The Gacaca Archive: Preserving the Memory of Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda

On 11 December 2014 Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) and the British NGO Aegis Trust presented a plan to preserve, describe, digitize and disclose the documents and audiovisual files from the Gacaca Courts. Between 2002 and 2012, over 12,000 of these state-supervised community courts judged the alleged perpetrators of the 1994 genocide against an estimated 800,000 Tutsis by government forces, militia and Hutu civilians. The Gacaca Archive contains the files created before, during and after the reported 1,958,634 cases tried through these courts. Altogether, the approximately 60 million, mostly handwritten documents contained in some 18,000 boxes, and over 8,000 audio visual files of the Gacaca Archive comprise one of the world’s largest repositories on transitional justice. In this paper we present the Gacaca project as ‘community archiving’, which is closely tied to its creation process of ‘community justice’. Gacaca refers to ‘a bed of soft green grass’ on which local communities traditionally gathered to settle disputes between families or community members. This old Gacaca system was reintroduced but replaced by the modernized, professionalized and centralized Inkiko Gacaca (Gacaca jurisdictions) in the early 2000s, specifically designed to deal with genocide related cases. It is particularly the Rwandan stakeholders in the international consortium who take ownership of the Gacaca archive project. In this particular context, classical archival principles and theories, in particular related to arrangement and description, will be discussed in this paper.

The Gacaca archives project is the result of a cooperation between the CNLG, Aegis Trust, the Department of Digital Humanities  King’s College London, University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research and NIOD Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies (NIOD). Initial funding for the project has been secured from the Government of Rwanda (through CNLG) and the Dutch government. See also: project-website.

Petra Links, MA is programme manager and archivist at the NIOD and as such, she is involved in several international archival projects including the Gacaca Archive-project, European Holocaust Research Infrastructure and Parthenos.

Dr. Peter Horsman, previously faculty staff of the University of Amsterdam, is an independent consultant and researcher in archiving and archives management. For NIOD he participates in the Gacaca Archive-project.