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

Jamar, Astrid (2016) Transitional justice battlefield: practitioners working around policy and practice in Rwanda and Burundi. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

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. The
local contexts have not been the sole influence on the design and implementation of the
initiatives: the consolidation of TJ as a field of practice on a global level has also been of
paramount importance. 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.
My research establishes that while TJ practitioners disseminate a positive discourse designed
to help societies emerging from violence, their practices are actually embedded in trenchant
hierarchical structures and tensions from the violent past. I argue that their efforts, delivered
through performative and technocratic work, too often ignore the hierarchical social and
political structures in which they operate. Furthermore, the assumption that their technical
work can fix dysfunctional states results not only in a silencing of the social and political
dynamics in play, but also demonstrates a form of imperialism and colonialism, leading to the
reproduction of multi-layered unequal structures, paternalistic behaviours towards
beneficiaries, privileging of implementers over supposed beneficiaries, and the repetition of
counter-effective practices. These efforts and silences have the potential to exacerbate the
issues rather than to alleviate them.
This analysis engages with two academic debates: first, the questionable capacity of
‘professionalised’ and ‘universalised’ TJ mechanisms to deal with past crimes; and, second,
whether aid practices can effectively contribute to ‘sustainable peace’, ‘development’ and
‘democracy’ in post-conflict contexts. My analysis is driven by the following research
questions: Why is the role of practitioners and their everyday crucial to understanding TJ
processes? How does the professionalisation of aid and TJ shape the practices of TJ in Burundi
and Rwanda? How and why do frictions between academic theory, policy discourse and
everyday practice of TJ impact on outcomes on the ground?
In conclusion, my research illustrates the way in which TJ professionalised practices constitute
a battlefield, with “ongoing struggles in the battle for the nature and direction of the transition”
being a metaconflict ‒ a “conflict about what the conflict is about”, in which TJ victors tilt all
transitional mechanisms “towards an end point for transition that approximates” to their
“battlefield goals” (Bell 2009). Within these everyday battles, TJ practitioners are playing a
crucial role in the implementation of TJ. Through the dissemination of their expertise, they act
as ‘brokers’ and ‘translators’ of the TJ toolkit approach. They, particularly the most powerful
practitioners, produce interpretations and offer “scripts into which others can be recruited for
a period” (Lewis and Mosse 2006, 13). As Norman Long (1992, 275) points out in looking at
development actors, their professional practices constitute a “knowledge battlefield” in
relation to “the issues of conflicting loyalties, of negotiation over ‘truth’ claims, of battles over
images and contesting interests.”
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.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Global Studies > International Development
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DT History of Africa > DT0365 Eastern Africa > DT0450 Rwanda. Ruanda-Urundi
D History General and Old World > DT History of Africa > DT0365 Eastern Africa > DT0450.5 Burundi
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 16 Jan 2017 15:13
Last Modified: 16 Jan 2017 15:13
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/65800

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