Restorative Transitional Justice

This PhD project, which is supported within the framework of the Max Planck Fellowship ‘The Intergenerational Memory of Mass Atrocities: The Missing Piece of Transitional Justice and Alternative Dispute Resolution’, led by Prof. Valerie Rosoux, is devoted to restorative transitional justice (RTJ).

Transitional justice covers the wide range of mechanisms and processes that are set up in societies seeking to put an end to a legacy of mass atrocities (I refer to these societies as transitional settings). These mechanisms and processes can include criminal prosecutions, truth and reconciliation commissions, reparations and/or commemorations.

While there is no legally recognized definition of the concept, restorative justice is widely referred to in the literature as a process that engages all those who are affected by a particular crime - that is the victims, offenders, and other members of a particular society - in an effort to identify and address the harms committed, as well as each person’s and the society’s needs and obligations. It thereby departs from punitive justice, which emphasises punishing the perpetrator for the wrongs he or she has committed.

RTJ, in contrast, focuses on restorative approaches implemented in transitional settings. While some scholars have identified restorative potential or aspects in, for instance, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Rwandan Gacaca proceedings, and even in the International Criminal Court, it is not yet clear what exactly falls under the concept of RTJ. Moreover, it is not clear what impact RTJ can have in the long run, which is something that Druart believes must be assessed for each context separately.

Hence, in this doctoral project, Druart seeks to answer two research questions:

  1. What is RTJ? and
  2. What can be said about its long-term impact in post-genocide Rwanda?

The doctorate is being pursued in two faculties - the Faculty of Law at KU Leuven and the Faculty of Economic, Social and Political Sciences and Communicaation (ESPO) at UC Louvain - but Druart will also draw heavily on two other disciplines to help him address the two research questions: philosophy and anthropology.

First, political concepts help shed light on the moral, social, leagal, philosophical and political underpinnings of RTJ and provide the theoretical framework needed to conceptualize RTJ. Second, ethnographic fieldwork will be conducted in Rwanda from September 2023 to January 2024. This fieldwork aims at revealing what RTJ means to the Rwandan population, and what impact so-called restorative approaches have had on them. A particular focus will be on how these RTJ mechanisms have influenced the intergenerational transmission of traumatic memories related to the 1994 genocide.

Combining theoretical research and empirical fieldwork, this doctoral project is a response to the persistent call in the existing literature for theoretical clarification of RTJ and for empirical research on its impact on the ground.

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