Inside Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts
Seeking Justice after Genocide
After the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, victims, perpetrators, and the country as a whole struggled to deal with the legacy of the mass violence. Neighbour had attacked neighbour, and once the killing was over, genocide-survivors often lived near those who had murdered their family-members or friends. Rwanda’s government attempted to deal with this situation by creating a new version of a traditional grassroots justice system called gacaca. But the new gacaca-courts were nothing like the popular image of a calm discussion under the oldest tree in the village followed by a just solution, and people living happily ever. Inside Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts examines what the gacaca-courts set out to do, how they worked, what they achieved, what they did not achieve, and how they affected Rwandan society.
Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in the Rwandan countryside, the book contains vivid firsthand recollections, interviews, and trial-testimony from victims and perpetrators, witnesses and lay judges alike. It weaves together this personal witness and reflection with systematic analysis of 2,000 trials to demonstrate how this grassroots process got rerouted under the weight of the Rwandan state and through the pragmatism of the Rwandan peasantry.
Once set in motion, gacaca shifted from confession to accusation, and focused less on restoration and more on retribution. Over time, fewer and fewer people took part, and the system developed a tendency to judge genocide-crimes harshly while ignoring war-crimes and revenge-killings.
By providing rich evidence from the Rwandan grassroots, the book articulates precisely why popular conceptions of what is true and just matter and how localized transitional justice processes change over time and vary in space. It also shows what – at the grassroots and beyond – is at stake and what can make a difference when societies worldwide attempt to deal with the legacies of mass violence and human rights abuses.
Bert Ingelaere is a lecturer at the Institute of Development Policy and Management, University of Antwerp, Belgium. He is the coeditor of Genocide, Risk and Resilience: An Interdisciplinary Approach.
Nancy J. Gates-Madsen:
Trauma, Taboo, and Truth-Telling
Listening to Silences in Postdictatorship Argentina
In the aftermath of state-terror, silence carries its own deep meanings
Argentina’s repressive 1976–83 dictatorship, during which an estimated thirty thousand people were “disappeared,” prompted the postauthoritarian administrations and human rights groups to encourage public exposure of past crimes and traumas. Truth-commissions, trials, and other efforts have aimed to break the silence and give voice to the voiceless. Yet despite these many reckonings, there are still silences, taboos, and unanswerable questions.
Nancy J. Gates-Madsen reads between the lines of Argentine cultural texts (fiction, drama, testimonial narrative, telenovela, documentary film) to explore the fundamental role of silence—the unsaid—in the expression of trauma. Her careful examination of the interplay between textual and contextual silences illuminates public debate about the meaning of memory in Argentina—which stories are being told and, more important, which are being silenced. The imposition of silence is not limited to the military domain or its apologists, she shows; the human rights community also perpetuates and creates taboos.
Nancy J. Gates-Madsen is an associate professor of Spanish at Luther College. She is the co-translator of Violet Island and Other Poems by Reina María Rodríguez.