Dealing with the Aftermath of Genocide in Rwanda

During the genocide in Rwanda between April and July 1994, some 800,000 people were killed, most of them Tutsis. The genocide was not without warning. It was the extreme escalation of a war that began on 1 October 1990 and ended with the conquest of the country in July 1994. Its consequences are still felt in the region today, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


The project addresses the development of Rwanda between June 2002 and June 2012. The first trial in the traditional Rwandan gacaca court system was held in June 2002. In June 2012, a formal ceremony attended by many guests from home and abroad closed this phase of dealing with the genocide by using this form of justice. The gacaca genocide tribunals frame the period of investigation, especially because they have remained a globally unprecedented and unique attempt to punish crimes of genocide by using a traditional justice system.


The project investigates how the gacaca court system is rooted in Rwandan tradition, what the characteristics of this jurisdiction are, and how the system was utilized to punish crimes of genocide. In particular, this concerns the extent to which gacaca contributed to a restoration of peaceful relations between the Hutu and Tutsi populations and perhaps even established the foundation for a process of reconciliation.


Since the gacaca court system is at the center of Rwanda’s attempt to deal with the past, these tribunals have been significant in ways that go far beyond the realm of justice. Gacaca promotes and strengthens the interpretation of historical phenomena and thus has a decisive influence on the development of a specific narrative. It forms in a sense the basis of a new Rwandan self-understanding that deliberately aims to break with the old regime, which is locked into a Hutu/Tutsi dichotomy. And this situation leads to further questions, beyond the actual sphere of justice. How is the educational system of "new" Rwanda equipped and what content does it disseminate? How do the judicial system and public administration function? What are the priorities for economic development in this country, the most densely populated in Africa? What principles and concepts guide Rwandan foreign policy? And of course, how do Rwandans view decisions made at the political level? Do they accept, perhaps even identify with this narrative that they encounter at various levels of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches?


It appears that Rwanda, more than twenty years after the genocide, is still a deeply divided country. Given the dimension of past violence, this is not surprising. What is surprising is the extent to which this has happened in an authoritarian way in the new Rwanda.


The project has been completed and the book on the investigation of the Rwandan genocide will be published shortly.


(Last modified February 2014)