Source: (2012) e-International Relations. 30 July 2012.

The scenes of extreme overcrowding in Rwanda’s prisons, a domestic criminal justice system buckling under the weight of over 800,000 genocide-related prisoners awaiting trial (Wielenga and Harris 2011: 16; Khaleeli 2010) and a nation deficient of any remaining legal expertise constituted but a handful of factors which characterised early post-genocide Rwanda. This extreme situation required a radical solution, and so it is in this notion that a blend of the traditional restorative practices of gacaca was envisaged in light of contemporary needs. The restorative conception and intentions of the modern practice of gacaca were specifically designed as an alternative to Western models of retributive justice, in order to offer a more efficient, effective and long-term solution to the problems of national suffering and divisions. This essay therefore contends that gacaca constitutes an experiment in restorative justice, yet without ever fully achieving its own aims. It is within this assertion that the success of gacaca will be explored, and so rather than assuming that gacaca’s failings are indicative of the inherent weaknesses of restorative justice itself, this essay seeks to outline its strengths, using these as a measure in which to judge gacaca’s success. Firstly it is important to understand the nature of restorative justice, and so a full but nuanced conceptualisation of the term, influenced by Howard Zehr’s definition, will be offered. Within this framework the three core tenets of restorative justice, to repair, restore and establish responsibility, will be invoked as the main foundations on which to assess gacaca. Through this analysis it will be proven that gacaca was restorative in conceptualisation and intent. Primarily, therefore, gacaca can be viewed as a restorative justice experiment and in situating gacaca within the context of restorative justice the value of some of its elements can be understood. However, the extent to which gacaca can in practice be called a ‘success’ is dependent upon its realisation of these core tenets of restorative justice. As will be shown, however, gacaca did not fully implement these goals, but importantly also, external factors impeded its ability to deliver restorative justice wholly. Finally, the conclusions drawn from this analysis point towards some of the broader implications of gacaca as both an experiment and a failure of restorative justice, showing the relevance and potential that a restorative model of justice can hold, not just for Rwanda, but for contemporary global politics. (excerpt)


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