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THE DARKER SIDE OF TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: THE POWER DYNAMICS BEHIND RWANDA'S GACACA COURTS

Abstract
ABSTRACT

In this article, I argue that the praise of legal and political analysts who perceive Rwanda's gacaca courts as a model of locally grounded and culturally relevant transitional justice is unfounded without consideration of the broader power dynamics in which justice is delivered. Drawing on life history interviews with 37 Rwandan peasants resident in the south-west of the country, I argue that the claims of the Rwandan government that its gacaca courts are promoting peace and reconciliation must also assess the impact of local justice mechanisms on those subject to its demands, namely ordinary people. In the case of Rwanda's gacaca courts, local-level analysis illuminates a darker and largely unexamined aspect of transitional justice – the playing out of local power dynamics and the social and political inequalities masked by the pursuit of justice and reconciliation. My study cautions against a wholesale endorsement of the gacaca courts as an effective and legitimate form of transitional justice. Instead, it is a mechanism of state power than works to reinforce the political power of the ruling RPF and to ply international audiences with the idea that Rwanda is ‘a nation rehabilitated’ from ‘the scourge of genocide’.

RÉSUMÉ

Cet article soutient que les louanges faites aux analystes juridiques et politiques qui perçoivent les tribunaux gacaca rwandais comme un modèle de justice transitionnelle localement ancrée et culturellement adaptée n'ont de fondement qu’à condition de prendre en compte la dynamique du pouvoir plus large dans laquelle cette justice s'exerce. S'appuyant sur des entretiens de récits de vie menés auprès de 37 paysans rwandais résidant dans le Sud-Ouest du pays, l'article soutient également que les assertions du Gouvernement rwandais selon lesquelles les tribunaux gacaca promeuvent la paix et la réconciliation doivent également évaluer l'impact des mécanismes de la justice locale sur ceux qu'elle contraint, à savoir les gens ordinaires. Dans le cas des tribunaux gacaca rwandais, une analyse à l’échelle locale met en lumière un aspect plus sombre et largement non étudié de la justice transitionnelle: l'exercice de la dynamique du pouvoir local et les inégalités sociales et politiques masquées par la quête de justice et de réconciliation. L'article met en garde contre un soutien total des tribunaux gacaca en tant que forme de justice transitionnelle efficace et légitime. Il s'agit plutôt d'un mécanisme de pouvoir d’État qui œuvre à renforcer le pouvoir politique du RPF actuellement au pouvoir et à vendre aux publics internationaux l'idée que le Rwanda est une nation qui s'est remise du fléau du génocide.

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Africa
  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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