The Discourse of Legal Witnessing and Collective Memory: lessons from the archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

International tribunals are often perceived by the transitional justice legal scholarship as an opportunity for individuals to ensure their memories are entered into an historical record. The ‘legacy debate’ surrounding the contribution that tribunal archives should have to transitional periods are commonly understood as providing a historical legal record of the ‘facts’ of the atrocities committed. However, such historical records of the legal ‘facts’ often orientate around a linear constructed narrative of mass human rights violations which can condense the complexities of past violations into an overly simplified account of the past and present. This presentation provides a novel conceptual enquiry into witnessing and collective memory by challenging the perception that transitional justice archives are passive repositories of history. Instead, suggesting the ICTR archives as a useful site to explore the discursive conditions of witnessing. In doing so, the presentation summarises the thesis’ original conceptual framework which engages with Giorgio Agamben’s concept of ‘Witness’ and Paul Ricoeur’s concept of ‘Memory’. The discussion then details the thesis’ approach to method engaging with Michel Foucault’s thought on ‘Discourse’ and ‘Subjectivity’ and outlines the data to be analysed. The presentation explores the potential for understanding legal archives as discursive spaces in which the subject of the witness is constructed, and legitimate meaning and knowledge of past human rights violations are constituted. In doing so, the paper foregrounds the need to understand international legal institutions as important sites of memory construction. The latter part of the presentation discusses some of the challenges of conducting archival research of an international criminal tribunal.