Inside Rwanda's Gacaca Courts
Seeking Justice After Genocide
University of Wisconsin Press 2016
New Books in African StudiesNew Books in Genocide StudiesNew Books in Human RightsNew Books in LawNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network April 13, 2017 Mireille Djenno
Rwanda’s homegrown gacaca law has been widely hailed as a successful indigenous solution to the unprecedented problem of the country’s 1994 genocide. In his book Inside Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts: Seeking Justice After Genocide (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016), Bert Ingelaere complicates this received wisdom by focusing on the way the post-genocide gacaca trials unfolded, rather than on their lofty goals, as framed by the public relations arm of the post-genocide Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) government and other interested parties, both internal and external to Rwanda.
The Kinyarwandan word gacaca, derived from the word umucaca, originally referred to a plant that was so soft to sit on that people preferred to gather on it during precolonial times to adjudicate disputes and crimes, but most importantly, to restore social order and harmony. During the colonial period, the jurisdiction and prevalence of gacaca was greatly restricted. Its re-emergence as a viable means of transitional justice in Rwanda following the genocide was a response to the volume of the associated crimes. Western-style court systems were simply unequal to the task of dealing with the 1,958,634 cases of alleged participation in the genocide.
The basis of this concise treatment of the gacaca court system and the transitional justice it sought to dispense between 2005 and 2012, is Ingelaere’s mixed methods research in Rwanda, which included extended field research, as well as proxy trial observation by his Rwandan collaborators. The books eight chapters provide an overview of the basic operational characteristics of gacaca and consider how we should qualify the outcomes of this ambitious process.
Mireille Djenno is the African Studies Librarian at Indiana University. She can be reached at [email protected]