Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tribunal Observation #2

Today was my second day of observing the tribunal and it was considerably more interesting than the first. I wasn't able to get a write-up of the case I sat in on, but I heard a testimony from a witness that was extremely difficult to listen to. Security for the witnesses is a big issue here because Rwanda is a very small country and there are strong feelings and stigmas attached to participating in the ICT-R. The witness today was blocked from view to protect his anonymity and he was given a pseudonym. In Kinyarwanda, he described the roadblocks that dotted the country during the genocide. He told how in many cases, mere students were commanded to man these checkpoints. Every Rwandan at this time was made to carry an ID card identifying him or her as either Hutu or Tutsi. If the students apprehended a Tutsi, they would beat the person and run to get older members of the interahamwe to come and kill them. I later asked Bishop John if reliving the history of the genocide day after day in the court was painful for him. He nodded but added that in order to do his job, he has learned to shut out the horrific details as he translates, leaving all behind the gates of the UN building when he goes home to his family at night.

The witness described two cases in particular. One involved a Tutsi man who was a judge and who was well-respected in his community. He was lucky to have Hutu facial features and when the killings began in his town, he was at first passed over, but soon, local militias began coming to his home and threatening him. He knew a Hutu minister who he had grown up with and who he had once done a big favor for, so he obtained a Hutu ID card and left his town to find the minister. He got though five road blocks with the fake ID and finally reached the house of the preacher, which was located near a school of some sort. When the minister saw him, he refused to shelter him and turned him away. Desperate, the man came back a second time and the minister grew annoyed and yelled out that he was a Tutsi. The children attacked and beat him and the judge was shot shortly thereafter.

The second case the witness described involved a young woman and her son. They had been in hiding for over a month when the Hutu propaganda radio station that had been inciting so much of the violence and killings issued a fake announcement that the killings had stopped and Tutsis were finally safe to come out of hiding. The woman fell victim to the trap and emerged from her hiding place with her son, and they were both promptly killed.

The witness recounted how in the years following the genocide, they would exhume some of the mass grave sites and if they could identify the bodies, they would read the names over the radio so the families of the victims could come bury their dead. He described how they would wait for five or six days, but often no one one was left.

At the end of his testimony, the witness described how scared he was for his safety and the safety of his family. All of his testimony was top secret--his identity was never revealed and no one is supposed to even know he is in Arusha. About a month ago, however, a man came to his door and state that he was from the ICT-R and wanted to get a full statement on all that he knew about the genocide. The witness knew this was a lie because he had already given the tribunal a full statement and he is now worried that the wrong people back in Rwanda know that he has been aiding the investigation.

After the testimony, I wandered around the streets of Arusha to clear my head. I ducked into a CD shop and bought a rather touristy album with some popular Swahili songs and one song about Kilimanjaro that I really wanted. I also purchased the Bongo Flavor album (top of the charts here in Tanzania). I paid a ridiculous price for the two CDs which I won't admit here because it's too embarrassing, but I had a really good time jamming with the guys in the store. At first, they were treating me a little too much like the somewhat lost American tourist that I am so I pulled out my bag of tricks and started beat-boxing to one of the reggae songs. I learned to beat-box though years of being in an a Capella group, but I have always wondered when/if the skill would ever come in handy. The guys were floored and called others in from the street to come hear. It was really fun and I stayed for about an hour. On my way back to the hotel, I made my favorite purchase so far here in Tanzania. I found a man with a basket full of rubber stamps on the side of the road, wheedling away with a knife. He was custom-making the stamp designs, and incidentally, I have been looking for a stamp for the Rwanda library for a long time. I picked out an oval shape, wrote my message-Rwanda School Project Library-- on a piece of paper, and laid down a small down payment. When I returned two hours later, he had made the coolest stamp ever and had even etched a perfect little book pictogram in the center. I am thrilled! Tomorrow, I fly to Kigali...I still need to figure out how to get the 50 km to the airport.

1 comment:

Bringier said...


The Williamsburg McC's have all been following your progress with intense interest. Your blog makes us feel that we are seeing all this right over your shoulder!
We missed you at the OBX of course, but we celebrated news of your summitting Kilimanjaro. Can't wait to hear more of that adventure.
Having just finished reading Theroux's Dark Star Safari and seeing The Last King of Scotland (about Idi Amin's reign of terror in Uganda)I can't help but be mindful of the dangers you face. Be careful, and know you are in our prayers.