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“Transitional Justice Practitioners in Rwanda: Writing and Implementing the Gacaca Legal Framework”

From 2004 to 2012, 15,300 Gacaca courts ruled on over 2 million cases of genocide crimes committed in 1994, during which an estimated 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed.

The Gacaca process is a popular tribunal system inspired by a traditional form of conflict resolution, which was modified to deal with the judicial and penitentiary burden created by the genocide. The 2004 Gacaca law establishes various aims, such as to establish truth, to instil reconciliation, to reinsert victims and culprits into society, and to fight against impunity. It refers to international and national legislation and Rwandan culture. While it is often depicted as a traditionally based system in policy discourse, it became s…trictly defined by the legal framework.

This complex legal framework was the culmination of long negotiations between various positions and concerns expressed by national and international actors involved in the Gacaca preparation. The Gacaca process inevitably deviated from the framework. Each community implemented the gacaca law according to its experience of the genocide and their current circumstances. Some 20 years after the genocide, the national political agenda has moved away from transitional justice matters. Former donors of Gacaca have gradually disengaged from the process; the main supporters have re-orientated their aid towards other matters. At the same time, the law that terminated Gacaca courts transferred competences to other institutions in 2012. This transfer received limited attention from the practitioners interviewed during my fieldwork. Using anthropological methods, my research scrutinised these negotiations between TJ practitioners in relations to the writing and implementation of the Gacaca legal framework marked by the infiltration of social and political dimensions.

Astrid Jamar joined the Political Settlements Research Programme in June 2015 at the School of Law, University of Edinburgh and has been researching transitional justice in Rwanda and Burundi since 2006. From 2008 to 2011, Astrid gained field experience working with several international NGOs and local institutions implementing transitional justice processes in these two countries. Reflection upon these experiences in academic and policy-oriented research formed the basis of her doctoral research at the University of Sussex.

Through her PhD dissertation, “Transitional Justice Battlefield – An Aidnography of Practitioners’ Everyday in Burundi and Rwanda”, she aims to describe the institutionalisation and professionalization of transitional justice and aid practices.


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