THOUGHTS ON THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR RWANDA: I’ll confess right here that I am still at only a very preliminary stage in trying to organize all the impressions I gained, all the interviews I undertook, all the great discussions I had, during my eight days of work at ICTR. Yesterday turned out to be another gala day in terms of interviews. I had really substantive interviews with two judges– one of them Erik Mose, a Norwegian human-rights lawyer and international-law specialist who’s the Deputy President of ICTR– and with an intriguing prosecution lawyer called Simone Monasebian. I also had good discussions with a defense-team legal assistant who is a Rwandan national and with Tribunal spokesperson Roland Amoussouga.
Judge Mose, I got into an extremely interesting discussion with. Then 90 minutes into it, I suddenly realized I might be late for my next discussion, so I had to pry myself out of his office. He was an ardent, hyper-articulate defender of the Tribunal’s record. But still… Eleven cases completed in, effectively seven years of operation? (One of those was “completed” arlier this year when the defendant, an Anglican bishop, died before his trial had even opened.) And a tribunal with, in the present year’s budget, 872 staff members and an annual budget of $177 million?
Mose’s argument was, in broad terms, that because the Rwandan genocidaires did not (unlike say the Nazis or the Khmers Rouges) leave extensive documentary records of their atrocities, therefore the cases against the leading genocidaires on trial in Arusha have to be painstakingly built up from witness testimony. And this necessarily takes time.
Thus, for example, in the “media trial” of three accused leaders of Rwanda’s hate media who are accused of incitement to genocide as well as conspiracy to commit genocide and some other charges, the prosecution has called no fewer than 47 witnesses. Mose said he considered such numbers of witnesses not excessive; rather, he saw these witnesses as supplementing and bolstering each other’s testimony…
Most witnesses testify in Kinyarwanda, a language that none of the judges or attorneys speaks. So all the statements, examinations, cross-examinations etc have to go through interpretation, which involves considerable time-lags.
Thus, the “media trial” for which Mose is one of the three judges recently completed its 229th day of open-court hearings; and as far as I can gather, the defense has only just started to make its case. Or rather, since there are three defendants and each is entitled to mount his own defense, call his own witnesses, etc., I should say that the defense has only just started to make its cases.
And those are not 229 consecutive work-days in the courtroom. Since each of ICTR’s three chambers is conducting two major trials more or less concurrently– or rather, sort of fortnight and fortnight about– and what with other delays, etc– the “media trial” has been running since, (I need to check this) around the summer of 2000.
There are some defendants in the UN’s special Detainment Facility near Arusha airport who have been in custody since 1998 or 1999 whose trials have not yet even started. Delay is definitely an issue in the quality of the justice provided by the Court.
It is an issue that not only affects the rights of the detainees– who may yet, of course, join the one defendant whom the court has thus far found “not guilty”. But the delay also affects the quality of the trials themselves. It sort of feeds upon itself, compounding the problems of memory lapses and general administrative confusion at every turn.
I sat in on one trial, the “Kajelijeli trial”, of just one defendant, Mr. Kajelijeli, where at least two excuriciatingly lengthy trial days seemed to be devoted solely to resolving some question regarding what Mr. K had or had not told prosecution investigators on that day he was arrested, in Benin, in June 1998. So, while the folks involkved in that exchange couldn’t fully remember who said what to whom in 1998, they hadn’t even started getting to the issue of who did what to whom in 1994….
In that case, defense attorney Lennox Hinds pointed out that earlier, the prosecution had claimed in open court that there were no tapes of the 1998 questioning of Mr. K., but that later, the tapes in question had been found and produced. The prosecuting attorney noted that she had not been on the case at that point and did not have any recollection of what had happened rgarding the tapes. Everything seemed incredibly slapdash and complicated. At one point the defendant himself interjected with a suggestion as to how the presiding judge, Judge Sekule, could resolve a certain question….
As Sekule seemed to be completely losing his grip on the court’s time, one of his colleagues on the bench, Judge Maqutu, seemed clearly to be asleep. Understandable, perhaps, given the extreme lengthiness and basic argumentative irrelevance of most of the proceedings at this point. But still, absolutely inexcusable.
(One attorney told me it is not only the judges who sometimes seem to sleep, but that lead attorneys for both defense and prosecution teams have also been known to do so.)
ICTR and its sister-tribunal for former Yugoslavia have been hailed as institutions that are blazing new trails in the development of international criminal law. If that’s the case, it might be a good idea for more of us to examine whether these are trails that we necessarily want to be taking.
The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg heard, as far as I recall, 22 or 23 cases in ten months. The four principal judges spent a short time reaching and writing their judgments. There was then a hasty period of consultation (though notably NO appeals process), and then, less than one year after the trial had opened, the sentences were executed. (In around half the cases, that meant that the men themselves were executed. For the rest, there were lengthy prison sentences; but also three acquittals.) End of story. The Allies set about rebuilding Germany. The findings regarding “criminal organizations” that had been made by the IMT were used to administer administrative sanctions against the thousands of relevant members of those organizations, to help with a general program of de-Nazification. But basically, nine years after the end of WW2, the Nuremberg Trials were ancient history, and Germany was well on its way to achieiving the vaunted “economic miracle” of its post-war years.
What Nuremberg by common consent lacked in terms of due-process protections for the defendants, it more than made up for by providing an expeditious judicial process.
Now, nine years after the Rwandan genocide, the country is still held largely in the grip of the many cruel legacies of that event. Responsibility for this state of affairs should probably be shared in some proportion between the country’s national government and an “international community” that in 1994 notably failed to intervene to stop the genocide (which all signatories of the 1948 Genocide Convention, including the United States, were contractually obligated to do), but which eagerly leapt onto the “international courts” bandwagon right after the genocide in an attempt to “use” this case in order to push forward the agenda of international criminal law. (As well as to assuage some guilt on behalf of citizens of northern nations that had done nothing to stop the genocide.)
Whether ICTR has, in sum, helped or imposed additional harm on the Rwandans is one of the things I’ve been trying to find out with my research. Of all the people I talked to in Arusha– prosecution attorneys, defense attorneys, Rwandans, “internationals”, journalists, court officers– only Judge Mose and ICTR/ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte definitely stated that they thought ICTR had been helpful to the Rwandans. Everyone else whom I asked about this specific issue ended up giving a far more guarded, nuanced, or even downright critical judgment. I even heard plenty of caveats expressed by a member of the prosecution team, who told me that early idealism about joining this ground-breaking project had now been supplemented by an interest in making a further move in the future, and going to work with Rwanda’s “alternative justice” program, the gacaca courts…
Well, there are plenty of other issues I want to write about, with regard to ICTR. I promised my editor at the Christian Science Monitor that I’d get something to her about the court “soon-ish”. Trying to choose what to say in my regular 800-word column looks like a huge challenge.
After that, I’ll try to spin off a nice long think piece for Boston Review. I love writing for them. The editors there are totally sharp and on-the-ball. (I know that, because they always say they like my writing. I mean, isn’t that the best criterion for “sharpness” that there is??) But I also somewhere along the way have to write all of my Rwandan-justice material up as a chapter of the book I’m supposed to be writing.
That includes all the fabulous, thus far barely exploited material that I gathered during my rsearch visit to Rwanda, last year. As well as all this new material. And I need to put all that into one chapter???? Helena, you have to be kidding.
Oh, and did I tell you that I am going to be plunging myself into Mozambique tomorrow?


A NIGHT ON THE TOWN IN ARUSHA: Tonight is my last evening in Arusha. Gabi Gabiro, who works for Hirondelle Press Agency here, a couple of his friends, and I were going out to dinner. I’d been kind of looking forward to this, since I’ve eaten dinner in my hotel, the Impala, every night since I got here. So Gabi picks a place, we go there straight from a late-ish evening working at the ICTR– and as restaurants go, this place was a huge disappointment. Food very, very late and individual dishes ranging from the passable to the atrocious.
(I don’t think I’m dissing Gabi to mention this, since we all mentioned it and commented on it at length over the dinner itself.)
It made me wish I’d invited them all here. I’ve now sampled three of the Impala’s four restaurants– the Chinese, the Italian, and the Indian. And the Indian food here is excellent! Last night I had a chicken and spinach curry that had a lot of ginger in it– and I ordered it on what they call Kashmiri rice. They always bring pappadums and an array of chutneys “on the house” at the beginning. Also a small salad. And after the curry, I had a marsala tea. Fabulous.
Oh dear, makes me sad just to think I could have had that again, tonight. Still, the conversation we had tonight was fun and relaxing and made the outing worthwhile.
Another good feature of Impala food is the home-baked breads they serve at breakfast. What with breads, curries, and no running, maybe it’s time I leave town before I put on lots of weight.
Of course, at dinner tonight, Gabi and his friends all laughed when I said I was leaving on Air Tanzania tomorrow, since apparently AT got taken over not long ago by South African Airways, and SA companies seem generally renowned around here for aggressive asset-stripping.


AN INTERNATIONAL COURTROOM IN AFRICA: The Arusha International Conference Center is a sprawling concatenation of three or four large, 1960s-style white concrete buildings netsled into the northeast side of the city of Arusha. The vegetation here is lush. Splendidly blossomed jacaranda trees, dense palm trees, and lots of other Africa varieties that I’m incapable of naming, form a lush canopy over many of the packed-earth sidewalks around town. Market women in gaily colored wraps stand at the street corners with lush baskets of mangos, pineapples, and tiny sweet bananas. It rained this morning: a swift, dense drencher that swept down from Mount Mero, the massive volcanic mountain, slightly shorter sister of nearby Kilimanjaro, that guards the city to the north. Then, shortly after the drencher, I heard cocks crowing and a distant Muslim call to prayer before I drifted back to sleep.
The Conference Center was built to be the headquarters of an attempt at an East African Union that failed. Now, some of its wings house offices for the follow-on Commission for East African Cooperation (between Tanzania, where we are, and Kenya and Uganda which both lie close to Arusha to the north.) Given its pleasant and well placed location, the Arusha Conference Center has also been used to host several significant inter-African peace negotiations over the decades. Most recently, a South-African-brokered peace agreement for Burundi has been negotiated here.
In 1993, Arusha was the site of the signing of the famous “Arusha Accord”, which aimed at bringing internal peace to Rwanda– a country that neighbors Tanzania to the east. But that agreement failed, destroyed in the maelstrom of genocidal violence that swept Rwanda in 1994. Later that year, a UN Security Council driven largely by guilt over its failure to prevent or bring an end to the genocide, decided considerably after the event that it would at least establish an international court to try leading perpetrators of the genocide. And it decided to locate the court in– Arusha. To be precise, in some unused portions of the Arusha International Conference Center.
Blue-uniformed UN guards now control one gate into the Conference Center. The first day I was here, I got myself a “Researcher” pass from the court’s security division. Today, I swipe it like an old-timer and walk into the dimly cavernous lobby. I poke my head into the untidy-as-usual press center and say hi to Gabi Gabiro, a friend-of-a-friend who’s worked here for three years as a correspondent fotr the Hirondelle News Agency. I walk up some concrete stairs to a walkway that takes me across to another building. Waiting at the elevator are other people coming, as I am, to one of the three courtrooms run by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). But others awaiting the elevator are going up to other floors where the East African Commission or other bodies work. It seems a fairly chaotic situation.
I’m headed for the fourth floor, where in ICTR Courtroom 1 three defendants are now in Day 229 (I kid you not– that’s two-twenty-nine!) of what is called the “media trial”. These are people accused of having masterminded some of the hate-filled, anti-Tutsi speech that filled, in particular, one radio station and one magazine before and during the genocide, and therefore of having helped to incite the genocide, as well as to have conspired in its organization. (Under the Genocide Convention of 1948, inciting or conspiring with others to commit genocide is as much punishable as actually committing it.)
This is a most amazing courtroom. Whoever figured out how to fit a courtroom into this available space took a long, low-ceilinged room and sliced it into half lengthways, with disconcerting result that the “public gallery” runs nearly right along the length of the space, with three very long rows of chairs facing toward the “action”. And the “action” itself is similarly strung out along the other side of the room, behind bullet-proof glass– about 50 or more feet from left to right as I peer in.
From our side of the glass, the different, and visually segmented portions of the courtroom look like exhibits in an indoor zoo.
Tucked in at the extreme left-hand end in there we have the three defendants, three men in shirtsleeves or somber western-style garb sitting generally bored behind their desk in the “back” of this side of the courtroom, with UN guards on each side of them. (The public, I note, can barely see the defendants at all; and I’m not sure whether the judges can see them either. I believe, along with the British philosopher of punishment Tony Duff, that a criminal court proceeding should centrally be an authoritative communication between the Bench–on behalf of society– and the defendant. Hard to see how that can happen here.)
In front of the defendants (reading this scene from left to right) are two rows of desks for their attorneys– six or eight places in all. All those people are facing to the right (as I look at it.) Then, we come to the two rows of people who are facing “forward”, that is, toward the public gallery. Furthest from us, and raised maybe eight inches higher than the rest of the courtroom, is, in central position, the Bench. Three judges– a Norwegian man, a South-African Indian woman (the Presiding Judge here, and also President of the entire ICTR venture), and a Sri Lankan man. All are resplendent in the red-satin-faced judges’ robes that someone back in 1994 or so designed for the judges in ICTR’s more famous sister court, the court for former-Yugoslavia that’s located in the Hague. Behind the judges hangs a UN flag. They are flanked by court reporters and clerks. The general decor in the courtroom is Scandinavian/functional: light-colored wood furnishings, white walls, blue chair-seats and carpet.
In front of the judges, officers of the court’s central administration, the Registry, sit at another row of desks, also facing us. The Registry officials, like all the attorneys for both defense and prosecution, all wear big ballooning black robes elaborately tailored with pin-tucks and little buttons, over which they wear the apparently mandatory French-style white tucked jabots. (Sort of an eight-inch-long white thing that hangs out over the robe at the throat, and is secured–sometimes haphazardly– with velcro at the back of the neck. This whole get-up is another cultural import from the Hague.) One of the defense lawyers, the British QC Diana Ellis, wears atop her dark-brown hair the small-size powdered wig that is a mark of her exalted judicial status back home.
Talk about rituals and regalia!
And then, between the Registry officials and us is the present witness. With her back to us. We actually look at the Bench “over the witness’s shoulder”, so to speak. Many of the witnesses who come here are “protected”, which means that their true identity is a closely guarded secret of the court. They are referred to in public only by randomly assigned letters; and inside the courtroom their identity is hidden from the public gallery by heavy curtains which can be drawn around the witness’s desk. Today’s witness, however, is a defense witness– an interesting woman who is herself a defendant in the Rwandan court system where since she’s accused of the highest category of genocide-related crimes she almost certainly faces the prospect of a death penalty. Death penalties are not allowed here, in this genteel, European-style court.
Her name is Valerie Bemeriki. She was, Gabi tells me, a “real celebrity” in Rwanda during the genocide era, when she was a much-listened-to announcer on Radio/Tele Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM, the main hate radio).
Now, she appears like a dumpy, slightly physically disabled older woman whose bright-colored clothing and generally defiant mien cannot make up for the fact that she looks scared and frequently slightly confused. (I can tell you what her facial expressions convey because her face, like those of all others who speak in the court– but notably NOT those of the defendants unless they’re speaking– is shown to us on a closed-circuit video system whose operation is, I imagine, supposed to compensate for the lack of direct lines-of-sight inside the courtroom. Each of the main participants in the drama in front of us has a 15- or 17-inch video screen in front of her or him. Though these screens are fairly thin, still, they contribute along with many other factors, to blocking our ability to watch the actions and interactions of the participants directly. We in the public gallery have three high screens placed along gallery that show us the simultaneous feed. But still, that’s no substitute for being able to see for ourselves what’s going on, since on the screens we can only see the one view that someone–who?– has chosen to show us. On occasion, this is a shot of a written document, which means that we don’t get to see people’s faces at all.)
Bemeriki and the chief defense lawyer who had called her, Jean-Marie Biju-Duval from France, are the only two actors today whose main language is French. Actually, to be fair, French is probably Bemeriki’s second language, with Kinyarwanda being her first. But she has chosen to speak here and to interact with the court in French, though Kinyarwanda would also– like English– have been a option in this trilingual court. I should have mentioned earlier that everything that goes on inside this courtroom is pursued with and through simultaneous interpretation. So in addition to wearing funny European-style robes, all the participants (including us, the “representatives” of the public!) also wear headsets for the interpretation.
We get a fairly intimate direct view of the back of the witness’s legs swinging down from her chair .
Over to the left of her is a row of desks that now stand empty. But on a shelf above them are placed a number of large box files whose main effect is further to block our ability to see anything.
Our lines of sight are, in general, abysmal. The floor level of our gallery is about six inches lower than the floor of the courtroom. Bunched around Witness Bemeriki are the drawn-back curtains that– for a “protected” witness– would have blocked her identity from our view. Now, hanging there, all they do is further obstruct our view. And to the right of the witness’s desk is a huge cart laden with two layers of additional bulky and quite opaque box-files and–to add insult to injury for the long-suffering “public”– the back of a water cooler that, inside the “active” part of the courtroom, has been pushed up against the glass to yet further obstruct our view.
It’s as though the designers and users of this courtroom basically have contempt for the “public” that comes to view its proceedings. As though they didn’t care much at all about justice “being seen to be done” here…
(Sorry about that. It was the carelessly positioned water-cooler that really broke the camel’s back on this issue for me.)
And, moving right along further to the right, we have the two rows of the prosecuting attorneys’ desks, now facing inward to the left. Up to bat today from one of these desks is Simone Monasebian, a US lawyer who seems to be practicing here all the tricks of an aggressive district attorney in some jurisdiction in the US. She is cross-examining Witness Bemeriki, and thus is allowed to ask leading questions. She’s a physically impressive woman whose shoulder-length dark hair straggles out untidily from under her headset. “Isn’t it true that… ” she presses the witnesses. Or she’ll make a lengthy statement and then pounce forward at the end with a defiant “What say you, Mme. Bemeriki?”
Of course, the fact that all these theatrics have to go through interpretation means that there is always a slight time-lag between question and answer. In addition, several times throughout the morning the interpreter’s weary voice comes onto everyone’s headsets pleading with Monasebian to please slow down. The whole interaction has a slightly spaced-out, unreal, one might even say doped-up quality.
The distance between the two banks of attorneys must be about 30 or 40 feet. When a defesne lawyer stands up to challenge something the prosecutor is saying, the two of them face each across this distance (rather than both of them facing the judge), and the poor judges have to swing their heads from side to side like a person watching tennis.
I guess I’ll just finish the physical description here by recording the presence, furthest to the right, and also behind glass, of the three interpreters’ booths. We cannot see their faces directly. Every so often, when the video feed gives us a full-face shot of Monasebian strutting her New-York-courtroom stuff (“Enough already!” she says with theatrically produced exasperation at one point), we can see the blurred face of the interpreter in the booth behind her. Oh, and another of the strange effects of the whole interpretation thing– in addition to the time lag — is that when Bemeriki is interpreted into English for the Anglophones among us, the voice that does this is a definitely gruff male voice.
As I sit here, I switch my headset between the French-language and the English-language feeds. In addition to what’s coming in on everyone’s headsets, there is also a simple loudspeaker in our gallery–as presumably inside the accoustically-challenged courtroom itself– that gives the verbatim version of what’s being said, whether it’s in English, French, or– presumably–Kinyarwanda. So it’s quite possible to listen with one ear to what’s being said in, say, English, on the loudspeaker, and also to what the interpreter is saying, in French, on the headset. Or vice versa.
I can tell you that though the interpreters seem to be doing a generally good job–and under grueling, day-after-day circumstances!–the interpretation is still far from perfect. An oral interpretation is NOT a word-for-word translation. I know that. But it is supposed to be a faithful interpretation of what is heard. And what I heard during the four or more hours I was in the courtroom so far was that the interpretation on several occasions seemed to present an utterance of very different meaning–sometimes, almost directly contradictory meaning– to that of the original.
This seemed to be particularly the case with the extremely long, convoluted, and rapidly-spoken questions being asked by Monasebian, which the English-to-French interpreter frequently seemed to have enormous–and quite understandable– difficulty rendering for the witness. Small wonder that the witness so often responded to these questions with blank looks of confusion. On numerous occasions, the increasingly frustrated Chief Judge, Navanethem Pillay, would intervene and re-ask the witness her own version of an extremely lengthy, convoluted Monasebian question. And on those occasions, the witness generally very quickly gave a simple and direct answer….
Well, I don’t have time, here, to go any further with my critique of the whole mis-en-scene of ICTR Courtroom Number 1. I note that I have only so far seen a few hours of what is an extremely long-running production. This trial of three accused inciters and organizers of the genocide opened here in Arusha in October 2000. It might be worth trying to figure out how much this trial alone has cost, so far– these attorneys aren’t cheap, I can tell you, and neither is the rest of this entire complex court system.
So far, ICTR’s nine judges have pronounced judgments on eleven accused men (one acquittal and ten convictions). The amount of money the UN and other, supplementary donors have spent on establishing and then running this court over the past eight years clearly exceeds a billion dollars, most likely by some hundreds of millions of bucks. As to whether the effort has been worth it– that’s what I’m still here to find out.
Meantime, tomorrow, Sunday, I’m going to take me a hike to some Masai (Wa-arusha) villages up the slopes of Mount Meru, and get myself more thoroughly back to Africa.


GALA DAY FOR THE RESEARCH PROJECT: I’ve been working on this research project, that looks at the effectiveness, as viewed 8 – 10 years later, of the widely varying policies that each of Rwanda, S. Africa, and Mozambique dopted in the early-to-mid 1990s, for nearly 30 months now. Today was truly a gala day for my enquiry. I had substantial amounts of time with three people key to understanding the Rwanda portion of the puzzle.
The first of these was Alison Des Forges, an American researcher who is truly a world-class expert on Rwanda– as well as a person who’s been called as ‘expert witness’ in a number of trials before the ICTR. I approached her in the public gallery of Courtroom 1 at the end of the morning’s proceedings, and she immediately agreed to go have lunch with me.
I’ve been playing an international game of telephone tag w/ Alison for two years or more now! Last year, we had an interaction in print, after she and Ken Roth, the Exec. Director of Human Rights Watch, wrote a fairly sharp criticism of the piece I had in Boston Review about post-genocide policies in Rwanda. (You can access that article through one of the links on the right of this weblog.)
Anyway, we had a really good discussion. I went back into the courtroom, and soon enough one of my very, very helpful contacts at the court came in to say that my application to interview Carla del Ponte had just turned up trumps. Carla, as you may know, is the Swiss legal eagle who’s the Chief prosecutor for both UICTR and its companion court for former-Yugoslavia, ICTY. I told her when I met her, at four this afternoon, that I last saw her in June 2001– from distance– when I was at ICTY the very day that she got custody of Slobodan Milosevic, and she’d given a fairly victorious press conference to celebrate the fact.
Then finally, a request that I’d made to speak to one of the defense lawyers came through; so this evening I had a great, one-hour-plus discussion with Diana Ellis, QC, a British barrister who’s on the defense team whose performance I’d been watching in Courtroom 1 these past two days. Diana voiced her trenchant criticisms of the ICTR process, which she sees as a clear example of “victor’s justice” (and she gave me many examples of bias against the defense teams that seemed to back up this conclusion. She also said that her three-year experience of working on Ferdinand Habimana’s defense team at the court had really soured her on the idea she had earlier had, that the ICC might be a great development in international affairs, given that she saw the distinct possibility that many of the problems she had identified at the ICTR would be exported wholesale to the ICC.
So, three widely varying points of view there. But all expressed in an extremely articulate and convinced way. Later it’ll be time for me to go in detail through the extensive notes that I took, and to make finely-tuned judgments. For now, I’m just acting like a sponge and gathering as much material as I can.
Have you noticed something, meanwhile, about the three people I described here? They are all of one gender… Are we talking, then, about a progressive feminization of international affairs? I would wish! But there are some portions of it where women are now coming to form some kind of a critical mass, and I find this really interesting to see (and, I suppose, to be a part of.)


REMEMBERING GENOCIDE: Early April 1994 was the time when that year’s terrible genocide in Rwanda was started. It then continued for a further 100 days, in the course of which around a million of the country’s seven million people were killed. In a very hands-on way.
Every year recently, inside Rwanda, the government has devoted the first week of April to genocide remembrance, and the observation of this solemn commemoration has started to spread a little outside the country.
I’m here in Arusha, Tanzania, the city where the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was the UN’s main (ex post facto) response to the Rwandan genocide. Friends who work at the ICTR note that April 7– the day when the commemorations inside Rwanda come to a peak– passed in the Court with no word about it being uttered by the various international judges and lawyers who work busily there, developing the “professional field” of international criminal law with what sometimes seems like scant heed being paid to the actual who were affected by the genocide.
But this evening, a local, mainly-Rwandan church had organized a commemorative service– and the guest/speaker of honor was Adama Dieng, the Registrar of the ICTR, which was a lovely gesture, much appreciated by the other participants.
The commemoration turned out, actually, to be mainly a very Pentecostal-style chuservice, with lots of great singing and clapping. I had seen and participated in several such services when I was in Rwanda last year. The evangelical Christians seem to have made hundreds of thousands– maybe millions– of serious converts in the country, after the Catholic hierarchy was so compromised by its involvement w/ the genocide.
Anyway, many of the evangelical-style modes of worship seem to have a strongly healing, cathartic effect on people whose whole universe was torn apart by the genocide. Inside Rwanda, in many congregations, Tutsis and Hutus worship and work alongside each other in such churches. (And that includes inside the local Quaker “churches”, which is what they call them there: Eglises des Amis.)
Our commemoration here was held in a cavernously vast, ill-lit barn of a church building. One of the people I was with said that the joyful singing seemed a bit out of place on such an occasion. But I think it was really more the way these people– many, many of them direct survivors of the genocide– have chosen to reconstruct some meaning in their lives. There were, anyway, some solemn words from a pastor– who reassured people that though things may have seemed bleak, “at least God knows what’s going on.” Also that what had happened, “had exposed the continued workings of evil in the world.”
The bulk of the day before that, I had spent at the ICTR, watching highly paid international lawyers quibble over tiny sub-details in an extremely complex case. I was reminded, of course, of the comments made by both Rebecca West, at Nuremburg, and by Hannah Arendt, during the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, that such trials dealing with major atrocity can easily end up being extremely legalistic, not to mention just plain boring.
Apparently, though, I’d arrived at a “good” day, drama-wise, in the trial of some of the media people involved in whipping up race-hate in Rwanda. On the witness stand was a well-known Rwandan radio announcer called Valerie Beremiki who was appearing as a witness for the defense of an accused radio-company official The wrinkle here being that Valerie herself is on trial inside the Rwandan justice system, where as a top suspect she may well be subject to the death penalty. So the South African judge was every so often at pains to remind the very robust cross-examining lawyer that Valeries had good reason to avoid self-incrimination…
Anyway, more on the court later. I haven’t seen much of Arusha, though it seems like a great place. I came in through Kilimanjaro International Airport, drove past the mountain to get here, and noted a number of Masai young men riding around on bikes in their beautiful red cloaks, bearing their herding sticks crosswise across the handle-bars…


A RWANDAN PROTESTS: Heck, this is one of many things I meant to post recently but forgot to.
It’s from Isidore Munyeshyaka, who contributes to a Rwandan-affairs group I’m in. He was responding to Ari Fleischer’s invocation of the UN’s failure to act to prevent genocide in Rwanda in 1994 as a stick to beat the UN ’round the head and neck with, in order to help excuse bypassing the UN on attacking Iraq. (Also invoked: Kosovo.)
“Madeleine Albright who was then the US Representative at the UN lobbied the UN and urged it to treat the genocide of Tutsis as inter-ethnic massacres!” Isidore recalls, quite correctly. “While now to attack Irak, they have dispatched hundreds of thousands of
troops to the Gulf in preparation of the imminent war, they [the US government of that time] voted for scaling down the contigent of the then ‘toothless’ UNAMIR! in Rwanda.”
(Actually, I think it was worse than that. I seem to recall reading in Sam Powers’ excellent account of US decisionmking during those ghastly weeks of genocide that the Clinton administration was in favor of dismantling UNAMIR altogether. It was only the heroic commitment of Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian commander on the spot, that succeeded in keeping any elements of the force on the job at all. And those few hundred who did stay there– in contravention of Clinton and Albright’s clear policy directives– succeeded in saving thousands of lives of threatened Rwandans.)
“Bush and Blair — or any leader of the time — should feel ashamed,” Isidore wrote, “and should never evoke Rwanda to explain their unjustified war against the people of Irak!”
He ends up, unpacifically, “I wish hell and fire!” But you get the gist of his complaint, I’m sure.
On March 12, Gerald Caplan, the author of Rwanda: The Preventable Genocide, the report of an international panel that investigated the 1994 slaughter in Rwanda, published an article along exactly these same lines in the Toronto Globe & Mail. Read it here.
I guess I’d gotten used to the Bushies ignoring the facts, twisting the evidence, generally misusing the tools of reason in their drive to drive us into this war. But I think this attempt to exploit the tragic history of Rwanda for their own political ends marks a new low.

FROM NEW YORK, Valentine’s Day

I’ve had a busy couple of days of work here, talking to some really interesting folks about my ‘Violence and its Legacies’ project, and starting to make plans for the research trip I’m planning to Africa in April, as part of the project.
From time to time, the idea of going to Africa in April seems weird. Shouldn’t I be concentrating more on this terrible Bush War in (and around) Iraq??
But I think its important not to become too, too distracted by the Bush War. Other parts of the world do still matter– a lot. And this project I’m working on, which looks at how effective three countries in Africa–Mozambique, South Africa, and Rwanda–ended up being when they sought, eight to ten years ago, to deal with legacies of atrocious violence, is certainly one with lessons that will have relevance everywhere. Including Iraq.
Yesterday, I talked to Alex Boraine, who worked with Archbishop Tutu as Executive Director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. He’s now head of an organization called the International Center for Transitional Justice, that seeks to advise countries in transition on setting up their own TRCs.  Well, since I was focusing on my African research, we didn’t specifically talk about the idea of a TRC for Iraq.  But it’s not a bad idea.
What the S. African TRC did was significant because it helped to allow the white-minority regime to give up power to the democratic will of the (non-white) majority–and to be reintegrated into the new S. Africa as part of Mandela’s new ‘Rainbow Nation’.
In Iraq and in Syria, we also have the problem of minority-based regimes hanging onto power– with one great motivation for them to do so being their fear of how the majority might treat them if the majority were given a democratic order.
In South Africa, the TRC, and the broader black-white negotiation of which it was a part, allowed the white South Africans to cede power to the majority without fear of bloody retribution…
Wednesday, I talked for the first time to Andrea Bartolli, an Italian national now at Columbia who first came to NYC in the 1980s as the representative at the UN for a Catholic lay-based social-justice organization called Sant’ Egidio.  In that role, Bartolli played a significant behind-the scenes role with the rest of the Sant’ Egidio team who were helping to bring an end to Mozambique’s long-running civil war.  They succeeded in 1992.
Talking to Bartolli was fascinating.  One of the key factors he mentioned that allowed the negotiations between the two sides to the Mozambique war to succeed was the fact that they proceeded largely out of the public eyeof the world’s media, big governments, etc.  Another factor was that at that time, “No-one was even thinking that criminal prosecutions for past atrocities should be part of a peace negotiation– unlike today.”
So instead of criminal prosecutions etc (which became the international flavor-of-the-decade just a few months after Mozambique’s October 1992 agreement), what the Mozambicans did at both the national and local levels, was to state clearly that “the era of war and violence is past”, and to get on with the job of healing and rebuilding.
Bartolli told me he thought it was really important to have a consciously transformative event like the one where the leaders of the two sides there made a joint announcement that the war had ended.  He also noted that while most Westerners have a view of war that is purely instrumental– that “man uses war for his own purposes, a la Clausewitz”– in Mozambique the most common view is that war and violence are forces that themselves take hold of and use people.
Hey, George W, are you listening??
* * *
UNCLE VANYA:  We went to a great production of Brian Friel’s version of the play last night at BAM’s Harvey Lichtenstein Theater.  It seemed as though friel had cut/adapted the play well.  It moved right along.  A wrenching performance by Emily Watson as Sonya; and both Friel and Sam Mendes, who directed, had really succeeded in keeping/capturing Chekhov’s general gestalt of inescapable social decline.
Of course, New York is exhilarating and fun!!!  I guess the anti-war gathering tomorrow is not getting a permit to move, so we’ll be standing around freezingat the rally, listening to Tutu and others speak.
Yesterday, walking around the financial district, we passed a vast, slowly-moving convoy of fully-filled police vans.  The police presence on the subways was not as heavy as the NYT seemed to have portrayed.  In general, the security measures around the city seem to have settled back somewhat from when I was doing similar kinds of meetings here in March ’02.
* * *
NOTES OF 2/13 (but posted a day late):  In New York.  Front pages of most tabloids screaming about Bin Laden’s latest tape.  Audio-tape, that is.  Then, there’s the issue of duct tape: photos of people cleaning out the store shelves of this item which will– Tom Ridge assures us– save our lives in the event of chemical attack.
Mainly, though, New Yorkers seem to be stayng indoors because of the icy grip of winter here.
Today, my latest column in The Christian Science Monitor.  A challenging one indeed.  I wrote it Monday, seeing as how Tuesday I would be driving here to NYC.  The main argument I was making was that in his Feb 5 speech to the UN Colin Powell definitely did NOT establish w/ any credibility that there is a ‘nexus’ between OBL and Saddam (see my previous musings on this, below.)
So the drive here from Virginia was a toughie: swirling snows etc etc.  I heard a few scattered news reports on the car radio, but mainly listened to some Hemingway stories on CD.  I was focusing 100% on driving safely.  Got in maybe 10:30 p.m.
Wed. morning my editor at the CSM calls early, in a panic about the piece. She was right, my careful argumentation did look a little OBE (overtaken by events) in light of the new Osama tape, and the use Colin and his friends were making of it.  (Did you see Maureen Dowd’s great column on that in Wednesday’s NYT? Fabulous!)
So I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and tried to write a new head-and-foot for the piece.  It probaby wasn’t the greatest piece of work I’ve ever done.  But I was under a very tough deadline at that point
The arguments I was making in the piece are little complex.  But duh!  The world is complex!  It cannot be reduced to the war hawks’ simple Manichean view of things.  Jerking the American public into this quite avoidable war on the basis of the administration’s phony argumentation about an OBL-Saddam nexus is still
a really dangerous path to follow.
Plus, as I wrote in the column, by talking up the alleged OBL-Saddam nexus so much, the Bushies seem to have ended up virtually daring OBL to try to make it a reality. A challenge which– surprise, surprise– he seemed eager to take up.
Except he never shook his utter distaste for Saddam and Baathist socialism…