'Does the truth pass across the fire without burning?' Locating the short circuit in Rwanda's Gacaca courts
Institute of Development Policy and Management
Journal of modern African studies. - Cambridge, 1963, currens
, p. 507-528
University of Antwerp
The modernised tradition of the Gacaca courts has become the key mechanism for dealing with the past in Rwanda. The process needs to establish accountability for all acts of genocide and to foster reconciliation. Nevertheless, popular narratives and survey results reveal that a widespread crisis accompanied the initial stages of the Gacaca process. We argue that a problematic quest for the truth is short-circuiting reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda. Truth-telling is the cornerstone of the transitional justice framework due to the design of the Gacaca tribunals. On the basis of twenty months of fieldwork in Rwandan villages, we locate tensions at different levels. The Gacaca system is a distinctively modern phenomenon despite its traditional appearance. The state-sanctioned speaking of the truth according to a prosecutorial logic runs counter to the core values of the customary institution and established societal practices. This friction is further enhanced by the underlying Judeo-Christian model of truth-telling introduced with the Gacaca system in a socio-political environment mediated by a culture of deceit and dominated by a war victor. In such a socio-cultural context, communication serves the interests of the power holders (national and local), and not necessarily the interest of truth-telling and justice.