Skip to main content

Rwanda Video Gallery Browse

Eyewitness Testimony: Stephen Rapp


I put myself always in the shoes of the victim. I was a victim of a horrible crime when I was young, and went on after that to a career as a defense attorney, and understand that no matter what the crime is, there needs to be a just process. But when I put myself in these situations and I see a Nazi camp guard killing Jewish people in the morning before breakfast, in my mind’s eye. Or I see what happened in the Rwandan genocide, with the slamming of babies against the walls of churches, you know, of families seeing their own children killed in front of their eyes, and other loved ones. And I see the brutality and the animus in the eyes of the people doing those crimes. I say, those people should answer for those crimes.

Through what’s happening in the Yugoslavia tribunal and what we did in the Rwanda tribunal, and now the Sierra Leone and through the continuing work in the future of the International Criminal Court, I think we’re creating a perception in the minds of those people that are doing these things that, “Hey, one of these days they’ll be coming for me.”

Stephen Rapp, International Prosecutor, Rwanda

Stephen Rapp, a victim of a violent crime as a young man, became a prosecutor, first for the US Attorney's Office, and from 2001 to 2006 at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Rapp led a landmark case against three Rwandan journalists charged with and found guilty of genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, and other crimes. Rapp left the ICTR in 2006 to become the prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The ICTR and a sister tribunal for Yugoslavia built upon precedents set at the end of World War II, when 21 Nazi leaders were tried for their crimes at Nuremberg. After decades of this body of law going untested, the 1990s witnessed a marked change in the willingness of individual countries and the United Nations to use international criminal proceedings in response to atrocities. In 1998, a permanent International Criminal Court was created by treaty.