An assessment of Rwanda’s gacaca courts

Monday 7 November 2022

Longman, Timothy. Peace Review 21, no. 3 (2009): 304-312.

The justice processes which took place in Rwanda following the 1994 genocide have received much press, mostly positive. But Longman, like some other authors examining the processes in retrospect, adds nuance to this narrative of success by drawing attention to some of its harsher realities.

He begins by drawing a positive picture of the gacaca courts, which are organised locally within communities in hope of creating bonds. To some extent, he is summarising the praise they have received, primarily from the governments of Rwanda and the West, and from the UN. However, he goes on to note negative developments which have occurred at the same time, such as the murdering of witnesses, the hierarchical organisation of society on ethnic lines, and manipulation of the process to asserting government legitimacy – as the government which appeared after the genocide was often contested. Longman details how these problems have developed, but also why we should take inspiration from the virtues of the gacaca, so long as it is implemented with better intentions, includes protection for the people participating, and is detached from the new government.

I think this article is particularly relevant to peace processes, as it explains the importance of fully thinking through what steps are to be implemented and in what manner. The article places peace within the storybook frame as an essential chapter in history.

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