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Restorative Justice and Collective Responsibility: Lessons for and From the Rwandan Genocide

Drumbl, Mark A
June 4, 2015

Source: (2002) Contemporary Justice Review. 5(1):5-22.

Genocide struck Rwanda in 1994. Since then, national and international trials have endeavored to promote reconciliation, deterrence, peace, justice, and human rights. This article posits a disconnect between these trials and the attainment of their avowed goals. This disconnect emerges in part from the influential agendas of international lawyers who equate selevtive criminal prosecution with the “rule of law” and espouse criminal prosecution as the prefered and uniform response to mass atrocity. Creating a presumption in favor of criminal prosecution has dampened the need to explore whether such trials actually are suitable to for the particular afflictied society. A socio-legal analysis suggests that Rwanda is precisely a place where constructed notions of what “rule of law” ought to be are supplanting the need to implement reconstructive policies that may be best for Rwanda. In particular the populist nature of the Rwandan genocide, coupled with the vast level of victimization, suggest that a shame-based restorative approach may be more successful in promoting reconciliation, deterrence, and peace than the guilt-based retributive approach currently in vogue. This article argues that, when the law blames occurences of genocidal evil largely on the existence of some evil people, it obscures the fact that so many people, to varying degrees of complicity, are required for this evil to result in so many deaths.


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