Gacaca courts, reconciliation and the politics of apology in post-genocide Rwanda

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By Callixte Kavuro, Doctorate candidate in public law and legal scholar

ABSTRACT

In post-conflict societies, the politics of apology is increasingly and heavily relied on for justice, accountability and reconciliation to be realised. The reason for this approach is to demand a public apology from perpetrators for their mass atrocities as a sign of acceptance of responsibility. There are a number of features of this form of politics of apology applied by Gacaca courts that will be explored in light of retributive and restorative justice. Given that confession, guilty plea, repentance and apology were applied as a threshold requirement in genocide trials, this paper will critically analyse their legal consequences in light of the question whether fair trial principles should have been applied with respect to those accused who were unwilling to come forward, confess and apologise. After contextualisation and assessment of the purpose of the politics of apology in post-genocide Rwanda, the paper concludes that the politics of apology was particularly applied as a disguised attempt to allocate collective guilt to the Hutu as a group and that collective guilt has the potential to place the Hutu population in a vulnerable position within post-genocide politics. With retributive justice, the Gacaca courts served to ensure that Hutus did not escape revenge but did little to foster reconciliation.

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