n Conflict Trends - The anatomy of mass accountability : confronting ideology and legitimacy in Rwanda's courts

Volume 2014, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1561-9818


Chief Justice of Rwanda Sam Rugege refers to his country's genocide, in which nearly 800 000 ethnic Tutsis were killed from April to July 1994, as a "circumstance that should never have arisen in the modern world". The modern world's failure to intervene militarily during the genocide was coupled with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda's (ICTR) inability to provide efficient and wide-reaching justice in the aftermath of the atrocity. Seven years after the genocide, the slow progression of ICTR prosecutions of the highest-level perpetrators, combined with the limited logistical resources of Rwanda's national courts, led the country to revamp local dispute resolution forums called ('on the grass'). operated from 2002 to 2012 in thousands of villages across a country in which virtually every member of society was a killer, a criminal, a victim or a witness.

This article presents a brief overview of the genocide and subsequent legal responses. This will be followed by an outline of various criticisms of in terms of its effectiveness and legitimacy as an innovative but untested approach to mass accountability. 's attempt to instil far-reaching but intimate justice - mirroring the genocide in its staggering scope, meticulous organisation and ambitious execution - will be assessed against post-genocide concerns of reintegration, but also societal needs of reconciliation that predate 1994. Rather than deter specific acts of violence, aimed to eradicate an entire culture of impunity that permitted mass complicity in genocide. Ultimately, this article highlights key areas of debate on 's operational procedures, legitimacy and effectiveness - all of which help to explain early evaluations of as a controversial model of transitional justice. It is then argued that 's long-term legacy needs to be evaluated in light of its attempts not only to meet mass violence with mass accountability, but also to confront historically ingrained violent ideologies throughout the country.

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