Source: (2010) Harvard International Law Review. 32(2):48-52.

In practice, however, the benefits of trials in Rwanda remain unclear, while their negative consequences are substantial. In this essay, I draw on an extensive field research from a project conducted in Rwanda between 2001 and 2006 involving a national survey, hundreds of individual and focus group interviews, and ethnographic case studies of three local communities, to assess the impact of trials on social reconstruction. I first review Rwandan conceptions of justice and reconciliation, before looking at the various judicial initiatives that have been undertaken since 1994. Based on my research, I argue that far from serving to resolve conflicts and promote reconciliation, as their advocates claimed, trials have allowed an authoritarian government to consolidate its power, created insecurity in the population, and heightened ethnic divisions. Although gacaca has held many genocide perpetrators accountable and promoted dialogue in some communities, the gacaca process has promoted neither the restorative nor traditional judicial principles its supporters claimed. Instead, gacaca has been a retributive and punitive process used to promote a repressive political agenda and to settle many personal vendettas. (excerpt)