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Abstract

This paper argues that shifting the emphasis from the retributive nature of Gacaca to its restorative potential may, in the long term, offer better perspectives of peace and reconciliation to a deeply wounded society. It also argues that, where Gacaca retains its retributive element, it should do so while trying to respect the human rights of those brought before it. Part II of this paper briefly discusses the dominant model of transitional justice, namely the prosecutorial approach of criminal trials, and its effectiveness vis-A-vis alternatives that emphasize the search for truth and reconciliation instead of retribution. Part III provides a brief background on the genocide in Rwanda and examines the major shortcomings of criminal prosecutions by both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and by the Rwandan government in seeking justice and reconciliation. Part IV considers the newly conceived role of the Gacaca jurisdictions in trying genocide-related cases. Part V critically assesses the unique retributive and restorative nature of this system, highlighting the tension between the two. It ponders some of the major benefits (provision of accessible, participatory justice) and shortcomings (lack of due process guarantees and adequate punishment), as well as the socio-political context in which Gacaca courts operate. Part VI proposes ways to strike a balance between these two conflicting approaches. It argues that if Gacaca is to retain a retributive element, efforts should be made to minimize due process concerns. The conclusion highlights the potential benefits of Gacaca and its contribution to devising future accountability mechanisms in the aftermath of mass atrocities.

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