Tuesday, January 29, 2002
JERRY FOWLER: Good evening. Welcome to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Jerry Fowler, and I am the staff director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscience.
The committee was created in 1995. Its mandate is to alert the national conscience and influence policymakers to respond to contemporary genocide. That mandate is rooted in the deep conviction that remembrance of the Holocaust imposes on us an obligation to speak out today when entire groups are threatened with physical destruction.
In fulfilling that mandate, the Committee on Conscience often has looked at issues related to combatting genocide, including those we visit once again this evening of justice and accountability.
On the evening of April 6, 1994, a surface-to-air missile shot down the plane carrying Rwanda’s president as it was landing in Kigali, the Rwandan capital. It is still not known who fired the missile, but the assassination was taken by extremist leaders of Rwanda’s Hutu majority as the signal to launch a carefully planned campaign to wipe out the country’s Tutsi minority, as well as moderate Hutu leaders who might oppose this program of genocide.
Over the next 100 days, as many as 800,000 people were murdered by the Rwandan military and Hutu militia. By the time the killing was stopped when a Tutsi-dominated rebel movement drove the genocidal interim government out of the country, three-quarters of the Tutsi population had been killed.
Almost eight years later, the effects of the genocide are still strongly felt. For one of the world’s poorest countries, the continuing practical consequences, such as caring for survivors who were raped and infected with HIV and are now contracting AIDS, or providing for the large number of orphans, are close to overwhelming.
For survivors, there is a pain that doesn’t go away, something that Holocaust survivors know only too well.
One man I met in Rwanda was in the United States in April 1994, helpless to do anything for his family in Rwanda. His father was murdered on the first day and most of the rest of his family perished in the following weeks. Today, he has an 18-month-old son, but the past is always there. I can’t help it, he told me, but whenever I see my son happy, I think about the genocide.
There is the issue of justice, which we address tonight. Over 100,000 accused perpetrators still await trial in Rwandan prisons, while several dozen leaders are in international custody in neighboring Tanzania awaiting trial before the International Tribunal in Arusha.
How do you obtain justice for such an enormity? We are privileged to have distinguished guests to discuss this question this evening. Mark Frohardt is regional director for Africa at Internews and a former official with the United Nations Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda.
Louise Mushikiwabo is co-founder and president of the Rwanda Children’s Fund. Elizabeth Neuffer is an award-winning journalist and author of The Key to My Neighbor’s House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda.
Ambassador Pierre Prosper is United States Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues and formerly a prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
Elizabeth and Mark will speak first, and then we will view an excerpt from the film “The Arusha Tapes,” after which Ambassador Prosper and Louise will speak. Then we should have time for questions from the audience.
To facilitate that, we have distributed note cards on which you can write questions as they occur to you. The cards will be picked up by museum staff members just before the question-and-answer period.
Without further delay, I’m happy to present Elizabeth Neuffer.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Thank you very much. I had wondered, in the wake of September 11th and the events of the last few months, if indeed we had all forgotten a little bit about Rwanda.
But it was just 10 days ago that I found myself oddly re-assured when I was standing in the rubble of the destroyed west end of Kabul, Afghanistan. My translator turned to me and said, Elizabeth, how does this compare to Rwanda?
It was then that I realized that the Rwandan genocide is and has become an international marker for conflicts and for people suffering from war and civil war around the world. I had to sit him down and explain a little bit about how in some ways it was very similar, and in other ways very different, but he wanted to measure; he wanted to know were more people dead? Had it been worse? Had it been better? Because he had heard about it tuning in illegally to those tiny strains of the BBC Radio.
I think the genocide in Rwanda shocked people around the world, and certainly, when we think about the statistics now, they are shocking. They’re still incomprehensible. Tutsis killed at a rate of [8,000] people a day; [maybe a] million people killed in the space of just a few months, nearly three-quarters of the Tutsi population.
But to try and make that understandable, to try and put a human face to those figures, I want to take you for just a few minutes into the lives -- into the life of one of the characters, or actually, one of the real people that I write about in my book, The Key to My Neighbor’s House.
The Key to My Neighbor’s House follows seven people over the course of 10 years as they search for justice in Bosnia and Rwanda. They are people that I met while on assignment and then ended up seeing over the years again and again and again. There are two overarching narratives to the book, and one is a woman who you will get to know by the name of Witness JJ.
Witness JJ was a Tutsi. If I can take you with me just for a second into Rwanda, into this village where she was from called Taba, sort of up on one of the high hills in Rwanda, swathed in mist, green fields, and houses spread out along the spine of the ridge, sort of higgledy-piggledy like laundry on a wash line; a place where there are no telephones, the roads are not paved, and women like JJ grew up expecting to marry, raise a family, and go to church once, twice, maybe three times a week.
What she found in fact instead was that she was ostracized because she was a Tutsi. In time, she found herself to be the target of a variety of genocidal acts.
I’m going to read you two short excerpts from her story of how she survived the genocide, and then a very brief excerpt of her experience when she became one of the very first people to testify before the International War Crimes Tribunal for Rwanda.
Protected, or imprisoned? The Tutsi of Taba were both. At night JJ slept with her baby at the Bureau Communale; during the day, she foraged for food, trying to hide from the gangs of Interahamwe in the fields. The rainy season had begun, and she was grateful for shelter in the evening.
But [the mayor of Taba, a man called Jean-Paul] Akayesu soon put an end to that. One night he ordered JJ and the other refugees out [of the bureau communale]. “Wicked people,” he said coldly, “no longer have a right to shelter.” A policeman standing next to him grabbed JJ and soundly beat her around the head, grabbing her as she tried to pick up her baby. As soon as he let her go, she limped, cold, hungry, and wet from the rain, off into the banana field.
She slept out in the rain that night. JJ was dirty. She was hungry. Her baby was wailing constantly. She could no longer bear life on the run. A staunch Christian, JJ at this point believed death would bring her far more peace than life. She didn’t mind dying; she just didn’t want to die under the blows of a machete. She remembered the Interahamwe, and how their machete blows had split her brothers’ bodies as easily as if they were pieces of fruit. In her mind’s eye she had seen the killers so many times over the past days: their arms raised, then a downward slash that severed flesh and bone -- and then slashing, again and again and again -- until the dusty roads turned into abattoirs.
She and a group of ten other Tutsi refugees decided to ask to die. They returned to the Bureau Communale, where they confronted Akayesu. They told him that they were too tired to run anymore, that they could no longer bear the uncertainty of knowing if they were refugees, protected by him, or targets, hunted by the Interahamwe.
“Kill us,” JJ told the mayor, drawing up her thin body to stare him in the eye. “Kill us like the others, shoot us if you will.”
“There are no more bullets,” replied Akayesu. “Even if there were, we would not waste them on you.”
Then the Interahamwe standing nearby turned on the group and started beating them.
By April, the dead piled in stinking heaps on Rwanda’s streets or scattered in masses along the fields, numbered nearly 100,000. And still the United Nations had not acted.
The United Nations Security Council met constantly that month. But there was little or no agreement among its diplomats as to what to do in the face of the mounting violence in Rwanda. UN diplomats -- US Ambassador Madeleine Albright chief among them -- labored under the widespread perception that Rwanda was gripped by civil war, not genocide. (Human Rights Watch, the prominent New York-based human rights organization, had written to the Security Council asserting otherwise.) Even UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali’s report on Rwanda’s violence, delivered to diplomats on April 21, failed to mention the organized nature of the massacres.
Security Council diplomats knew the UN Peacekeepers’ mandate, to oversee a peaceful transition in Rwanda, was no longer appropriate. But should they be reinforced … or withdrawn? The United States, ever the dominant and often determining member of the Security Council, made it clear it was determined not to intervene. The failed US mission in Somalia had so shaken the Joint Chiefs of Staff that they pushed for limits on US involvement in any UN mission. The result was a new Presidential directive that set strict conditions on US support for any peacekeeping force.
In addition, Albright told Security Council diplomats that Washington was opposed to the mission’s being reinforced under any circumstances. The US position was that all UN peacekeepers should be withdrawn. (pp. 122-123)
America’s reluctance proved infectious. After halfheartedly calling for a cease-fire, the UN Security Council on April 21 voted to reduce the number of UN troops on the ground to a mere 270 soldiers who would try to establish a cease-fire.
Six days later, the Interahamwe massacred 4,000 Tutsi in Mulyaga. But the Security Council responded only with a statement condemning the ‘violence’ in Rwanda. The Council chose its words carefully; had it been termed a ‘genocide,’ it would have been obligated to act under the terms of the 1948 Genocide Convention (p. 124).
It was near dawn one day in early May,[the dead lay scattered on the streets of Rwanda]. JJ had simply collapsed in a field near Taba, like a punctured balloon. She had lost so much weight her cheeks were sunken, her face nearly skeletal, her teeth protruding. That morning, when she looked up to see men wielding machetes, guns, and hoes towering over her, she didn’t even protest. She had given up, so death would come now.
Days before, reeling with hunger, she had handed off her baby son to a Hutu family who said they would take care of him. She hated herself for that. She had lost her three other children in the first wave of chaos, and now the fourth was gone, too. She just wanted to die.
The men looked down at JJ. “This one’s already dead,” said one.
“Where are your children, you Tutsi?” taunted another.
She let them strip her naked. They dragged her over to a small pit and threw her in it. She didn’t care. Let the red dirt of Taba be her shroud. She listened indifferent, as they debated how best to kill her. One proposed burying her alive, and a second gripped his machete. but a third had a crisis of conscience.
“Don’t kill a woman,” he said, “it will not be good for you.” The group pondered this. Taboos, suspicion, moral qualms raced through their heads. They had their orders, but they had their doubts, too.
“Poison,” declared one, “It will kill her, we won’t. I have insecticide. We will make her drink it.” The men clapped their friend on the back with approval; it was a good solution. The Tutsi would die, but their hands would remain clean.
JJ was only too grateful it would not be death by machete. ”Thank God,” she prayed, “this will be my last day on Earth to suffer.” She knelt, naked, before the men, her spindly ribs and shriveled breasts exposed.
The man returned from his house with the jug of insecticide. He raised it aloft and uncorked it. JJ tipped back her head and opened her mouth like a penitent receiving a sacred wafer from a priest. The liquid splattered across her lips, burning them. It seared a trail down her throat and curdled, burning in her stomach. But JJ opened her mouth even wider, wanting death, wanting not to have to run anymore, wanting it all to end. On and on they poured until the jug was empty, until JJ crumpled to the ground.
Years later she described to me what happened this way: “God did not put my name on the list of genocide victims that day.” JJ threw up instead of dying. (pp. 124-125)
Years later, JJ would have the extraordinary chance to be able to go and testify against Jean-Paul Akayesu, the mayor who had turned the citizens of Taba into genocidal killers and who you will be seeing more about in the film that will follow shortly.
She also had the extraordinary possibility of becoming the first woman to testify about rape for international law. I’ll just read you briefly to give an introduction to the film that will follow.
No one who heard the tall, shy Rwandan woman testify that day in 1997 -- the day when the past finally caught up with indicted war criminal Jean-Paul Akayesu -- has ever quite forgotten it.
It was mesmerizing. The woman spoke as if in a trance, her large, luminous dark eyes focused somewhere in the distance, on a world only she could see. Words flowed from her in a steady, strong current that swept those sitting in the courtroom of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda along with her as she spoke. She told of her rape by militiamen in the dirt of the sorghum field. Of her rape in the darkness of the forest. Then of her rape inside the grounds of the Bureau Communale of Taba where Akayesu had been mayor. There were so many rapes over so many days by so many men she could no longer count them.
And then she spoke the words that helped seal Akayesu’s fate. “He also told them, ‘Never ask me again what a Tutsi woman tastes like,’” she said, recalling Akayesu’s conversation with members of the Interahamwe after they had finished raping her and other women. “Tomorrow, they will all be killed.” Almost reflexively, everyone in the courtroom -- even those in the spectator’s gallery watching through a wall of bulletproof glass -- turned to look at Akayesu, the haughty, handsome man in his beige jacket and tie, his face impassive as he studied the top of his desk. For a moment, every gaze cast on the former burgomaster of Taba seemed full of horror and disbelief.
A year later, when the judges of the Rwanda Tribunal delivered their judgment, that unforgettable phrase, “Never ask me again what a Tutsi woman tastes like,” -- would help thrust Akayesu from the ranks of petty thugs into the ranks of notorious war criminals. Their 294-page judgment made Akayesu a famous man, doubly famous, in fact. He became the first man in history to be found guilty of genocide by an international tribunal…. And his case became the first in which rape -- one of the most ancient of war crimes -- would be held by a court of law to be an act of genocide and a crime against humanity. (pp. 271-272)
Film: excerpts from Internews’ “The Arusha Tapes”
Contact Internews (external link) for more information on the full Kinyarwanda version, which includes:
Background: What is Genocide?
How the Arusha Court works
Jean Paul Akayesu
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Let me introduce Pierre-Richard Prosper. He is a skilled prosecutor and he is now the United States Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues here.
PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER: Thank you, Elizabeth. Let me begin by saying it is a pleasure for me to be here at the Holocaust Museum to speak on this issue and share my experiences, particularly in a place that is the home of remembrance and commitment to combating inhumanity and atrocities.
It is also a pleasure for me to be on the stage tonight with Elizabeth and Louise, both of whom have played an important role in bringing to light the truth of the victims’ story and their plight.
I think that their raising the awareness to the global and international community is not only a right thing to do, it is a responsibility that we all have, because in the end, the hope is that we can, by the awareness, take actions early on to prevent these abuses from occurring.
The forum tonight is asking the important question of how can justice be achieved in the wake of enormous atrocities. I think that this is obviously a good question and a difficult question to answer. There is no clear-cut approach or clear-cut cookie-cutter solution.
In fact, if you look at the past 10 years, we have debated this issue in New York, in Washington, and in world capitals. We have talked about different policy questions, different initiatives; discussed different approaches, whether or not we should pursue some sort of international tribunal or whether there are domestic options that are available to us. We’ve explored traditional mechanisms, or also internationally sponsored truth and reconciliation commissions. We have talked about the need for the creation of a permanent international criminal court. As you know, we’ve created ad hoc tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. Most recently, we have sponsored a special hybrid court in Sierra Leone to address these abuses.
The goal all along has been to try to create a system that meets credible, international standards. The term that I often hear used is that we have been trying to internationalize the process in order to enhance the credibility of the justice effort in Rwanda and elsewhere.
But despite all these efforts, the questions continue to persist. While all these efforts are noble and are necessary, I think, at the end of the day, what we really need to ask ourselves is what is justice for genocide? What are we trying to achieve and for whom are we trying to achieve it?
I say this because oftentimes, I believe what happens is we get into these intellectual debates, either again in New York or in our respective capitals, wherever they may be, and we’re operating at a higher plane. We’re operating by wondering what the international community is looking for, what the international community is expecting.
But I think what we also need to do, similar to some of the work that has occurred here and is occurring in Rwanda and elsewhere, is to find a way to make justice reach the people. International tribunals are fine, but they cannot operate alone.
We also must come to the recognition that total legal justice after genocide is impossible. People will be let off the hook. People will get away.
If you look at the Rwanda example, we know that over 800,000 people were killed in a 100-day period. We also know that there must have been thousands or hundreds of thousands of perpetrators. We know that currently in Rwanda, there are over 100,000 people incarcerated behind the charges of genocide. There are approximately 57 people incarcerated in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha behind charges of genocide.
We also know that there are countless and countless suspects and indicted war criminals at large throughout the Great Lakes region.
The systems that exist, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the domestic system in Rwanda, are clearly not able to handle this burden. The impact is so great on the society that it truly does impact the fabric and the day-to-day functioning of the community.
So what should we do? I think at a minimum what needs to be done is we need to begin at the top. We need to seek, at a minimum, symbolic justice and pursue the leadership; those who bear the greatest responsibility for the abuses and the atrocities or the genocide. They need to be prosecuted through some sort of forum. If it is a type of conflict that requires a particularized response, such as the Security Council creating an International Criminal Tribunal, then so be it. If it’s some sort of a partnership approach between the United Nations and the host government, that will work as well; or if it’s the host government getting the necessary assistance from states bi-laterally or multi-laterally to achieve the justice, the justice must be had.
Well, what do we do with the balance? The balance may or should also be adjudicated through some sort of process. It can be through the domestic judicial system or it can be through truth and reconciliation commissions that are designed to point the finger of accusation, but the punishment is more being tainted by your conduct rather than incarceration.
When I look at where we are today and the efforts that are underway in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, I realize that this is where we should have been right from the start. That is, pursuing a multifaceted approach. Rather than going back to as we were in the early ’90s, just an international tribunal and hoping that was the end-all, be-all; we should be where we are today, that is having a special court that has the necessary powers, international powers to pursue the leadership wherever they may go and bring them to justice.
Have a multi-tiered approach where we’re supporting the domestic system, reinstating the rule of law, reinforcing the institutions so that they can pursue those mid-level people who did play a critical role in administering the genocide and the atrocities.
We need to have a third level, such as the gacaca that’s about to be underway in Rwanda or, in Sierra Leone, the equivalent of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
What I realize now is that the justice issue needs to be looked at globally and as part of a package. Again, it’s not just simple accountability through a legal system, but it is more the recognition of the events, the abuses as they took place, making the record clear throughout history and for the community so that the people know exactly what happened and holding the leadership responsible.
It is important that all of these approaches mesh together and work together. They will feed each other cases; they will feed each other information. The hope is with the multifaceted approach, that the justice will in fact reach the people.
I say that because I think what we need to recall and remind ourselves when we’re trying to pursue justice for genocide or crimes against humanity is that we need to keep in mind the victims.
Listening to Elizabeth and watching “The Arusha Tapes” brought back quite a bit of memories for me. It reminded me of the victims who lost so much and suffered so greatly at the hands of leaders who completely disregarded, disrespected their ethnicity, beliefs, and human life.
It reminded me that the stake that we hold or that I held in that particular situation was small in comparison to that of the survivor who had to live with the memories of the atrocities.
It reminded me that if we as an external party accept the responsibility to be an advocate, we have the duty to go to great lengths to ensure that justice is achieved and that justice is in fact heard. What is important is that if we play a role, we connect and we identify with the community so that the hope is we can transmit that justice back to the people where it belongs.
Watching the tape, I looked back, reflected, and thought of Taba. I realize that today, I still owe the community of Taba. I was able to work with the victims, work with the survivors to bring to justice, to hold accountable, Jean-Paul Akayesu. During the course of the trial, I sat side-by-side with the victims, side-by-side with the survivors, and held their hand, cried, and simply just walked them through the process. Achieving justice was a great day. We parted, we agreed to see each other again.
It’s been three years and four months and I have not been back to Rwanda. I have not been back to Taba since a few weeks after the genocide verdict, when I met with the mayor, the new mayor, to discuss the case, discuss the outcome, in hopes that he would brief his community.
I’m not sure if the message ever made it to the people. In fact, I hear at times that they wonder, well, what happened? Where is Akayesu? Where is Pierre Prosper, the man who helped us through this process and said he would come back?
Next week, I hope to get on a plane and actually go back to Rwanda and go into Taba to visit the victims and survivors of the genocide in that community. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what they would expect from me. But I think it will be a good occasion to try to bring back into their memory what I hope was a happier day, a day where they were able to point the finger of accusation and hold Jean-Paul Akayesu accountable.
I can only think of what a victim of rape, multiple rapes such as Witness J.J. has to live through day-to-day and even today. Sure, September 2, 1998 was a good day, but that comes and goes. I think what stays with the victims and the survivors is a memory of the horror, the memory, as Witness J.J. said, of being raped dozens of times during a several-day period. What stays with her is being labeled; the taboo of being a rape victim.
I’d like to think that their life is better. I’d like to think that I made a difference and contributed. But I know that it is probably impossible to fully recover from genocide.
So the way forward, I believe, is to make sure that the justice is actually seen, felt, and understood by those who need it most: the people of the community. The victims and survivors must be fully informed of the process as the process is happening. If we truly want the rule of law to be a living principle, the society and its institutions must be part of the process. They cannot be divorced or separate.
As Ambassador at Large, the policy that I am promoting and that we are promoting as an Administration is just that, to bring justice back to the people. We believe that the international practice should be to support sovereign states in seeking justice domestically when it is feasible and would be credible. We believe that international tribunals are not and should not be the court of first redress, but of last resort.
Our policy is to encourage the pursuit of credible justice rather than abdicating the responsibility to an international body, because justice, and the administration of justice more particularly, are a cornerstone of any democracy. And pursuing accountability for war crimes while respecting the rule of law by a sovereign state must be encouraged at all times.
I think we can all agree that the ideal world is that each state can properly handle the events that occur in its own backyard.
So when you ask me how do we achieve justice in the wake of an enormous atrocity, well, I know one thing; that the answer is not clear, it’s not simple, and it may change tomorrow. One thing is for sure, that the thing that must be in the front of our minds is the victims, the survivors, and their need to feel, hear, and be part of the process.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Thanks, Pierre. As Pierre knows, because I’ve been to Taba more recently, I can assure him they are still waiting for him to come and you’ll get a very warm welcome when you do get there next week.
Next, we have Louise Mushikiwabo, who can speak very eloquently herself about the genocide. Her brother, a leading Tutsi politician, and other members of her family, were murdered in the genocide.
She’s currently the co-founder and president of the Rwanda Children’s Fund, a charitable organization in the metropolitan Washington area that supports Rwandan children orphaned by genocide. As a fellow author, I’ll give a plug for her forthcoming book, King Solomon’s Crimes, which will tell the story of her family and how they survived the genocide.
LOUISE MUSHIKIWABO: Thank you, Elizabeth. I will start by responding to a question posed by Ambassador Prosper, which is what is justice? I will respond to that question as a genocide survivor in the context of Rwanda.
Justice is many different things at the same time. Justice for Rwandans will have to come from Rwanda and from outside Rwanda. Can there really be justice for genocide? Obviously not.
The question really for Rwandans is how to live after the genocide and eventually how to seek justice. The more important question for survivors is how not to have another genocide. So while justice is probably a very important factor in the lives of Rwandan survivors, it is almost unrealistic to ask for justice.
I’ll go back a little bit to our history, to the history of Rwanda. One of the reasons why the genocide in Rwanda was so successful, so to speak, has a lot to do with our political system and our history. That same political system -- truly an enterprise. Contrary to what has been written and reported, when the genocide started, it was not an explosion of random violence, ancient tribal hatreds.
The genocide in Rwanda was as well-organized as an American corporation. It had a chief executive officer, a chief financial officer. It had a media and promotion department, and it worked perfectly. The reason it worked perfectly is because it had been planned perfectly, and also because nobody in Rwanda before April 1994 ever thought that there would be a genocide.
People thought that there could be violence, that there could be war, maybe that some people could be killed. But no Rwandan in Rwanda ever believed that there could be a genocide. In fact, the word “genocide,” which is now part of everyday vocabulary in Rwanda -- I grew up -- I was raised in Rwanda and I had never heard of the word “genocide” in my language, in Kinyarwanda. Today, it is part of everyday life.
So the complications in terms of justice for Rwanda are multiple. I will talk about just a few of them tonight.
Aside from our history, which divided the people of Rwanda into tribal categories, it is not so ancient. The tribes or the groups, the ethnic groups in Rwanda are ancient indeed, but the clear division between the ethnic groups in Rwanda dates to the time right before the independence of Rwanda.
So the mass killings in Rwanda do not go before 1959, and that is clearly not ancient. When the Belgian Colonial Administration left Rwanda in 1959-1960, they left behind a time of confusion and conflict that was then labeled the Social Hutu Revolution, which indeed was more a transfer of power from the Belgian administration to a small Hutu elite in Rwanda in 1960.
From 1960 to 1994, there were many abuses in Rwanda and there were many forms of injustices in Rwanda in the workplace, in the schools, in daily life in the villages. That is a major contribution to the success of the 1994 genocide. The rule of law is a term that is probably very new in Rwanda, although Rwanda has had a constitution since 1961, and most Rwandans know that thou shalt not kill.
Despite the fact that we have human rights organizations that were in Rwanda before the genocide, in reality, those systems did not work. Nobody in power ever said anything or did anything. Between 1990 and 1994, there was a civil war going on in Rwanda, which got mixed up in the genocide in the spring of 1994, and that brought even more confusion.
When the genocide started in 1994, I was in Washington. I had just left Rwanda in January. Things were very tense and people were anxious. People thought there could be something, not a genocide, but something. There had been many genocides, tests, by Rwandans trying to see whether the so-called international community would do something. When nothing happened, all that was needed then was a signal to start a well-planned genocide. Everything was in place when the plane carrying the president of Rwanda was shot on April 6, 1994. Within hours, roadblocks were set up. The first victims were actually that night, April 6, 1994.
Talking about challenges of justice in Rwanda is in itself a challenge. There are many players in the genocide of 1994 in Rwanda, a major player being the Rwandan people themselves. But they got a lot of help from other actors, from foreign governments, such as the government of France. They got help from the inaction of the international community, which had received clear and ample warning about the genocide. There are other players, such as the Catholic Church, which was a very powerful institution in Rwanda since 1960.
That makes it very, very difficult, because given the history and the means and the resources and the energy of a post-genocide society, how does one go by seeking justice? How would Rwandans or even the state, the government of Rwanda, confront powerful institutions?
So those are a few of the challenges from the many players in the genocide. There is an even more fundamental challenge on the ground, which is living next door to your killer. Since there are many suspects, 120,000 detained, but many more still at large living in the villages with their victims.
Also, going back to our history, things in terms of ethnic belonging are not clear-cut. There’s been intermarriage in Rwanda for many, many years. Families like mine in Rwanda -- I am officially, according to the Belgian administrative system of 1962, which is when I was born, I am Tutsi. That could mean that my father had more than 10 cows, and therefore, was classified Tutsi. There’s nothing scientific about those categories. But more than that, I have Canadian in-laws. I have a cousin who’s married to a Vietnamese. I have a sister who’s married to a Hutu.
So how do I confront justice with so many intricacies and with so many difficulties? Those are the questions that Rwandans are confronting today.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up I think in September of 1994. It was set up in a climate of confusion in Rwanda and an anti-United Nations, anti-international community feeling in Rwanda. That feeling has contributed to a large extent to the perception of international justice after the genocide.
I’ve worked around lawyers, I have worked around human rights groups; I had a very difficult time looking at a genocide in legal terms. I had a difficult time hearing lawyers talking about the rights of the accused. So I think about all these Rwandans in Rwanda who have no idea how a court functions, who have no idea what the standards are, and that’s basically what has been happening in Rwanda since 1994.
Now the three systems, the international, the national, and hopefully, this summer, the community-based justice system called gacaca will all be working at the same time in Rwanda.
I would just talk briefly about the gacaca systems, since you are familiar with the international courts. The national courts basically work like any normal courts in the United States, with a much, much smaller budget, with very, very few resources, financial and human resources.
The community-based gacaca court system was introduced in 1998 as a solution to the judicial crisis of 120,000 detainees that had to go to trial. Other than a general amnesty, the best solution was to go back to our customs and revive an ancient village-style justice system where everybody in the community would be involved. Judges would be elected from the community, with the only requirements to have basic education and be a man or woman of integrity.
From 1998, a law has been set into place by the Rwandan government. Judges have been trained. Prisoners and survivors have been briefed about this system. The gacaca courts should be functioning in July of this year. That also has its challenges. Obviously, a community-based system is not appropriate for a crime as grave as a genocide. Some suspects are out of Rwanda. Some suspects would have to be bussed from the prisons to their communities to their villages. It’s a logistical nightmare.
The appeal system: How is that going to work, the sentencing in such a court? So those are many of the challenges that Rwanda faces today in this long but very important search for justice.
Thank you very much.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: I’m going to ask the staff to bring questions up quickly. We have just a little bit of time to address it, so I’ll ask you to try and stick around for the question-and-answer period.
But Louise, I have one question for you and one for Pierre while I’m waiting for the cards to be brought up to me.
How is gacaca going to work when neighbors live Tutsi to Hutu? How are you not going to divide a village in half when gacaca system gets underway?
LOUISE MUSHIKIWABO: Well, everybody in Rwanda understands that gacaca is better than nothing. It’s a system that is not perfect, and everybody’s very nervous about it; both the survivors and the perpetrators.
There’s been quite a lot of preparations for gacaca and I think most people in Rwanda are very realistic about what to expect from gacaca. The basic principle of gacaca is telling the truth. So if the truth comes out, maybe that’s an important part of justice. If the truth doesn’t come out, then I think it will be very, very disappointing. We think it should bring at least part of the truth about the genocide to the various neighborhoods.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Do we have the cards collected? Not yet? Okay.
This gives me a chance to ask one more question, and as a reporter, I love to ask questions. So Pierre, you talked about how the Administration’s policy, if I understood you correctly, would be that international courts would be not the court of first redress, but of last resort.
If we hadn’t had an ICTR, how could you have conceivably expected Rwanda to have, at least in the early days, addressed its own questions of justice? Didn’t the fact that there was an International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda help galvanize the domestic process?
PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER: I think it actually depends on the conflict. One advantage of having an ad hoc process, ad hoc tribunals, is that they can be specially tailored for the events. If you look at Sierra Leone, it is something that is quite different from Rwanda, which is a hybrid partnership approach between the international community and the government of Sierra Leone.
Rwanda was obviously a unique or different situation, where the entire country, the country’s leadership, its intellectual community for the most part was destroyed and we’re starting from scratch. So the international community had to come in and play not only a significant role, but a complete role in the administration of justice.
I think what I would do differently if I could today is I would put within that process a mechanism that would allow for, if possible, more domestic participation so that it would tie in the community. I say that because what we saw, particularly in the early days of the tribunal, as Louise mentioned, was that the justice was not being brought back to the people. The community did not hear about it. They did not feel it. Arusha was someplace far away. They didn’t even know where it was on the map.
Just to give you an example of the mindset of some of the victims and survivors, I recall I had a witness, Witness C, as in Charlie. He came from Taba, never left the essentially 2-mile radius. We took him out of Taba to Kigali, which is 45 minutes away. It was his first time ever going to Kigali.
Later that day, we took him at night and put him on our little 10-seat plane and flew him to Arusha, Tanzania. It was his first time ever being on a plane. I remember he said as we were taking off -- through his translator, he looked at me and said, boy, too bad it’s night, you know. I was hoping it was daylight so I can see heaven.
Now you take someone with that limited perspective or background and you bring them to this international court, where you saw we were all wearing these robes, there’s cameras; it is quite shocking.
I cannot put myself in the place of victims or survivors, but I really wonder what they think of the process and if it really means anything to them.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: I’m overwhelmed. You know, when -- I can remember 2 years ago or 2-1/2 years ago, the very first agent I went to saying, well, Americans really aren’t interested in questions of justice in Bosnia and Rwanda. I’m sitting here with more questions than we could conceivably answer in our remaining 15 minutes and probably would take us another whole session, and they’re extraordinary questions.
So I’m just going to pull them out at complete random. I’m not going to answer this one, but thank you very much whoever asked me the question when will Karadzic and Mladic be apprehended and brought to justice in Bosnia? I would like to say tomorrow, but I’ve been waiting a long time.
I’ll just address this to the panel at large. I know some of you addressed this to one or the other of us, but there’s a chance for all of us to answer. It raises the question about truth and reconciliation, and the truth and reconciliation process. The question here that is posed is: Are you attempting to get to the truth about the genocide or to justice?
Would the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission work in Rwanda? Why are truth commissions not more widespread in Rwanda, and would it not speed up the process?
Would you, Pierre, quickly like to kick off and leave a little bit of time for Mark and Louise to chime in?
PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER: Again, what I would say is that each situation is different. They have to have a process that’s uniquely tailored to the society, a process that the society understands. I believe with the gacaca process, it is something that does have its origin in Rwandan society and it is not another foreign process brought to the community.
MARK FROHARDT: I think that Louise should answer before me.
LOUISE MUSHIKIWABO: It’s important to know that in this process that started in 1998, many people who were involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission inside Africa did travel to Rwanda. Rwanda has consulted, to a large extent, with South Africans on, you know, what the benefits could be for Rwanda from their own experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
But again, the situations are quite different in, you know, the -- I guess the enormity of the genocide in Rwanda, the sheer numbers of suspects, the people living next door to their son’s or husband’s murderer; there are differences.
But Rwanda did learn quite a bit from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.
MARK FROHARDT: The enormity, and the premeditated nature, of the crimes in Rwanda, demand a court-based system, and in this situation particularly, a traditional court.
I think the gacacas do answer a lot of the issues about reconciliation and community participation that truth and reconciliation commissions do. They have the added value of being a court process that determines innocence or guilt, which I think in Rwanda is very important.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: An interesting question and one we didn’t address tonight: What role do we foresee for churches in the search for justice in Rwanda? A very tricky question, given the fact that in some cases, priests were involved in the genocide.
LOUISE MUSHIKIWABO: I was going not to answer that question because --
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Sorry.
LOUISE MUSHIKIWABO: Of my particular views of the church in Rwanda, which could be another five sessions. But one of the problems that I personally saw with the church in Rwanda is that the church spends a lot of energy and time on reconciling. Basically, it becomes very confusing for people; why justice? Actually, is justice vengeance?
So we should forgive our neighbors and live peacefully ever after, which, you know, is a very serious issue, especially that the church was involved in -- you know, members of the clergy were involved in committing the genocide.
Two nuns from Rwanda were indicted in Brussels last year for genocide. There are members of the clergy who are in prison in Rwanda. The church as an organization has done everything to protect its members who were involved in the genocide, who we Rwandans believe should be held accountable for their individual acts and not be provided protection of the church.
So the role that the church should play is basically to be truthful and not cover a crime as serious as genocide by, you know, unrealistic words such as “reconciliation” and “peace.” That’s just my personal opinion.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Mark?
MARK FROHARDT: If I could just add one quick example. When I was in Rwanda, I attended the ordination of a bishop in Gitarama. It was a very long ceremony. It went on for several hours and there were several speeches that were made throughout the afternoon.
What struck me by the end of this was that if you had come in from the outside and had not known what had taken place in Rwanda and had been there that day and had listened to those speeches, you would have thought that Rwanda had just experienced a great flood, maybe some kind of a natural disaster, that many people had suffered. Many people had suffered tremendously, but nobody was guilty for any of that suffering.
I think that to a certain degree the church has extended itself to try and approach reconciliation by getting people to move on without addressing issues of guilt.
In Rwanda, with the scale and the gravity of the crimes which have been committed there, that is not possible. For many Rwandans, when they see the church’s involvement and they see that inability to actually address issues of guilt, they cannot consider the church as a legitimate interlocutor in that process.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: A number of you raised the question, and I’ll combine them into one big question: If we’re going to talk about prosecuting at the highest level, what do we do about the UN and the United States and those who basically allowed the genocide to happen?
This is an issue that hits right home to me because one of the people I follow in the book is a woman whose husband was slaughtered while under the protection of UN guards. I know it’s one that Louise feels very strongly about as well.
I’d like to give her a few minutes to answer, but I’d also be curious to hear what Pierre, how you think we should handle this, given that you’re now, in essence, representing the United States.
PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER: Well, more than in essence. I’ll quickly take this one on. I think we need to really look at the reality of the situation and understand that the people who committed the crimes were Rwandese. We can talk about aiding and abetting that may have occurred by external parties, other states, but I don’t think we can say that it was a crime for the international community in a legal sense to not act.
Obviously, there are moral questions here and what was the moral responsibility.
We look at the Genocide Convention. The Genocide Convention says that states have a duty to prevent or punish genocide when it’s occurring. But what does that mean? That has never been defined. We automatically jump to the conclusion that it means military intervention, but nowhere is that stated. It could be a diplomatic intervention. It could be speaking out. These things did occur; the United States did do this, other states did it. But I will say that there was a moral obligation to act.
We know that in 1998, President Clinton in March visited Rwanda and apologized for the late action/inaction of the international community, and I think that was well-placed and appropriate. My hope is that from Rwanda, we learn our lessons. I can tell you that within the Administration, we have learned lessons from Rwanda. We’ve had meetings on this very issue.
We are, in our own minds, contemplating various ideas as to what the proper response should be in the event another genocide is to occur anywhere in the world. I can tell you, the first place we look is to see what the state’s responsibilities are and the responsibility of the states and the region. But we do recognize that we have a role to play as the leader of the free world.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Louise, you want to --
LOUISE MUSHIKIWABO: I respectfully have to disagree with Mr. Prosper, whom I really respect quite a lot.
I won’t get into my personal story where one of my brothers, who was the only Tutsi cabinet member in 1994 and a member of the negotiating team in the peace process of Rwanda, was as such provided protection by the United Nations. He had UN guards at his home, in his car, wherever he went, and they simply ran away the day he was killed. I won’t even get into that.
What I would like to say is that the lack of accountability for an international organization like the United Nations is catastrophic.
I have to disagree with you, Pierre, that things have changed and there would be a different reaction. I don’t see why or how things would be different. Nobody in these international organizations -- I’ll look at the United States as a member of the UN for these purposes -- nobody other than a verbal apology from Secretary General Kofi Annan and written reports on the lack of action of the United Nations and the organization of African unity and many books such as Elizabeth Neuffer’s books; nobody really is accountable today. It’s apologies and reports.
Then after Rwanda, we have Sierra Leone. After Sierra Leone, we have -- I don’t know, East Timor could have been worse. I think I personally and many Rwandans would feel so good if Rwanda had served as a lesson. But I don’t believe Rwanda has served as a lesson, simply because these international civil servants do their job in a very disconnected way, knowing that their actions are of no consequence.
In fact, I believe in order to not have another genocide, there has to be a mechanism of real accountability from international organizations such as the UN
JERRY FOWLER: Were you going to say something more?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: No. I was just going to say Pierre should be happy I didn’t ask all the questions about the Rome Treaty.
PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER: I think those would have been easier to answer.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Anyway --.
PIERRE-RICHARD PROSPER: Just one quick point I want to make on that is that we need to distinguish between moral responsibility and legal criminal culpability.
I think no one is disagreeing with you that there was a moral obligation to take action. The next step is probably to define what the actual legal responsibilities of states are and that’s never been defined, and that is part of the problem. So each state is left to do it itself. And that’s what we were doing.
LOUISE MUSHIKIWABO: I still disagree, even on that. The way Rwanda was dealt with, even after the genocide, is really in many ways criminal.
The reason we have a war that involves eight countries in Africa today is because of the lack of direction in dealing with Rwanda. It’s mainly for allowing international criminals to leave Rwanda and go to other countries which are regulated by these international treaties and organizations -- unpunished; untouched.
So six years later, we have the Congo, Namibia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Burundi in a war. This is a matter not of national concern for Rwanda, but of international concern.
So I could go on and on. I have to stop.
JERRY FOWLER: Well, I’d like to extend my profound thanks to our panelists for this evening. Please thank them once more.
It’s now 9:00, so if you rush you will catch part of the State of the Union.
Let me tell you that you can follow the work of the Committee on Conscience through our Web site, which is www.ushmm -- for US Holocaust Memorial Museum -- .org/conscience.
We have a list server there which I encourage you to sign up for so you can keep track of the events that we hold and the things that we’re doing.
Thank you very much for coming.