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Génocide, justice et témoins

Des discours de la justice aux discours sur la justice

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Published on Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Témoigner est un acte fondamental et essentiel au fonctionnement de la justice. Le recours au témoignage, en convoquant les témoins directs – les survivants dans les cas de génocide – et les experts – les historiens depuis quelques décennies, les journalistes, etc. – constitue le mode de preuve que l'on recevra au prétoire. Tous ces témoins attesteront solennellement par leur déclaration de la véracité des faits. Convoquant dans une même enceinte victimes directes (les témoins) et exécutants ou planificateurs de génocide, la justice peut-elle répondre à la fois à l'idéal philosophique et moral qu'elle incarne lorsque les victimes sont, par exemple, malmenées par les avocats de la défense ? Comment peut-on, comment faut-il comprendre ou définir cet "art du bon et de l'égal", comme définissait la justice une formule médiévale ?


Call for papers, July 3rd - July 5th 2012, McMaster Universit, "Genocide, justice and witnesses: From justice discourses to discourses about justice"


To witness is a fundamental and essential act for the functioning of justice. The recourse to testimony, by convening direct witnesses – survivors in the cases of genocide – and experts – historians (for a few decades), journalists, etc – constitutes the type of proof that one will receive at the praetorium. All these witnesses will attest solemnly by their declaration to the veracity of the facts. Any individual having personal knowledge of an event can thus testify about it, if he/she conforms, within a legal framework, with the formalism required to collect the substance of his/her deposition. All the witnesses are thus not retained and certain people are knowingly excluded from the list of potential witnesses.

But the importance of the testimonial proof can vary. This proof can be legal evidence and the law then determines which evidence is acceptable and its conclusive force, or it can be free evidence, in which case the judge appreciates only the various elements of evidence which are presented to him/her. In this last case, testimony is fundamental and the inculpatory or exculpatory witness will be heard either on the facts, or on the personality of the defendant. These witnesses will be known as having “moral standards”. Moreover, the witnesses have the obligation of being honest, false testimony constituting a transgression of the given oath.

This is how a legal framework is understood, since the invention of proof by the Greek, to give witnesses a legal space where their discourse will be heard, judged and used in its turn to judge the crimes and the authors of crimes. But what really happens in the cases of genocide? 

Convening in the same enclosure direct victims (witnesses) and executants or planners of genocide, can justice answer at the same time the philosophical and moral ideal which it incarnates when the victims are, for example, abused by defence counsels, as was the case of many Rwandan widows, raped and contaminated by the HIV-AIDS that their attackers were carrying? How can one, how must one understand or define this “art of the good and equal”, as justice was defined by a medieval formula?

Especially in the cases of genocide, all the direct victims are not called to testify, in other words, their words are not convened, are not heard and, these victim-witnesses, consequently are marginalized, even alienated in their story, by their story, in the present as well as in the future, with no links or relationship with any real or ideal justice. To mitigate this disappointment, some of them started to write. 

Thus were born personal accounts, but also cinematographic productions, often very close to the news report coverage, the news reports themselves, documentaries, everything that constituted testimonies of surviving witnesses as well as of various experts who explain, starting from their field of expertise, the pre-genocidary political conditions, the social conditions, the ideological alliances, the genocide and reactions (or lack thereof) of the international community. And, to approach the genocidary project once this (started) began, or even concluded, another type of testimony was born, reporting on the events experienced, judgements on a the state of the society, interpretations/assessments of the justice system, all seen, as it should be, from the eyes of the victims. Accounts of testimony, films, documentaries, pictorial works of art, novels, poetry, plays, research in traumatology, history treaties, work in education, in communication, etc., tirelessly come to pick up this matter once again where man is at the centre of the drama, the Catastrophe, at the centre of his own destruction as a species. Where the will to understand clashes against the impossibility of doing it. Where the lessons seem to never be learned. Where the thirst for absolute power over the life of his fellow man prevails over the principle of survival of the species. Where nihilism is in favour.

Before any genocide, justice is, as a legal authority (preventive, retributive, rehabilitative or restorative) or as an ideal which the victims would like that justice to be, not only an attempt to re-establish human dignity, but especially an exercise of the right (exerted in a court or asserted by the victims within extra-judicial frameworks). This exercise intends to deal with repairing the moral ideal of responsibility, the social ideal of living together and the political ideal of the adjustment of the citizen’s space which supports freedom for everyone.

In addition, if we were to go back before the crime, we would notice that the legal institutions independent of a third party, failed initially in their role between the state and the citizens, allowing a genocide to be prepared thanks to the groundwork carefully established by the State. Did they not fail at maintaining the balance and thus the stability in the relations between citizens? Did they not fail at these two fundamental principles of any legal system: independence and impartiality?

Consequently, how could justice be convened in a context where its failure controls the progress of history? The extermination of the Herero, the Jews, the Cambodians or the Tutsi is as much evidence of the failure of justice to safeguard the basic and inalienable right to live. That the need for this same justice is felt after the facts is only natural and necessary for the rebuilding of a right and responsible society. It is of this contrast between the failure and the need for justice that the idea for this conference is born. The conference proposes to reflect on justice in its relationship with genocide, testimony, direct witnesses (victims), their descendants and the third parties (experts). As in the preceding editions, this one will be pluridisciplinary and will welcome proposals in French and English. We propose as axes of reflection the following problems:

  • From the point of view of the victims, or their descendants, it would be interesting to explore the claims, expectations, assessments/interpretations related to justice as a legal entity on the one hand, and as a social ideal on the other hand, be it about preventive justice, retributive, rehabilitative or restorative.
  • From a preventive point of view, the successive failures of the mechanisms which could bring genocide to a halt when it has started deserve our attention.
  • From an institutional point of view, the possibility or impossibility of setting up of legal authorities to judge the crime of genocide will bring light on the perceptions of the international community.
  • From a philosophical point of view, it is also worthwhile to consider the methods that work, what one might include/understand/conceive in terms of responsibility, especially towards the victims.
  • From a legal point of view, several pitfalls deserve consideration:
    • those met by justice conceived to be operational on a micro scale, whereas in the cases of genocide, victims and executants amount to the thousands,
    • the pitfalls which it meets in the media era where lawyers, often those of the defence, parade all over the world to ridicule the legal system and to defend their clients outside the court,
    • in accordance with the preceding point, it is important to consider the cases where justice, or at least its representatives, comes in close contact with demiers; In other words, various extra-judicial ideological alliances which are formed on the basis of justice.
  • From a moral point of view, it will be a question of studying the excesses of justice which would make it possible to give an account either of its failures to the duty to restore human dignity, or of its contrary standpoint to legal ethics, to approach for example the cases of corruption, voyeurism and even certain judges' “direct support” of genocidaire; it will also be a question of studying the impossibility and the necessary conditions of this impossibility of justice to return justice.

These are only a few suggestions that do not exclude other proposals which conform to the framework set by this call for papers and reflected in the title of this proposal.


Deadline for submission of abstracts: December 30th, 2012

Notification of acceptance: January 31th, 2013

Please send abstracts (250 words max), including your name, email address, institution (if applicable) to one of the following addresses:

Scientific committee

  • Eugénia Do Santos, McMaster University
  • Eugène Nshimiyimana, McMaster University
  • Catalina Sagarra, Trent University
  • Josias Semujanga, Université de Montréal
  • Jacques Walter, Université de Metz.

Registration fee: 60 $ CAD

The chosen proposals will be published in the proceedings of the conference.


  • McMaster University - 1280 Main Street West
    Hamilton, Canada (L8S4L8)


  • Sunday, December 30, 2012

Attached files


  • génocide, justice, témoignage, représentation, éthique, analyse du discours


  • Catalina Sagarra
    courriel : catalinasagarra [at] trentu [dot] ca
  • Eugène Nshimiyimana
    courriel : nsheug [at] mcmaster [dot] ca
  • Eugenia Nevesdossa
    courriel : esantos [at] univmail [dot] cis [dot] mcmaster [dot] ca

Information source

  • Catalina Sagarra
    courriel : catalinasagarra [at] trentu [dot] ca


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Génocide, justice et témoins », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, December 12, 2012, https://calenda.org/231883

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