SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, held a debate earlier this month on the role of gacaca in Rwanda. The three participants have spent a great deal of time researching Rwanda both in and out of the country. Dr. Phil Clark (far left in the picture above) recently published a book on post-Genocide justice and reconciliation in Rwanda. Jens Meierhenrich (pictured centre) is the author of a forthcoming trilogy of books about Genocide and is also the brains behind Through a Glass Darkly. Lars Waldorf (pictured far right) was formerly a journalist and also head of Human Rights Watch’s Rwanda field office between 2002-03.
The debate was fascinating. I learned more about gacaca in 1 hour 40 minutes than I have from living in Rwanda and reading about Rwanda for the past year. You can listen to the entire audio of the debate (not great quality, but listenable. It was recorded on my iPhone) by clicking the link below. Here are three key quotes from each participant,
“In my view gacaca, what it did, is it promoted social control over the population in part by imposing a sense of collective guilt on the majority Hutu population. And I think this is in keeping with many within the RPF regime there’s a sense that they’re sitting on a largely guilty Hutu majority and what they want to do is keep the lid on them which explains repression and at the same time engage in really ambitious re-education of the population,” said Lars Waldorf
“Gacaca has had some major shortcomings in terms of justice and I think it would be remiss not to recognise that. Certainly I don’t buy the entire argument that gacaca falls down on due process basis, but there have been serious due process concerns. I’ve observed many hearings where I think justice has been given very short shrift, many suspects have been whizzed through this process very quickly with very poor or very weak evidence presented. But, also I do think the concerns about due process in gacaca have been overstated,” said Dr. Phil Clark
“What did the jurisdictions do? I believe the contributions were; they produced uncertainty, they created fear, they caused trauma (individual and collective), they fomented exclusion and necessitated coercion and they invited corruption. Again, that’s not to say there were no positive contributions,” Jens Meirehenrich
You can download the entire 1 hr 40 minutes of the debate on gacaca at SOAS here. The quotes above are a poor summary of the nuances of the full debate. Remember this debate, in effect, distills almost 30 years of combined research between these three academics, into less than 2 hours.
I hope to meet with these researchers again in the coming months on an individual basis. As and when I do, I will upload the discussions as audio files and/or transcripts.
From late 1994 onwards we all knew that there was a need for some sort of judicial process but in a country reduced to ground zero and with none of the relevant infrastructure or personnel required. There were also - to put it mildly - a lot of other matters to deal with by a very limited number of people.
In the meantime NGOs like HRW and AI were quick to insist that the system must be perfect and that Gacaca would be no good but did nothing to try to address the practical problems mentioned in my previous para. Did they campaign for international funding for the judicial system or have any practical ideas? Er, no.
AI's attitude is summed up by the recent trip to Rwanda (at the request of the govt of Rwanda) to advise on the law against genocide ideology. You might think they would embrace this opportunity to help a govt that is naturally hostile to being told what to do by foreigners. The result was AI rushing off and printing a report saying how terrible it all was. The attitude seemed to be "we make money by criticising and have no interest in helping people who might be affected by a law we say is unclear".
So 16 years after Genocide 3 men can sit in the comfort of London and criticise Gacaca after the event and of course use it as an opportunity to stick the knife into the Rwandan govt - in particular no surprise for the ex-HRW man. If the system was not perfect, no doubt they will say that this was by design. As Private Eye would say "well fancy that!".