Back to RJ Archive

Justice & Reconciliation in Rwanda: An evaluation of judicial responses to genocide and mass atrocities.

Brandner, Anne
June 4, 2015

Source: (2003) M.A. thesis, Political Science, Faculty of Graduate Studies, The University of Western Ontario, London, Canada. Downloaded 16 November 2005.

In the aftermath of a massive atrocity such as the Rwandan genocide, how should a
nation respond? Should justice or national reconciliation take priority? Must the two aims
compete? What type of institutions and processes constitute the most appropriate
response? In political, legal and academic circles alike, these questions remain divisive.
Some propose that a form of retributive justice is paramount and that criminal
prosecutions are the essential response to atrocities such as genocide. Others argue for the
necessity of conciliatory mechanisms and restorative initiatives focusing on
acknowledgment of injuries, restoration of relationships and achieving cooperation and
trust. How effective, appropriate and complete are each of these approaches individually?
This paper examines the comparative utility of these approaches in developing
judicial approaches to mass atrocities in a post-conflict situation, and juxtaposes them
with the institutions and processes currently being employed to deal with those
responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The paper will discuss the progression of
Rwanda’s search for justice, and analyze the effectiveness of the International Criminal
Tribunal for Rwanda, the Rwandan national courts, and the Gacaca Tribunals in
achieving justice and contributing to the process of national reconciliation.
Bringing together the theoretical examination (Part I) and the Rwandan case study
(Part II), this paper will suggest that in post-conflict situations like Rwanda where
impunity remains rampant and relationships broken, neither a purely retributive, nor a
purely restorative approach to justice is sufficient. Rather, an appropriate and effective
judicial response to a mass atrocity must apply a balance of retributivism and restorative
justice principles, dealing with crime as both, and equally, a violation of law and harm
and injury to persons and relationships. In this way, an appropriate response should
reinforce the rule of law while also fostering participation in judicial processes and
addressing personal injuries. Rwanda’s establishment of Gacaca Tribunals may become a
good example of this kind of judicial response, which is likely both to promote justice
and facilitate reconciliation for the Rwandan people. Author’s abstract.


Support the cause

We've Been Restoring Justice for More Than 40 Years

Your donation helps Prison Fellowship International repair the harm caused by crime by emphasizing accountability, forgiveness, and making amends for prisoners and those affected by their actions. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results are transformational.

Donate Now