ARUSHA, Tanzania — If you turn over your camera and passport, stroll through the airport-style metal detector, continue on past the weary clerks and anxious lawyers in the courtyard, and enter the fourth floor chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal For Rwanda — occupying, for a decade now, a conference center-turned-U.N. compound here — you can listen to the still-unfolding tales of the horrific genocide that killed 800,000 people.
Though few Americans are likely aware of it, the wheels of international justice at the ICTR — a red-headed stepchild to its counterpart in the Hague — are still in spin.
Last week, I picked up a headset and a radio transmitter, sat down beside a handful of observers — mostly aid workers checking it out for the first time — and listened to testimony against Callixte Kalimanzira, a senior civil servant who acted as minister of the interior in Rwanda during May and April of 1994. Kalimanzira, who turned himself over to authorities in November 2005, is accused of coordinating efforts to kill Tutsis — giving inflammatory speeches calling for their elimination, distributing weapons, beating several to death himself and supervising the slaughter of thousands.
In a British-style courtroom on the other side of a glass wall, a witness who had manned the so-called Jaguar checkpoint — a roadblock where Tutsis were stopped and systematically executed — testified against Kalimanzira, who once showed up at the roadblock, the witness said, complaining that he couldn’t see enough corpses. The bodies, Kalimanzira was allegedly reassured, were in a nearby mass grave just out of sight. “Sometimes I would man the roadblock,” the translator of the witnesses testimony said, through my headset. “Sometimes I would go and participate in the killings.”
Because witness protection is a main priority of the tribunal (although an ICTR informational brochure acknowledges that testifying “requires the courage of a man who dives into water to save a drowning man, knowing fully that he himself could lose his life”), the witnesses are hidden from view, speaking in a booth in the center of the courtroom.
In 2003, the U.N. Security Council charged the court to complete its trial activities by the end of 2008. But owing to the recent arrest of three more suspects — in France, Germany, and the Democratic Republic of Congo — the tribunal’s officials last month asked for another year in which to complete their mission. They’ve also written to officials in Kenya, blasting them for not doing enough to track down Felicien Kabuga, a high-value suspect who is believed to be hiding in that country.