On Monday, September 15th, we had the opportunity to visit the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which was established in Arusha, Tanzania in 1994 in the wake of the Rwandan genocide. It was here where thousands of individuals were put on trial for crimes committed during the 100 days of bloodshed. This included perpetrators of the violence, as well as any individuals that were involved indirectly, including providing funds and support. While there, we received three different lectures by individuals who are involved with the functions of the tribunal. This included:
Douglass Hansen, a legal officer at the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences in Siracusa, Italy
Thembile Monica Segoete, a member of the Appeals Council
Samuel Akorimo, Officer in Charge of the Registry, and Sera Attika, Head of the Witness Support and Protection Unit (both work with the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals)
So there we were, sitting in one of the courtrooms where hundreds and hundreds of these individuals – these interehamwe, higher up officials, financiers – had sat in the past years. The lecturers sat where witnesses, victims, and perpetrators sat when on trial, while we sat in the seats of the judges. I was a baby when the genocide had occurred, although I had been taught much about it and had seen Hotel Rwanda. But sitting in the place of judgment was surreal.
The lecture I enjoyed most was our very first. Douglass Hansen, who had worked as a legal officer at the tribunal, has vast experience working in several other criminal tribunals, including those in Cambodia and Sierra Leone. Mr. Hansen made a point to give us a comprehensive understanding of what genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are. He defined genocide as “with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a religious, racial, ethnic or national group as such.” When you break down the definition, you come to realize that genocide does not necessarily mean this mass killing of people. Three hundred people can be killed and it is still considered genocide, as in Srebrenica in 1995.
We think of genocide as this huge catastrophic number of people dying at the hands of another group – that is the stigma around the word ‘genocide.’ His driving this concept into our minds really puts into perspective all of these genocides that have occurred or are occurring right this very moment that are being completely ignored or are not being addressed with the immediate response that they need. There were several genocides and past and current situations he mentioned that I had never even heard of. And this was frustrating to me. We live in a very globalized and interconnected period of time – shouldn’t we at least be aware of these things? We are all members of the international community, and yet I could probably walk up to any individual and maybe 1 out of 15 will know what is going on in Myanmar/Burma right now if I had to guess.
As an international studies major, hearing Mr. Hansen speak was very inspiring – he spoke with such a vast knowledge of the world, yet brought himself into his lecture. An international lawyer and proclaimed anarchist, his outlook on the genocide and the world was refreshing and down to earth, and he has so much life experience to own. Even though I was running on maybe 4 hours of sleep, I was entranced. Sitting there without previously having any idea what my future looks like, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, maybe this is something I can do one day.”
Thembile Monica Segoete, who works on the Appeals Council at the tribunal, also gave a very eye-opening lecture. She went more in depth about the responsibilities within the Appeals Council, and the challenges and successes of the council over the last 20 years. Most captivating about her lecture was her recollection of working on rape cases of women who had been raped by the interehamwe (Hutus responsible for the mass killing). She said that somewhere around 500,000 women were raped, often times repeatedly before being killed or set free, during the genocide. And many of those women who survived were difficult to convince that they were in fact raped. The sexual culture in East Africa is a rather conservative and sensitive topic, so convincing these women to appear as a witness in trial was very challenging. The topic of the trials was, for the first time, given a human face as she told us about her own emotional struggle hearing the women’s horrifying stories. She described rape as a weapon of war, a method of dehumanization. And I’m sure she could tell that these women had lost a part of their humanity.
After our visit to the tribunal, we made our way to a Maasai and Meru (both tribes found in Tanzania) handicraft market – several rows of small, tent-covered cubbies where individuals displayed their crafts, such as jewelry, masks, tshirts, figurines, scarves, pottery – you name it. It was a very overwhelming experience to say the least. You couldn’t take a step without someone shouting “karibu rafiki! Come look, one minute!” at you, sometimes throwing their bodies in front of you to block the very small pathway. One woman grabbed ahold of my shoulders and physically held me back from walking with the rest of the group – “your friends are right there, they’re not going anywhere, come inside,” she told me. I didn’t even make it down one of the maybe 5 rows. When we weren’t being verbally harassed, we tried to communicate with the vendors in Swahili, but we almost always got a response in English. This was a tourist-y market, they knew who their audience was.
Some of the vendors weren’t as forceful, and those were the ones that I actually bought products from. I asked them questions while I was looking at the shelves of small knick-knacks and jewelry. Things like: Do you make these yourself? Where do you live? How far do you have to walk to get here? What tribe are you in? What is this made of? Many of them had to walk long distances or take multiple forms of transportation to get to the market every day. This was a source of income for these individuals, and here we were trying to bargain our way out of prices (even though I knew we would always be given the “white person/muzungu” price). So I bought a few things from the individuals that I enjoyed talking to. It is there livelihood, after all.