Human complexity apparent in genocide’s aftermath


This summer I lived in East Africa, working for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, thanks to a grant from the Harvard Human Rights Program. I went looking for a life-changing experience, and I found it. Most of my time was spent doing clerkship-like work for the judges of Trial Chamber II in Arusha, Tanzania, but I did spend a week in Rwanda itself tagging along on witness interviews (with victims and low-level perpetrators) and visiting massacre sites. During that time, I kept a journal.

June 20, 2001Transport

Now that I started work, the U.N. picks me up and drops me off on weekends, but I have had several memorable local transportation experiences. “Dalla-Dallas” are these mini-buses that have had most of their seats removed as well as part of the roof. About 30 people cram in so that it looks like those telephone booths in the Guinness book of world records. Some people hang from the side, and it makes several stops along a predetermined route. You get a little closer than you’d probably like to people, but it is very cheap way of getting around at 200 Tsh (30 cents).

Although they ostensible drive on the “wrong side of the road” as in England, most Arusha streets only have one lane or have two lanes, but that distinction is ignored so that you have oncoming traffic heading at you. Almost all the cars are junkers that have been fixed up, so most of the dashboard is usually ripped out, and if you sit in the front passenger seat you can feel the heat of the engine and the wires touch your legs.

Except the main road, almost none of the roads are paved. On just about every trip you hit a huge bump or pot hole and get some “air time” several times along the ride.

Taxi drivers are very sketchy, especially at night. Last night we went to one of Arusha’s two discos (where I was hit on by prostitutes, who make up half of the club’s women) and when we left, the taxi we were in wouldn’t start. Rather than letting us out, the driver had two guys push the car for about seven minutes until it finally started moving on its own.

I just crossed my fingers that the car would not break down before we got home, since we’d be stranded in the middle of a street in pitch-black Arusha (there are no streetlights). When we finally did get home, the driver kept going as I tried to get out for fear that if he stopped the car it would die again.

June 25, 2001The Butare case

In the Butare case (a case indicting six people in the chain of command in the Butare region of Rwanda), both Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the former minister for Family and Women Affairs, who is the first woman ever indicted for crimes against humanity, and her son Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, who was a leader of the local interhamwe (youth-killing gangs that carried out most of the massacres of Tutsis), are on trial.

During the trial two days ago, the son, Shalom, protested vigourously several times that his lawyers should not be allowed to speak on his behalf since they hadn’t consulted him since February. Shalom kept speaking and each time he seemed to enjoy it more, protesting about his lawyers being assholes and increasingly enjoying the spotlight of the courtroom. He was very amusing, very comical, and the gallery chuckled with each of his successive outbursts. I chuckled, too, and then felt weird as I remembered that he was on trial for mass slaughter and rape.

It frightened me to realize that evil can be comical sometimes, and that despite all he had done he was still very human. I could not divorce that from my way of viewing him.

I felt similarly when I recognized the way Shalom’s mother watched him and the strong family bond that existed between them despite the fact that the two of them were accused of organizing the slaughter of thousands. Could one be both a good, loving mother and a genocidaire? Was this the true face of evil?

July 28, 2001A Rwandan Hamlet

Mr. Kwende, the head of investigations in Kigali Rwanda, wanted to talk to us after seeing the massacre sites. He told us about his experience with Rwandan prisoners, and that most of them are not remorseful.

One man, though, was a Hutu who had killed his best friend (a Tutsi) in the fevered pitch of the genocide. This man voluntarily turned himself in because he could not bear the guilt of what he had done.

The man suffered from hallucinations of his friend’s voice and incessantly carried around the dead man’s skull because whenever he put it down he heard his friend say, “Why do you leave me on the cold ground? Please don’t leave me here.”

The story really touched me.

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