The rise of international criminal trials has been accompanied by a call for domestic responses to extraordinary violence. Yet there is remarkably limited research on the interactions among local, national, and international transitional justice institutions. Rwanda offers an early example of multi-level courts operating in concert, through the concurrent practice of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the national Rwandan courts, and the gacaca community courts.
Courts in Conflict makes a crucial and timely contribution to the examination of these pluralist responses to atrocity at a juncture when holistic approaches are rapidly becoming the policy norm. Although Rwanda's post-genocide criminal courts are compatible in law, an interpretive cultural analysis shows how and why they have often conflicted in practice. The author's research is derived from 182 interviews with judges, lawyers, and a group of witnesses and suspects within all three of the post-genocide courts. This rich empirical material shows that the judges and lawyers inside each of the courts offer notably different interpretations of Rwanda's transitional justice processes, illuminating divergent legal cultures that help explain the constraints on the courts' effective cooperation and evidence gathering. The potential for similar competition between domestic and international justice processes is apparent in the current practice of the International Criminal Court (ICC). However, this competition can be mitigated through increased communication among the different sites of justice, fostering legal cultures of complementarity that can more effectively respond to the needs of affected populations.
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Nicola Palmer is a lecturer in criminal law at the Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London, and a research associate at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. In addition, she serves as an advisory board member of Oxford Transitional Justice Research. Dr. Palmer received her D.Phil in law from the University of Oxford in 2011, where she studied as a Rhodes scholar. Prior to starting her doctoral studies, she worked as a legal assistant at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), having completed her undergraduate and honours degrees in law and economics at Rhodes University, South Africa. Her broad research interests are in international criminal law, transitional justice, central African studies, and legal anthropology.
"Nicola Palmer's Courts in Conflict bursts with intellect, verve, and insight. Palmer dignifies, illuminates, and educates. She demonstrates how different courts adjudicating genocide deliberately see themselves as fulfilling different and distinct ambitions. Palmer wisely approaches tensions among institutions not as technical or bureaucratic, but rather as cultural and ideational. This book serves the broader didactic purpose of instructing on how post-conflict justice, wherever and whenever, can become meaningful."-Mark A. Drumbl, Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University & Director, Transnational Law Institute
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