International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Peace VS Justice in the Gacaca example

Law, Power and Justice: What Legalism Fails to Address in the Functioning of Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts” gives an account of the complex relationship between law, power, and justice in regards to the ordinary Rwandan in post-genocide Rwanda. The article focuses on the power and influence of the state over the Gacaca process, specifically, on how the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front outlawed public discussion of ethnicity and at the same time scripted only one version of “truth” to be told in the Gacaca courts.

The RPF provides for “justice” through the Gacaca courts, which they control and limit the parameters of what constitute “truth.” Once the mandatory truth-telling and forgiving processes are completed, reconciliation is presumed to follow naturally. But ordinary Rwandas do not necessarily believe in this process. One interviewee, a peasant Tutsi widow, had strong opinions against the Gacaca:

“Don’t talk to me about gacaca! It is something that this new government has created to maintain its own power. It doesn’t care about survivors like me. They [local officials] have to make reconciliation appear and they do it by forcing us to forgive and forget. Forgiving and forgetting is a joke when justice has to be done a certain way. But for me, forgiving is impossible. I lost my family and am more poor now than ever. And the government says they are for Rwandans? Really, they are for themselves and we [peasants] are left to pick up the pieces. This is the justice of gacaca in Rwanda.”

Why do the RPF regime presses so hard for reconciliation (at least on the surface)? Its aim is no doubt at least in small part political – the Rwanda Patriotic Army has committed numerous war atrocities of its own and the RPF are trying to sweep those crimes under the rug. However, we must also question whether or not the RPF’s repressive measures are conducive in bringing about peace. While the Tutsi widow quotes about clearly do not feel that justice has been done, Rwanda, has, for the most part, been mostly peaceful post-genocide. The RPF has done remarkably well in reweaving the fabrics of society (even if by force).

Although the Gacaca courts serve as a more extreme example in the debate of justice vs peace, it does serve to illustrate the tension (and sometimes mutual exclusivity) of justice and peace. Should the RPF regime be held responsible for its repressive measures? Or should it be praised by re-introducing peace in a war-torn society?


One response to “Peace VS Justice in the Gacaca example

  1. alexj528 December 4, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    While the RPF appears to successfully deter violence, it seems extremely likely that such violence has merely been delayed-not prevented. Iliff’s writing depicts this possibility quite clearly, noting the general disregard for the reconciliation policies of the RPF, (as you also noted from the interview). As such, it is entirely feasible that disillusionment with the RPF and its policies could carry over to reconciliation itself, resulting in a possibility for renewed conflict if the RPF were to be deposed.

    However, as Iliff also notes, peaceful cohabitation is a necessity to reconciliation. It is possible that while the efforts of the RPF are ineffectual at achieving lasting peace, cohabitation in a period of state-enforced peace could allow for a separate, individual process of reconciliation to occur.

    I agree that while the methods of the RPF are extreme, and their motives highly political, some good may come of the period of enforced peace under their rule.

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