwanda after the Belgians’ departure.

After years of civil war, the hostility between Tutsis and Hutus peaked in April 1994 when the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of Rwanda were killed when their plane was hit by a missile. In three months, 800,000 Tutsis, Twas and moderate Hutus were brutally murdered at the hands of their countrymen. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established by the United Nations Security Council in November 1994 to bring those who had planned and participated in the genocide to justice.  Local trials called gacacas have also been employed to try the thousands of persons accused of having taken part in the massacres.  The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) was also created to help promote cooperation and cohabitation between traumatized communities.



The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) was created in 1999 with the goal to combat discrimination and to erase the negative consequences of the genocide on the Rwandan people.  According to article 178 of the Rwandan Constitution, the NURC is focused on:

  1. Preparing and coordinating the national programs for the promotion of national unity and reconciliation;
  2. Putting in place and developing ways and means to restore and consolidate unity and reconciliation among Rwandans;
  3. Educating and mobilizing the population on matters relating to national unity and reconciliation;
  4. Carrying out research, organizing debates, disseminating ideas and making publications relating to peace, national unity and reconciliation;
  5. Making proposals on measures that can eradicate divisions among Rwandans and to reinforce national unity and reconciliation;
  6. Denouncing and fighting against acts, writings and utterances which are intended to promote any kind of discrimination, intolerance or xenophobia;
  7. Making an annual report and such other reports as may be necessary on the situation of national unity and reconciliation.



The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission is composed of three major organs:

  • The Council of Commission members, comprised of 12 Commissioners, and the highest organ of the Commission
  • The Executive Committee, made up of the Chairperson, the Deputy Chairperson and the Executive Secretary
  • The Permanent Secretariat, under the direction of Executive Secretary.

Information and communication, planning, monitoring and evaluation, coordinating the Commission’s programmes, public relations with other organs and internal auditor services are part of the Secretariat and also under the direct responsibility of the Executive Secretary.

Furthermore, since April 2006, the Secretariat is composed of three departments:

  • The Department of Civic Education (CE);
  • The Department of Conflict Management and Peace Building (CMPB);
  • The Department of Administration and Finance (DAF).



Unlike other commissions of its type, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate does not include a truth-finding component because this function is being fulfilled by the ICTR and the gacaca process.  To reach its goal of reconciliation, the Commission has developed a number of tools:

1. Peace-building and Reconciliation Programme

The objective of this programme is to gather the population of Rwanda to debate topics related to national politics.  The aim is to confront the deeply held perceptions regarding the past, present and future and to combat sectarianism and to instead promote respect for human rights. The diversity of approaches –seminars, conferences and debates that are broadcast on the radio and on television as well as regular regional meetings – allows for a populist approach to these themes which takes into account the opinion surveys taken by NURC in all 106 districts of the country.

The INDANDO (“solidarity camps”) are also part of this approach.  They promote the integration of newly returned emigrants by ensuring their safety and initiating them into the principles of peaceful coexistence, tolerance and good governance preached by the government.  These camps are meant to bring together different groups of people: youth, teachers, government workers, doctors and those suspected of having participated in the genocide who have been paroled.  The INDANDO last forty-five days and are run and directed jointly by the heads of NURC and Rwandan political figures. Attendance at one of these camps is mandatory for university students receiving state-funded scholarships.

2. Support for community based initiatives

The NURC encourages the participation of the community in the fight against poverty. The Commission provides financial support to more than sixty non-profits that work on community development and whose members include survivors, perpetrators and people whose family members are in prison.

Reconciliation clubs have been formed in schools and in universities. Students have also formed their own associations such as the Student Club for Unity and Reconciliation (SCUR). These organize visits to the genocide memorialisation sites to honour the victims.

The NURC gives support to national unity and reconciliation clubs and associations by providing educational material for reconciliation activities. Commission instructors travel throughout Rwanda to help establish community initiatives.

3. National Summit

The national summit is the star project of the Commission. It is led by the president of the NURC and brings together the people of Rwanda as well as important persons from the international community.  It is a public forum that informs the public of the progress and achievements of the NURC.  It is also meant to collect suggestions and recommendations from the population about how to better serve the goal of reconciliation.  The first summit was held in October 2000, followed by another in October 2002, a youth summit in 2004 and another national gathering in December 2006.

4. Community Festival

The Commission supports annual community festivals that play an important role in the reconciliation process.  The NURC encourages cultural activities such as theatre, music, dance and art as tools of social transformation and to strengthen unity amongst the people of Rwanda.  These festivals help to pass along the message of peace, tolerance, unity and social justice that the Commission aims to promote.



The NURC published a report on its activities in 2001.  Research on various aspects of the reconciliation process has led to the publication of a host of different reports:

  1. The role of women in Reconciliation and Peace building in Rwanda
  2. The impact assessment of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission
    Between October and December 2005, a complete evaluation of the impact of the NURC was conducted by experts from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation in South Africa. The project was financed by the United Nations Development Programme.
  3. The Origin of the Rwandan Conflict
    On January 28, 2005, the NURC presented its research on the origin of the Rwanda conflict. This included an analysis of its nature, its root causes and the challenges and opportunities faced by Rwandan society. This research was conducted under the direction of Dr. Anastase Shyaka, a Professor at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) and a Researcher with the Centre for Conflict Management (CCM) based at the NUR.
  4. The causes of violence after the 1994 Genocide
  5. Social Cohesion in Rwanda
  6. Community conflicts in Rwanda: Major causes and ways to solutions
    This report analyses the causes of the conflict in Rwanda and strategies that can be used to mitigate them.  The NURC conclude that ethnic tensions continue to play an important role in Rwanda today but that poverty, lack of education, overpopulation, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other problems also create instability.



The Commission helped to create a law on the repression of discrimination and sectarianism and helped to ensure that the text of such laws is consistent with the goals of unity and reconciliation.

The ethnic classification once found on identity cards is no longer present. Access to education, jobs and public services is now offered based on personal merits. The new Constitution, which came into force in May 2003, makes it illegal to disseminate separatist ideas or to promote ethnic differences.  It also mandates that at least 30% of seats in Parliament should be filled by women.

Hutu military forces and former RPF combatants, once mortal enemies, have now been integrated into a single national army.

Overall, the reconciliation process has had successes and has helped Rwanda to emerge from its period of transition.  More than four million refugees have returned to Rwanda and the majority of them have been able to recover their wealth.  More than 300,000 orphans have been adopted without regard to their ethnic group.



  • ABU-NIMER Mohammed, ed. Reconciliation, Justice and Coexistence: Theory and Practice, New York: Lexington, 2001
  • BARSALOU Judy, Trauma and Transitional Justice in Divided Societies, Special Report 135, Washington DC: USIP, 2005
  • BAR-SIMON-TOV Yaacov, From Conflict Resolution to Reconciliation, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003
  • DE GRUCHY John W., Reconciliation: Restoring Justice, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002
  • HAYNER Priscilla B., Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions, New York, Routeledge, 2000
  • HONEYMAN C., Gacaca Jurisdictions: Transitional Justice in Rwanda, Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002
  • MINOW M., ROSENBLUM N., Breaking the Cycles of Hatred: Memory, Law, and Repair, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003
  • MINOW Martha, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence, Boston: Beacon Press, 1998
  • MUJAWAYO Esther, SOUAD Belhaddad, La fleur de Stéphanie : Rwanda entre réconciliation et déni, Flammarion 2006
  • PRAGER Carole A.L., GOVIER Trudy, eds. Dilemmas of Reconciliation: Cases and Concepts, Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2003
  • UVIN Peter, and MIRONKO C., "Western and Local Approaches to Justice in Rwanda.", Global Governance vol. 9, no. 2, 2003, pp. 219-31




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