Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors in Rescuer Behavior: Examining Rescuer Behavior During the Rwandan Genocide

PI: Jennie E. Burnet

Funded by the National Science Foundation, this project examines rescuer behavior, community-level resistance to violence, and rescuer motivation during the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda. The study’s central question is: how and why do some people put themselves at great risk of harm to rescue others during communal violence? The study compares rescuer behavior among different ethnic and religious groups in that country to identify the intrinsic factors (such as character, identity, religious belief, and religious practice) and extrinsic factors (such as geography, proximity to victims, opportunity, and community structure) that make rescuer behavior possible. The researchers are investigating the potential impact of social network characteristics on resistance to genocide and are identifying aspects of faith, practice, leadership, or community structure that led to community-level resistance to genocide in certain locales. Using social science research methods, the project has gathered life history narratives, key informant interviews, testimony about the genocide, and social network data from more than 200 Rwandans in eight communities in Rwanda. A range of actors, including publicly recognized rescuers, bystanders, perpetrators, and victims have been interviewed. This research will contribute to the scientific understanding of rescuer behavior, resistance to communal violence, and the impact of religion on these behaviors. It will also assist policymakers to develop interventions to improve resistance to communal violence.