Transitional justice in the Rwanda: Theory and practice
Ms. Lakin’s research delves into how individuals recover from atrocities and crimes that happened in the past as they move forward into states of peace, hopefully lasting and sustainable peace. Her focus on Rwanda sought to discover what happens when the fighting ends but the consequences of the fighting do not necessarily end.
08 August 2018
On 12 July, IPSS, in collaboration with the United States Mission to the African Union (USAU), held a briefing session on ‘Transitional Justice in the Great Lakes Region of Africa: Theory and Practice’. The briefing session was opened by Dr. Yonas Adaye, Academic Director at IPSS and Ambassador Mary Beth Leonard, Head of the US Mission to the AU. The main presentation was delivered by Samantha Lakin, a Fulbright Scholar in Rwanda (2017-2018), PhD Candidate, and an independent consultant in Peace and Justice in Africa with expertise on holistic transitional justice mechanisms in post-conflict situations in Africa.
How can we help heal and build societies after civil war and human rights abuses?
Ms. Lakin’s research delves into how individuals recover from atrocities and crimes that happened in the past as they move forward into states of peace, hopefully lasting and sustainable peace. Her focus on Rwanda sought to discover what happens when the fighting ends but the consequences of the fighting do not necessarily end. She stated that there is no perfect system of justice, and “any kind of justice that we provide will disappoint some people”.
“There is an impact on genocide on every Rwandan,” Ms. Lakin said, referencing her research findings from Rwanda in a dissertation titled ‘Kwibuka: Divergent Memory in the Quest for Post-Genocide Justice’. She examined local perspectives on memories and justice in the aftermath of genocide, and how local experiences inform justice seeking for societies emerging from conflict.
To date, she noted, there has not been a systematic analysis of memorial initiatives in Rwanda, and whether or how such practices contribute to a sense of justice for different groups. Unfortunately, court cases following extreme violence tend to focus on punishing perpetrators, not on the restoration and on rebuilding societies.
Rwanda was an experimental site for transitional justice. Some of the goals of transitional justice include: officially acknowledging crimes committed, combating impunity, the non-recurrence of crimes, and recognition and validation of what happened to victims, among others. Post-genocide Rwanda became a laboratory for multiple justice experiments, and transitional justice was offered in two parts: juridical/court-based (focus on punishing perpetrators) and symbolic (how people feel and interpret the justice).
The memorialization of justice is a victim and community-centred process to promote non-recurrence of violence, restore broken social ties, signal the importance of what happened, and signal government commitment to prevent future atrocities. Ms. Lakin also highlighted that people’s memories are not always supposed to be representations of the truth – memories represent their perspectives from their experiences.
“Transition means a process, it takes time. These mechanisms have a track record of success”. While not all of these goals have been met, Ms. Lakin added that there are applicable lessons for other cases of transitioning contexts of how best practices from transitional justice in Rwanda can help societies and states recover from trauma and conflict to achieve peace and stability.
With regard to recommendations for future steps, Ms. Lakin stated that transitional justice is at a crossroads; challenges have become more complicated and the impact of human rights abuses is long-lasting. She stressed the importance of learning from the past and being creative about the future for example, questioning what is meaningful in terms of justice in local cultures.
Ms. Lakin also said that it is not useful to compare victimhood, but rather communities and governments must tap into local efforts and empower local elites. She closed her presentation by asking the audience to reflect on the question: “When does ‘waging peace’ become more profitable and beneficial than waging war?”