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The Goals of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Pierre-Richard Prosper, Special Counsel and Policy Advisor to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes

The main focus of the work that our office is doing today is essentially two-fold. I think our goals are to prevent and to punish genocide, crimes against humanity, atrocities. Ideally, the first step would be to prevent: to prevent through diplomacy; prevent maybe through some use of limited force; prevent by raising the awareness of the international community so that other people take action, people that take responsibility. The other side is accountability, that if these crimes are committed they cannot go unpunished. We cannot just pretend it didn’t happen. You cannot expect to have millions and millions of people being killed and have it swept under the rug and go on as business as usual. So, it is important that crimes of this nature are recognized and that those that are responsible are adequately punished.

I think the experience for the people of Taba commune in Rwanda, the people of the Akayesu case—for them, it was closure. You really have to understand the case. It was a case of betrayal. Here was a community leader that was responsible for them, for their wellbeing, for their security, for their health. And here this person turned and betrayed them and committed genocide. It was hard for the people to understand; it was hard for the people to accept. Going through the trial process and holding this person accountable was, in a sense, cathartic. It allowed the community to speak on the issue; it allowed the community to be part of the process, to speak out against him. You should have seen some of the witnesses in court. They were very strong and very vocal about the actions of the mayor, Mr. Akayesu. And it essentially allowed them to close the chapter, while it’s something they will never forget; it has imposed a horrific scar on their soul. It allowed them to say yes, he was held accountable, he was punished, and they can move on with their now day-to-day life.