Transitional justice battlefield: Practitioners working around policy and practice in Rwanda and Burundi

Astrid Jamar

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

Over the last two decades, following a long history of mass violence in Burundi and Rwanda, transitional justice (TJ) efforts were deployed in the two countries. Observing, particularly after the 1994 Rwandan genocide, that cycles of violence had devastated these two nations, a number of international organisations encouraged and financed socio-political and judicial responses with the aim of building sustainable peace in the region. The gacaca courts have been at the centre of the TJ process in Rwanda, and the negotiations over a Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC) remain the key focus in the Burundian TJ process. Under scrutiny in this thesis is the ‘battlefield’ in which TJ practitioners argue about the past, a battlefield created by the frictions between the universal TJ discourse, the resulting technocratic aid practices and the often silenced, but highly politicised negotiations and implementation on the ground.
Describing how TJ practitioners work around policy and practice in Rwanda and Burundi, I demonstrate how the gacaca law and the Burundian TRC law, and their policy frameworks and implementing activities, have all been created around the same global discourse. But the actual negotiations of specific prescriptions and implementation have led to very different practices being moulded around different dynamics of power by actors and organisations involved in these processes. Whereas these dynamics are but natural, silencing them behind
technocratic knowledge, however, has severe implications. In contrast to most of the TJ literature making reference to civil society and international donors, my research underlines the role and consequences of their everyday politics, through which the directions of the TJ agenda are decided and implemented. Building on social anthropology and development studies, I underline the entanglement formed between TJ and aid, and bring attention to
unattended effects of TJ practices, including how power has a play in policy implementation and how unequal relations are reproduced. Doing so, I expand the critical TJ scholarship and the calls for ‘localising transitional justice’, as well as developing the understanding of the limitations of TJ processes in Rwanda and Burundi.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Sussex
  • Eltringham, Nigel , Supervisor, External person
  • McLean Hilker, Lyndsay, Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • transitional justice
  • transitional justice practitioners
  • Gacaca Courts
  • Rwanda
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • Burundi
  • anthropology of aid


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