Courts in Conflict: Interpreting the Layers of Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda

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9780199398195: Courts in Conflict: Interpreting the Layers of Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda

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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About the Author:

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

"This book on the versions of transitional justice developed in the Rwandan genocide context well illustrates manifest tensions concerning political power, legitimacy, and the intersection between law and lawyers at the international, national, and local level. Dr. Palmer navigates this complex terrain with great clarity and rigor. The book is an excellent addition to the growing literature on the Rwandan case-study but also has much to offer to larger debates within transitional justice in general. An important book."- Kieran McEvoy, Professor of Law and Transitional Justice, Queens University Belfast

"Courts in Conflict: Interpreting the Layers of Justice in Post-Genocide Rwanda is an incisive and important work. Based on original empirical research, Palmer offers new insights into the justice processes that followed the 1994 Rwandan genocide and a groundbreaking analysis of the interaction of national and international criminal tribunals more broadly. Courts in Conflict is a significant contribution to the field; it warrants close reading by scholars, practitioners, and policy makers alike."- Madeline Morris, Professor of Law, Duke Law School

"For the authoritative comparative study into all aspects of the transnational judicial reckoning with Rwanda's genocide and a fresh interpretation of the role courts can play in reestablishing institutional legitimacy after political transition--read this book."- Ruti Teitel, Ernst C. Stiefel Prof of Comparative Law, New York Law School & Author, Globalizing Transitional Justice

"Palmer devotes a chapter to each court system. Her effective use of "thick description" reflects exemplary research, based on scores of interviews; meticulous examination of court records, statutes, and cases; and reference to an impressive array of relevant scholarship. Courts in Conflict thus ranks as a valuable addition to several areas: transitional justice; theory and practice of multilevel judicial systems; post-1994 Rwanda; and the questionable assumption that local, national, and international jurisdictions complement each other. Palmer's case study calls out for similar work as global justice efforts increase. Highly recommended." -C. E. Welch, University at Buffalo, SUNY, Choice

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