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Journal ArticleDOI

Psychosocial interventions and children's rights: Beyond clinical discourse.

01 Mar 2002-Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.)-Vol. 8, Iss: 1, pp 47-61

AbstractThere has been a significant increase in psychosocial interventions in the aftermath of ethno-political violence. Rwanda after genocide received sustained psychological attention and this paper critically examines the contribution of psychosocial interventions to the broader development agenda of reconstruction and rehabilitation. We undertake a brief psychologically informed analysis of the factors that contributed to genocide as a means of outlining the political and cultural context in which psychosocial interventions operate. During the violence, ethnicity was politically mobilised, communities polarised, social networks fragmented. An analysis of psychosocial interventions for children highlights that programmes have not examined implications of social power and status before reintegration and community based psychosocial interventions have been slow to develop. An examination of how psychological knowledge has been utilised in post-genocide re-constructive efforts shows that ‘trauma’ has been a dominant discourse. We explore the potential impact of a narrow focus on victims and survivors on societal rehabilitation, and reflect on the implications of how ‘trauma’ may be appropriated and politicised as a symbol of genocide and political legitimacy. This leads to reflection on groups that have been marginalised from psychosocial support and the potential implications of this. The paper concludes with an analysis of what a rights framework can contribute to psychosocial interventions in linking psychosocial work more centrally to broader political and development analysis.

Topics: Psychosocial (64%), Psychological intervention (54%), Genocide (52%)

Summary (2 min read)

Publisher statement:

  • “This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal.
  • Information on how to cite items within roar@uel: http://www.uel.ac.uk/roar/openaccess.htm#Citing.
  • To appear in: Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology Feb 2002 Psychosocial interventions and children’s rights: Beyond clinical discourse Angela Veale, Ph. D., Department of Applied Psychology, National University of Ireland, Cork, Ireland.

A psychological analysis of the Rwandan genocide

  • Before attempting to understand the contribution of psychosocial programs for children in Rwanda, it is important to understand the local context in which intervention operates.
  • With independence and the 1959 social revolution, power was violently switched from the Tutsi to the hands of the Hutus From 1961 to 1964, Tutsi refugees launched guerrilla assaults from Rwanda’s borders.
  • In the Rwandan context, where social power is dealt with secretly e.g. akazu (inner political circle, family) and is not necessarily verbalized (Rukebesha, 1985), this facilitated genocide to occur (Uvin, 1998).

A critical analysis of psychosocial interventions

  • In Rwanda, the large numbers of children moved from children’s centers to community settings through reunification and fostering is regarded as a key indicator of success.
  • Children can even occupy contradictory positions; for example in Rwanda, an uncle may regard a reunified child as his own but the child’s status among peers in the community may be as an orphan.
  • This captures one of the main dynamics in communities post-genocide, the difficulty of voicing issues of frayed social relations, radicalized ethnic identity, distrust and “no more fellowship between people”.
  • The Rwandan genocide has become fundamentally a story of individual and societal trauma.
  • A gender bias in the delivery of psychological interventions may have political implications that is worthy of further analysis.

Implications of the trauma model

  • ‘Trauma’ therefore has been a dominant psychological discourse in Rwanda.
  • The National Trauma Center was overseen by an inter-ministerial committee composed of representatives of various Ministries, and it is currently managed within the Ministry of Health.
  • Trauma approaches sit comfortably with the dominant narrative of genocide, victim and survivor, widows and orphans, and the political consolidation of this as the Rwandan identity in international circles.
  • Arguably, trauma approaches, in the absence of an analysis of their political embeddedness, identify with and perpetuate a narrative that does not necessarily promote unity, reintegration and reconciliation.
  • Yet there has been no advocacy for the children of the 90,000 detained parents who have the obligation of taking food to the prison but no contact is allowed, thus this relationship has effectively ceased to function.

Role of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

  • There is some tensions between principles of the Convention and the positioning of the child in Rwandan culture.
  • While psychological needs are perceived to have their locus in the internal psychological world of the child, a rights focus makes psychological rights indivisible from economic, political, social and cultural rights (Reichenberg & Friedman, 1996).
  • Even within family contexts, power and status is linked to opportunity and resources, and not all children have equal status, as Rwandan proverbs on the orphan child attest to.
  • Psychologists have begun to play a role in the emerging arena of reconciliation work.

Conclusion

  • This article has analyzed psychosocial responses for children in Rwanda in the aftermath of ethno-political violence, and it has attempted to situate psychosocial work within the wider political and social context.
  • There has been an unreflective focus on women and children, rather than men and adolescent boys, who arguably are more politically threatening.
  • Interventions have been unreflective of local knowledge and understanding.
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child challenges child oriented psychosocial interventions to move from a needs to a rights based analysis, and it provides a framework for psychologists to articulate the contribution of psychologically informed analysis in the arena of humanitarian assistance.
  • More challenging, it forces psychologists to situate their own knowledge in a broader economic, social cultural, and political perspective.

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Author(s): Angela Veale and Giorgia Donà
Article Title: Psychosocial Interventions and Children’s Rights: Beyond Clinical
Discourse
Year of publication: 2002
Citation: Veale, A. and Donà, G. (2002) Psychosocial Interventions and Children’s
Rights: Beyond Clinical Discourse. Peace & Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology,
8(1), pp. 47-61.
Link to published version:
dx.doi.org/10.1207/S15327949PAC0801_5
Publisher statement:
This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA
journal. It is not the copy of record.
Information on how to cite items within roar@uel:
http://www.uel.ac.uk/roar/openaccess.htm#Citing

1
To appear in: Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology Feb 2002
Psychosocial interventions and children’s rights:
Beyond clinical discourse
Angela Veale, Ph. D.,
Department of Applied Psychology,
National University of Ireland, Cork,
Ireland.
Giorgia Donà, Ph.D.
Department of Anthropology and Sociology,
University of East London,
U.K.
Address for correspondence:
Angela Veale, Ph. D. Department of Applied Psychology, North Mall,
National University of Ireland, Cork,Ireland.
Phone 00-353-21-904551
Fax: 00-353-21-27043
E-mail: a.veale@ucc.ie

2
Abstract
There has been a significant increase in psychosocial interventions in the aftermath of ethno-
political violence. Rwanda after genocide received sustained psychological attention and this
paper critically examines the contribution of psychosocial interventions to the broader
development agenda of reconstruction and rehabilitation. We undertake a brief
psychologically informed analysis of the factors that contributed to genocide as a means of
outlining the political and cultural context in which psychosocial interventions operate.
During the violence, ethnicity was politically mobilised, communities polarised, social
networks fragmented. An analysis of psychosocial interventions for children highlights that
programmes have not examined implications of social power and status before reintegration
and community based psychosocial interventions have been slow to develop. An
examination of how psychological knowledge has been utilised in post-genocide re-
constructive efforts shows that ‘trauma’ has been a dominant discourse. We explore the
potential impact of a narrow focus on victims and survivors on societal rehabilitation, and
reflect on the implications of how ‘trauma’ may be appropriated and politicised as a symbol
of genocide and political legitimacy. This leads to reflection on groups that have been
marginalised from psychosocial support and the potential implications of this. The paper
concludes with an analysis of what a rights framework can contribute to psychosocial
interventions in linking psychosocial work more centrally to broader political and
development analysis.

3
Psychosocial Interventions and Children’s Rights: Beyond clinical discourse
As a discipline, psychology is struggling to articulate its contribution to policy and practice in
international post-conflict emergency and social reconstruction contexts (Mays et al., 1998).
Increasingly, psychologists work alongside local and international development professionals
in implementing strategies to address the impact of political violence on children, their
families and communities. Key child oriented policy documents on children in war such as
the Graça Machel Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children and the report of the
International Save the Children Alliance Working Group on Children affected by Armed
Conflict and Displacement have made explicit reference to the obligations of State parties
and non government organizations to support the psychological recovery and social
reintegration of children after war (Okorodudu, 1998).
The Machel study has established the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as
the guiding framework for policy and practice with respect to children in conflict and post
conflict situations. The Convention arguably offers a holistic framework for situating the
development of psychosocial programs in post emergency contexts (Wessells, 1997), yet a
child rights framework has been marginal within psychology until recently (Murphy-Berman
et al., 1996; Reichenberg & Freidman, 1996). Psychologists working with different cultural
and ethnic groups are often challenged about their assumptions and practices; similarly those
who work in non western conflict situations find themselves challenged to position
psychological analyses among non psychological discourses drawn from human rights,
political analysis, and development. Working in this multi-disciplinary environment
challenges psychologists to examine and define their voice in the complex political, socio-
cultural and rights oriented arena of humanitarian assistance.

4
Compared to other post-conflict contexts, the dominant narrative around Rwanda has
been a psychological one. Rwanda, in the aftermath of genocide, was targeted almost
immediately for psychologically informed programs to address perceived widespread trauma
(Summerfield,1999). According to Smith (1998), Rwanda, after genocide, continues to be
“deeply troubled” (p 751) and argues the need for widespread “social therapy” within a
psychocultural framework. He argues children in particular may have been most
psychologically affected by violence witnessed and experienced, and quotes the conclusions
of Geltman & Stover (1997) that in psychiatric interviews, “Our findings suggest that many
Rwandan children have suffered inordinate and in some cases, irreparable physical and
psychological damage…. if these children cannot reach some form of reconciliation with the
violence they have experienced, many may turn to maladaptive and violent behavior”(p29,
Geltman & Stover, in Smith, 199, p 752).
This article presents a critique of clinicalized approaches to psychosocial
intervention in non-Western settings and argues for a rights-based approach, linking
psychosocial assistance with political and economic reconstruction. We will do so by
exploring the challenges of developing psychosocial responses for children in Rwanda in the
aftermath of ethno-political violence. It aims to describe the types of responses that were
developed, and to reflect on what has been the contribution of psychosocial programs. The
analysis examines the positioning of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in
psychosocial policy and practice. The discussion explores the contribution of integrating a
psychological and a rights perspective more closely in post-conflict reconstruction in Rwanda
.
A psychological analysis of the Rwandan genocide
Before attempting to understand the contribution of psychosocial programs for children in
Rwanda, it is important to understand the local context in which intervention operates. The

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References
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Abstract: Pt. 1. Psychological and cultural bases of genocide and other forms of group violence: An introduction ; The origins of genocide and mass killing : core concepts ; The psychology of hard times : the effects of difficult life conditions ; Cultural and individual characteristics ; The psychology of perpetrators : individuals and groups ; Steps along a continuum of destruction : perpetrators and bystanders -- pt. 2. The Nazi Holocaust: Hitler comes to power ; Preconditions for the Holocaust in German culture ; Nazi rule and steps along the continuum of destruction ; The SS and the psychology of perpetrators ; The behavior and psychology of bystanders and victims -- pt. .3 Other genocides and mass killings: The Turkish genocide of the Armenians ; Cambodia : genocide to create a better world ; The disappearances : mass killing in Argentina ; Summary and conclusions : the societal and psychological origins of genocide and other atrocities -- pt. 4. Further extensions : the roots of war and the creation of caring and nonaggressive persons and societies: The cultural and psychological origins of war ; The nature of groups : security, power, justice, and positive connection ; The creation and evolution of caring, connection, and nonaggression.

961 citations


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TL;DR: It is argued that for the vast majority of survivors posttraumatic stress is a pseudocondition, a reframing of the understandable suffering of war as a technical problem to which short-term technical solutions like counselling are applicable.
Abstract: Programmes costing millions of dollars to address 'posttraumatic stress' in war zones have been increasingly prominent in humanitarian aid operations, backed by UNICEF, WHO, European Community Humanitarian Office and many nongovernmental organisations. The assumptions underpinning this work, which this paper critiques with particular reference to Bosnia and Rwanda, reflect a globalisation of Western cultural trends towards the medicalisation of distress and the rise of psychological therapies. This paper argues that for the vast majority of survivors posttraumatic stress is a pseudocondition, a reframing of the understandable suffering of war as a technical problem to which short-term technical solutions like counselling are applicable. These concepts aggrandise the Western agencies and their 'experts' who from afar define the condition and bring the cure. There is no evidence that war-affected populations are seeking these imported approaches, which appear to ignore their own traditions, meaning systems, and active priorities. One basic question in humanitarian operations is: whose knowledge is privileged and who has the power to define the problem? What is fundamental is the role of a social world, invariably targeted in today's 'total' war and yet still embodying the collective capacity of survivor populations to mourn, endure and rebuild.

869 citations


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  • ...This hints at locating understandings of mental health in an historical, collective analysis as opposed to internal and individualistic accounts typical of western psychology (Summerfield, 1999)....

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  • ...Rwanda, in the aftermath of genocide, was targeted almost immediately for psychologically informed programs to address perceived widespread trauma (Summerfield,1999)....

    [...]

  • ...…field, there is a debate as to whether psychological interventions in post-conflict contexts can often represent a de-contextualised response to the destruction of social fabric (Summerfield, 1999) or are a valuable solution for addressing the needs of affected populations (Agger, 1995)....

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  • ...While arguably ‘trauma’ may have been a Western model imposed on a non-Western context (Summerfield, 1999), trauma quickly became appropriated within a dominant political narrative (but without political reflection)....

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  • ...In PTSD models, a focus on individual needs has been argued to victimize and pathologise individual “sufferers” (Summerfield, 1999)....

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27 Oct 1989
Abstract: Pt. 1. Psychological and cultural bases of genocide and other forms of group violence: An introduction ; The origins of genocide and mass killing : core concepts ; The psychology of hard times : the effects of difficult life conditions ; Cultural and individual characteristics ; The psychology of perpetrators : individuals and groups ; Steps along a continuum of destruction : perpetrators and bystanders -- pt. 2. The Nazi Holocaust: Hitler comes to power ; Preconditions for the Holocaust in German culture ; Nazi rule and steps along the continuum of destruction ; The SS and the psychology of perpetrators ; The behavior and psychology of bystanders and victims -- pt. .3 Other genocides and mass killings: The Turkish genocide of the Armenians ; Cambodia : genocide to create a better world ; The disappearances : mass killing in Argentina ; Summary and conclusions : the societal and psychological origins of genocide and other atrocities -- pt. 4. Further extensions : the roots of war and the creation of caring and nonaggressive persons and societies: The cultural and psychological origins of war ; The nature of groups : security, power, justice, and positive connection ; The creation and evolution of caring, connection, and nonaggression.

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Book
01 Jan 1998
Abstract: This book should be read by everyone involved in development. For those with some knowledge of Rwanda, reading it is nothing short of a cathartic experience. Much of what Peter Uvin has distilled so carefully and passionately from the Rwandan experience is also painfully relevant for other parts of the world. - Development in Practice Paradigm-rocking... simply must be required reading for anyone who desires to set foot in an African nation, no matter how noble or lofty their goals. - WorldViews An invaluable anatomy of the way development aid to Rwanda before the genocide contributed to what took place - essential reading for anyone with a tender conscience and a strong stomach. - The New Republic *Winner of the African Studies Association's 1999 Herskovits Award *A boldly critical look at structural violence relating to the 1994 Rwanda genocide Aiding Violence expresses outrage at the contradiction of massive genocide in a country considered by Western aid agencies to be a model of development. Focusing on the 1990s dynamics of militarization and polarization that resulted in genocide, Uvin reveals how aid enterprises reacted, or failed to react, to those dynamics. By outlining the profound structural basis on which the genocidal edifice was built, the book exposes practices of inequality, exclusion, and humiliation throughout Rwanda.

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  • ...Yet is there a danger that ‘reconciliation and unity’ is being used for political purposes, as ‘trauma’ arguably is, while a silence remains around issues of power, structural violence and deprivation (Uvin, 1998)....

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  • ...akazu (inner political circle, family) and is not necessarily verbalized (Rukebesha, 1985), this facilitated genocide to occur (Uvin, 1998)....

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  • ...Uvin (1998) has written passionately that, where aid has been (and continues to be) responsible for as much as 80% of the total investment budget of the government; aid is “at the same time, external to the political processes that causes the genocide and constituent of them” (p 228; italics in…...

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  • ...Uvin (1998) rejects the “obedience” hypothesis and argues that Rwandan culture, like some others, values the “non expression of disagreement” which is not the same as obedience (p 215)....

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  • ...For example, impunity for past violence has been cited as a causal factor of genocide (Uvin, 1998), and could be regarded as closely linked to “the caprice of ancestral spirits”....

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Abstract: Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. In April 1994, the Rwandan government called upon everyone in the Hutu majority to kill each member of the Tutsi minority, and over the next three months 800,000 Tutsis perished in the most unambiguous case of genocide since Hitler's war against the Jews. Philip Gourevitch's haunting work is an anatomy of the war in Rwanda, a vivid history of the tragedy's background, and an unforgettable account of its aftermath. One of the most acclaimed books of the year, this account will endure as a chilling document of our time.

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  • ...Nkurunziza, a lawyer interviewed by Gourevitch (1998) said: Conformity is very deep, very developed here....

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  • ...It is not known how male perpetrators make sense of their actions; the question is unexamined but some accounts indicate it may be through denial, rationalization and intellectualization (Gourevitch, 1998)....

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  • ...Nkurunziza, a lawyer interviewed by Gourevitch (1998) said: “Conformity is very deep, very developed here....

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Frequently Asked Questions (1)
Q1. What contributions have the authors mentioned in the paper "Psychosocial interventions and children’s rights: beyond clinical discourse" ?

In this paper, the authors analyze psychosocial responses for children in Rwanda in the aftermath of ethno-political violence, and it has attempted to situate psycho-social work within the wider political and social context.