The Iowa native who is the United Nations’ chief prosecutor in the Rwanda war crimes tribunals is back in Iowa, taking a brief vacation to talk about his challenging work in east Africa. Stephen Rapp says he’s aware “the world is watching” as those responsible for the mass slaughter are brought to justice. Rapp calls it an “immense undertaking.”
Rapp says the Rwandan government itself has arrested more than 100-thousand people, including many of the street-level killers. Rapp says “there were 800-thousand people murdered in the course of 100 days (in 1994) and the number of perpetrators was very, very large.” He says some 60-thousand suspects are being put on trial within Rwanda, while the U-N-sponsored tribunal is focusing on the military and government leaders who masterminded the genocide.
Rapp says “Our job is to go after the big fish who got away from Rwanda and we’ve successfully arrested people in 28 different countries around the world, from the United States to Denmark to South Africa to Belgium.” The international tribunal is being held in a city in Tanzania, about 500 miles east of Rwanda. That’s been Rapp’s home the past five years.
The U-N has mandated the tribunal needs to be completed by the end of 2008 with the appeals done by the end of 2010. He says some of the trials are moving swiftly, but others are very slow-going. “They involve a great deal of political context and understanding of how these leaders manipulated the political system in order to create a genocide. It wasn’t a spontaneous combustion of inter-ethnic violence. It was something that was planned and organized and then done for the preservation of the power and wealth of the elite in Rwanda.”
Like in any legal case, Rapp says he knows the tribunal can’t bring back the people who’ve been murdered and it can’t mandate the paying of reparations. He says he -is- getting satisfaction in knowing they’re bringing closure and justice to people in a very troubled land. Rapp says he talked with a Rwandan man who watched the verdicts in the 2003 “media” trial, which involved the inciting of genocide through broadcast and newspaper propaganda. He says the man said “It was the most moving moment of his life to see these powerful individuals told to stand and have the judge read out convictions of the greatest crimes known to humankind and to see them sentenced to life in prison.”
Rapp is a Cedar Falls native and a Drake University grad. He served in the Iowa Legislature in the 1970s and ’80s and was the U.S. Attorney for Iowa’s Northern District from 1993 to 2001. Rapp is making several appearances across Iowa in the next few days, including appearances at Drake, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, Grinnell College and Cornell College.