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USF Libraries Exhibits

Holding Genocide Perpetrators Accountable

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

I think the conviction in the Akayesu case put people on notice. It put potential organizers or orchestrators on notice that you can and will be held accountable no matter where you are. You can flee, you can be on the other side of the world, but the long arm of the law will catch you and bring you to justice. You’re not above the law, which is what a lot of these party leaders, political leaders, think they are. So, I think the message gets out that they will be punished. Another message is told, and that is to the victims and the survivors. We have to realize that, for victims and survivors of genocide, they have lost all hope. They have lost everything. They’ve lost their family, they’ve lost their soul, they’ve lost their will to live. So to finally see someone doing something and holding the leader that they once revered accountable for their actions will give them the strength to rebuild their lives and to move forward. And that’s what I saw in my case when I went back to the community. I saw people starting their life anew. I think what it was is—I look at the overall experience of the trial process, and in the beginning when I first went out there, how the victims and the witness were not too vocal. They didn’t really want to talk about it too much. They were hard—it was hard for me to approach them, to get close. It was hard for me to get them to tell their entire story. As the trial moved on, they did open up a bit and they put some of their confidence and trust into the trial team, because that was their hope. They saw that as their hope in order to move forward with their lives. But I tell you, after he was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, I went back to the community and you could see—there was now a bounce in their step. The people were truly appreciative that that leader that betrayed them was held responsible. Someone cared.