Local Perceptions of Justice and Identity Following Mass Participation in Rwanda's Gacaca Courts
Nowotny, Jordan J.
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This manuscript documents the findings from my fieldwork in Rwanda exploring stakeholder perceptions of the process and outcomes of the genocide court system known locally as Gacaca. In total, 57 judges, perpetrators, and local observers were interviewed and asked about their perspectives on the court’s procedural fairness, accomplishments, and legacy. Results from this study indicate that although some procedural characteristics of Gacaca benefitted court participants, these benefits were compromised by the burden placed on stakeholders and procedural shortcomings manifested by imbalanced power structures within communities. Respondents noted that procedural safeguards were particularly limited by the corruption of judges and witnesses that became more prevalent as the Gacaca process wore on. Respondents’ perceptions about personal justice-related accomplishments were also linked to thoughts on procedural justice. Additionally, survivors explained that they had hoped that the Gacaca courts would help them move on from past trauma but this was not always the case. Respondents also noted that participation in Gacaca may have discouraged healing and reconciliation when corruption or procedural irregularities were witnessed. Despite more than ten years of trials, many survivors are still coping with the violence that occurred in 1994. This work also discusses perceptions on the legacy of Rwanda’s genocide courts pertaining to reconciliation and hope for the future.