Volume 79, Number 5

November 2004

Consolidating Democracy Through Transitional Justice: Rwanda’s Gacaca Courts

Aneta Wierzynska

This Note asserts that the key to preventing reversion to violence in postconflict societies lies in the development of a civic culture among the citizenry. Civic culture is understood as the social internalization of democratic practices, which include political participation and public contestation. Accordingly, the field of transitional justice should include mechanisms that engage the members of postconflict societies directly in processes engendering civic behavior. To illustrate the foregoing thesis, this Note examines Rwanda’s traditional, community-based restorative justice institution–Gacaca–and demonstrates how it helps to promote participation and contestation. First, the Gacaca process encourages the Rwandese people to voice their concerns openly and to begin to question authority, thereby weakening the authoritarian government’s monopoly on power. Second, the Gacaca process channels the people’s discord through a peaceful dispute-resolution process rather than through violence, thus demonstrating the potential for democratic contestation to serve as an alternative to violent conflict.