Academic journal article Global Governance

Western and Local Approaches to Justice in Rwanda

Academic journal article Global Governance

Western and Local Approaches to Justice in Rwanda

Article excerpt

Rwanda represents an important test case for the emerging international postconflict agenda. The so-called international community has rarely invested so massively in justice and human rights as part of an attempt to restore peace and promote democracy and reconciliation. These efforts come in the wake of the worst genocide of the late twentieth century, leaving up to 800,000 dead by mid-1994. (1) Of course, good intentions never guaranteed good outcomes, and this is especially true for a society as destroyed, divided, suspicious, poor, and traumatized as Rwanda's. In this article we analyze the local politics and perceptions of postgenocide justice in Rwanda and the relationship of justice to peace, democracy, and reconciliation.

There are currently three types of efforts to deal with the perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda, and all receive significant international support: the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the formal domestic justice system, and gacaca. We present the aims of the international community for each type and juxtapose these with the internal politics within Rwanda. We argue that the first two Western-inspired systems of justice have proven incapable of addressing the needs of Rwanda. The third system, gacaca, offers a promising alternative to achieve not only justice, but reconciliation and grassroots empowerment as well. This promise, however, also poses risks.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

The ICTR--whose full name is the International Criminal Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Genocide and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Rwanda and Rwandan Citizens Responsible for Genocide and Other Such Violations Committed in the Territory of Neighboring States Between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994--is the product of the international community; it is fully managed and funded by it and exists to no small extent over the objections of the government of Rwanda.

The language of the 1994 UN Security Council Resolution 955 authorizing the ICTR refers to its aim "to contribute to the process of national reconciliation and to the restoration and maintenance of peace, . . .contribute to ensuring that such violations are halted and effectively redressed, . . . strengthen the courts and judicial system of Rwanda, having regard in particular to the necessity for those courts to deal with large numbers of suspects." However, the ICTR's prime function is widely perceived to be the reaffirmation of the international community's own morality. The ICTR is not a form of deterrence--it will take a lot more than nine persons convicted in eight years to deter future bloodshed in the region--nor does it impact on dynamics of reconciliation or lighten the burden on the Rwandan justice system. Rather, it is about symbolic politics: we, the international community, do care about Rwanda, are outraged by it, and solemnly pledge to show our disapproval. This move was necessary in the light of the total inaction of that same community during the genocide, which was widely perceived as shameful.

The record of the ICTR is mixed. Legally, some of its work was groundbreaking. The court's 1998 verdict of Jean-Paul Akayesu was the first-ever conviction by an international court for the crime of genocide. In 1999, the first confession of genocide was registered, by Jean Kambanda, Rwanda's interim prime minister. In addition, for the first time, an individual was convicted of rape as a crime against humanity. On the negative side, the ICTR is mainly famous for its bureaucratic inefficiency and political infighting (partly changed now) and the slowness of its work. Indeed, in more than seven years, the tribunal has produced remarkably little: by early 2002, with 800 employees and after having spent approximately U.S.$540 million, it had handed down eight convictions and one acquittal, with seven trials for seventeen accused in progress, two appeals pending, and fifty-five suspects in the tribunal's custody. …

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