Surrendering Consent: The Politics of Transitional Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda

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This dissertation examines the consequential role of criminal trials for the transitional political regime and the prospect of democratization in Rwanda. It focuses on the ?gacaca courts?, a customary local institution reconfigured by political elites and implemented on a mass scale to process thousands of cases of those accused of genocide crimes. It explains how individuals respond to the incentives in the gacaca law that reward confession when they are confronted with uncertain legal processes and feel threatened by political elites perceived as powerful, arbitrary and lacking legitimacy. I find that individuals accused of genocide crimes confess when enough information has accumulated against them such that they may not be able to separate false testimony from the truth and defend themselves successfully in a gacaca court. However, once they have confessed, they fear that they may be singled out for indiscriminate retribution by the state. To minimize such a risk, the confessed become politically quiescent and tend to support the political status quo even though they do not believe that ruling elites have the moral authority to govern. I call this a ?consent-effect?. I build on this finding and lay out some plausible inferential arguments about the diffusion of the ?consent effect? among a wider population and its implications for the crucial end-of-transition elections. This dissertation argues that the effects of the trials have served the interests of ruling elites. It has produced a compliant and quiescent population dependent on ruling elites for benefits such as reduced punishment. It has enabled regime consolidation by means of the co-optation of gacaca judges, many of whom also occupy positions in local government structures. The basic premise of the trials, ?genocide ideology? or the idea that people were willing executioners, has been used to justify repressive legislation and stifle dissent. Data for this dissertation are drawn from a small sample of confessed and non-confessed prisoners, detailed ethnography of gacaca court processes, trial transcripts, elite interviews, newspaper articles, reports of non-governmental organizations and other secondary literature.

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Genocide, Criminal Trials, Gacaca Courts, Confession, Rwanda, Transitional Justice, Democracy, Reconciliation, Production of Consent, Procedural Legal Uncertainty, Accountability, Ethnic Conflict


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