Tag Archives: Rwanda

Justice in Rwanda

18 Dec

Last summer I fell in  love with the country of Rwanda.  The people, the food, the beautiful landscapes.  I specifically remember looking into the sky & seeing cloud formations I had never seen before — those clouds brought a strange sense of peace to me  yet I felt the bloodstained ground on which I stood  screaming from one of the worst atrocities committed by mankind: the 100-day genocide of 1994 .

Today the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda brought some justice to the people of Rwanda & the world  through the conviction of the genocide mastermind.  Some 14 years later we are seeing that justice can & should prevail.

Trio found guilty of Rwandan genocide

(CNN) — The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on Thursday convicted the “mastermind” of the Rwandan genocide and sentenced him to life in prison for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Theoneste Bagosora, right, and his co-defendant Anatole Nsengiyumva, left, arrive in court.

Theoneste Bagosora, right, and his co-defendant Anatole Nsengiyumva, left, arrive in court.

It is the first time the tribunal has convicted high-level officials for the 100-day genocide in 1994 which left an estimated 800,000 people dead.

Theoneste Bagosora, 67, a colonel in the Rwandan army, was found guilty along with two other men — Major Aloys Ntabakuze and Lieutenant Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva. All were sentenced to life in prison.

The tribunal — located in Arusha, Tanzania — acquitted General Gratien Kabiligi, the former head of military operations, and ordered his immediate release.

CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour — who covered the story — called the verdicts “a real turning point and a milestone in justice.”

“It sends a message that right up the chain of command, you cannot hide,” Amanpour said.

The court said Bagosora was a key figure in drawing up plans for the genocide.  A Hutu, Bagosora was convicted of ordering Hutu militia to slaughter rival Tutsis.

The massacres began after a plane crash on April 6, 1994 that killed the presidents of Rwanda and neighboring Burundi. The court said the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile fired from the airport in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.

Bagosora decided the military should take over and he refused to involve the prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, in any discussions, the court found.

April 7, while Bagosora held a crisis meeting with top military officials, the prime minister was arrested, sexually assaulted and killed by top members of the Rwandan Army, the court found.

That made Bagosora the head of all political and military affairs in Rwanda, and in that capacity, he was at the top of the chain of command.

The same day the prime minister was killed, the court said, army personnel confined and killed four important opposition leaders — including the president of the constitutional court and government ministers — and murdered 10 Belgian peacekeepers who had been dispatched to the prime minister’s residence.

The court found Bagosora bore responsibility for those and other killings because he commanded those who carried out the crimes.

“Bagosora was the highest authority in the Ministry of Defense and exercised effective control of the Rwandan army and gendarmerie,” said Presiding Judge Erik Mose. “He’s therefore responsible for the murder of the prime minister, the four opposition politicians, the 10 Belgian peacekeepers, as well as the extensive military involvement in the killing of civilians during this period.”

ICTR Prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow said the convicted men “prepared, planned, ordered, directed, incited, encouraged and approved the murder of innocent civilian Tutsis.”

The killings were carried out by military personnel on the orders of Rwandan authorities including Bagosora, the court said.

The court found that from April to July 1994, Bagosora exercised authority over members of the Rwandan Army and their militiamen, who committed massacres throughout Rwanda with Bagosora’s knowledge.

“In all the regions of the country, members of the Tutsi population who were fleeing from the massacres on their hills sought refuge in locations they thought would be safe, often on the recommendation of the local civil and military authorities,” the indictment said. “In many of these places, despite the promise that they would be protected by the local civil and military authorities, the refugees were attacked, abducted and massacred, often on the orders or with the complicity of those same authorities.”

The indictment against Bagosora alleged he had been opposed to concessions made by his government to Tutsi rebels at 1993 peace talks in Tanzania, and had left the negotiations saying he was returning to Rwanda to “prepare the apocalypse.”

The U.N. established the tribunal in late 1994. The trial began in April 2002 and has been deliberating since June 1, 2007.

During the trial, the court heard 242 witnesses — 82 for the prosecution and 160 for the defense.

The three convicted men will be held in the tribunal’s custody until a state can be found to house them.

The genocide’s impact is still be felt today, with recent fighting in neighbouring Congo blamed on lingering tensions from the slaughter.

Rebel leader Laurent Nkunda says his forces are fighting to defend Congolese Tutsis from Hutu militants who escaped to Congo.

Feeling the Effects of Genocide

3 Dec

It was my summer 2007 trip to Nyamata, Rwanda that brought me face to face with the effects of genocide. 

Our Rwandan guide led us to the grave site of some 42,000 people who had been slaughtered only years before.  My mind could not comprehend such evil acts let alone absorb the fact that I was standing IN a grave surrounded by the skulls & bones of thousands who paid an ultimate price for what? 

Lt.Gen. Romeo Dallaire puts it best, “Rwanda–“It’s a story of betrayal, failure, naivete, indifference, hatred, genocide, war, inhumanity and evil. In just one hundred days over 800,000 innocent Rwanda men, women, and children were brutally murdered while the developed world, impassive and apparently unperturbed, sat back and watched the unfolding apocalypse or simply changed channels. Almost fifty years to the day my that father and father-in-law helped to liberate Europe–when the extermination camps were uncovered and when, one voice, humanity said, ‘Never again’–we once again sat back and permitted this unspeakable horror to occur. We could not find the political will nor the resources to stop it. Since then, much has been written, discussed, debated, argued and filmed on the subject of Rwanda, yet it is my feeling that this recent catastrophe is being forgotten and its lessons submerged in ignorance and apathy. The genocide in Rwanda was a failure of humanity that could easily happen again.”

The Grave of  42,000 in Nyamata, Rwanda

The Grave of 42,000 in Nyamata, Rwanda

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour will be presenting a two hour special called, Scream Bloody Murder tomorrow, December 4 at 9pm EST.

(CNN) — They share a deep sorrow: an idealistic American who tried to protect the Kurds of Iraq, a Canadian general who refused to follow orders in Rwanda, a French priest who fought for the soul of Cambodia.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour traveled to the killing fields of Europe, Africa and Asia for "Scream Bloody Murder."

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour traveled to the killing fields of Europe, Africa and Asia for “Scream Bloody Murder.”

Each one tried to focus the world’s attention on the world’s most heinous crime: genocide. Each time, they were shunned, ignored or told it was someone else’s problem.

To understand why, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour traveled to the killing fields of Europe, Africa and Asia for a two-hour documentary, “Scream Bloody Murder.”

Having reported on mass atrocities around the world, this time Amanpour traced the personal accounts of those who tried to stop the slaughter.

The yearlong CNN investigation found that instead of using a U.N. treaty outlawing genocide as a springboard to action, political leaders have invoked reason after reason to make intervention seem unnecessary, pointless and even counter-productive.

December marks the 60th anniversary of the U.N.’s Genocide Convention, when — in the aftermath of the Holocaust — the nations of the world pledged to prevent and punish future attempts to eliminate ethnic, religious and national groups.

“The Genocide Convention should have stopped genocide, but it didn’t,” said Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel. Intervention is a daunting challenge, he believes, because of a tendency to minimize accounts from refugees and victims. “It’s better not to believe, because if you believe, you don’t sleep nights. And how can you eat? How can you drink a glass of wine when you know?

1970s: Cambodia

Father François Ponchaud was a Catholic missionary in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge guerillas — communist revolutionaries — seized power in 1975. They expelled all foreigners from the country.

But working from France, Ponchaud gathered refugee accounts and monitored radio broadcasts to document the slave labor, torture and executions the Khmer Rouge were using to kill one-fourth of Cambodia’s population.

He published his findings in a major French newspaper and wrote a book, “Year Zero.” But even so, Ponchaud tells Amanpour, “No one believed us.”

1980s: Iraq

CNN found that intervention is often weighed against political and economic costs.

Declassified U.S. government documents show that while Saddam Hussein was gassing Iraqi Kurds, the U.S. opposed punishing Iraq with a trade embargo because it was cultivating Iraq as an ally against Iran and as a market for U.S. farm exports.

According to Peter Galbraith, then an idealistic Senate staffer determined to stop Hussein from committing genocide, the Reagan administration “got carried away with their own propaganda. They began to believe that Saddam Hussein could be a reliable partner.”

1990s: Bosnia

Even extensive news coverage may not lead to intervention.

During the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the media reported on the Bosnian Serbs’ ethnic cleansing of Muslims: the siege of Sarajevo, the concentration camps, the use of rape as a weapon of war.

It was like watching “a color remake of the black-and-white scenes we’d seen in World War II,” said U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, whose Jewish grandfather fled Germany when Adolf Hitler came to power.

Holbrooke was an early advocate for a U.S.-led military operation against the Bosnian Serbs.

“I took a stand that I believed was correct,” he told Amanpour. “I didn’t think it was so controversial.”

But it would take three years — and the massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebrenica  — for Holbrooke to make his case within the Clinton administration.

1994: Rwanda

In Rwanda, where Hutu soldiers and militias massacred their Tutsi countrymen, the Clinton administration tried to avoid characterizing the ethnic slaughter as genocide.

According to an internal memo, the State Department worried that under the 1948 Genocide Convention, using the term “genocide” could force the U.S. “to actually ‘do something.'”

The head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Rwanda, Canadian Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, begged for additional troops. Instead of reinforcements, Dallaire got an order to withdraw completely. He would not leave Rwanda.

“I refused a legal order,” he told Amanpour, “but it was immoral.” His tiny U.N. force was not enough to stop the slaughter of more than 800,000 people.

2003: Darfur

Some human rights advocates consider Darfur, the western region of Sudan, to be the scene of the first genocide of the 21st century.

The atrocities in Darfur grow out of a civil war between rebels from Sudan’s African tribes and the country’s Arab-led government.

In 2003, when the rebels attacked government outposts in Darfur, a U.N. human rights monitor warned that in the “escalating conflict,” Sudan’s government may be “engaged in … ethnic cleansing aimed at eliminating African tribes from Darfur.”

At the time, world attention was on Iraq, where the United States was fighting to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The early warning on Darfur “disappeared into a big hole,” according to Mukesh Kapila, then the U.N.’s top official in Sudan.

Even when the U.N. Security Council put Darfur on its agenda, it took more than three years to authorize a robust peacekeeping force.

“There was no lack of information,” says activist Eric Reeves. “There was a lack of will to stop genocide.”

In July, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court accused Sudan’s president of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, charges Sudan denies.

How will history judge the world’s response to Darfur?

“It will applaud the young people … who believe in solidarity,” says Wiesel. “It will certainly criticize the leaders of the world.”

And the next time somebody screams bloody murder to stop a genocide, will anyone listen?

Staying the Course : Philanthropy, A Way of Life — The Beginning

7 Oct
The Lazerson Family in Mallorca

The Lazerson Family in Mallorca

I am overcome with emotion as my Rwandian guide leads me to the grave sight of some 42,000 people, slaughtered only years before.  Every where I look, death abounds–and there doesn’t seem to be much hope for those still clinging to life in the villages around this desolate place.  I visit a so-called hospital, more of a makeshift dog kennel, where the conditions are only the best that can be, and yet so inhumane.  I feel myself about to lose it, lose all hope, when suddenly my eyes come to rest on a mother, in a bed with three children, and two of the children are dying.  Her eyes flicker to life and she makes contact with me.  I stand there in a pool of hopelessness as we connect, but then I almost involuntarily allow myself to smile.  The smile grows across my face and becomes real and genuine, and she breaks into a grin, and I see the whiteness of her teeth against the background of her beautiful dark skin.  It seems like that smile lasts an eternity and knows no boundaries–no boundaries of language, of skin color, of economic standing–just a simple smile, and yet, we both felt it radiate warmth into our souls.  And there was that hope, returned to me anew!  This is why I came to Rwanda, to connect to their humanity, to find the hope in all of this destruction.  That smile filled my soul and I carry it with me to this day, and it fuels me on to serve humanity in whatever way that I can.

I became awakened to the idea of serving humanity as a young boy of twelve, who was admonished by his father to follow him to Martha’s Table, a homeless shelter in Washington, D.C.  At first I may have only gone there to please my father, but the act of service I was rendering made an imprint on my mind and I knew that someday I would make a difference to the less fortunate.  I came to realize that this was my calling in life.

After spending several years as a young entrepreneur, I felt my heart strings tugging at me to go in another direction.  The philanthropic spirit was newly awakened in me when I was asked by a friend to join the Board of Directors of the American Indian Services, where I worked to assist Native Americans in their education endeavors.  As my career was in a state of flux, I was then able to take on a position with the Larry King Cardiac Foundation as Executive Director.  This enabled me to make use of the celebrity contacts that I had, and also gave me experience in organizing inspiring charity events and celebrity galas.

Following my service with that organization, I joined forces with the Rose Foundation, which builds schools in developing countries for disadvantaged children.  I have never forgotten the day I visited the Guatemala City Dump.  Piles and miles of trash had been carved out into homes, and children and adults alike were rifling through the stinking waste, searching for survival.  I saw a young girl, the same age as my little girl, sitting in an old tire.  I was horrified as she lifted a bottle of completely curdled milk to her lips and gulped it as vultures circled overhead!  This is where my vow to make a difference was set in stone.  Through my years of service in Central America, I came to love the people and to love philanthropy.

James M. Barrie has said, “Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others, cannot keep it from themselves.”  I can attest to the truthfulness of this statement.  As I spent a year battling cancer, my family and I were served and loved by so many charitable souls, and we felt the sunshine of their love.  I have also felt the sun on my face as I watched the ecstatic children of Guatemala emerge from their life circumstances, and put on clean uniforms and come to school–they will change the world they come from and make their world a sunnier place, a safer place, a more productive place.

Today my platform is the Interface Foundation.  Our mission is to leverage the power of business and celebrity for the benefit of high impact charities trying to achieve one of the Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations in 2000. My admonition to the world is:  Let’s spread our heart’s desire to do some good in this world.  Humanity can serve humanity.  Our voices can lend life to the voices that go unheard!  We are that voice, we are the heart, we are the hands, and we can change this world through generating awareness, through love, and through service.

Feel the Smile of Rwanda.  It is there to teach us how to love.  It starts simple and then it grows, and it will expand if we all come together.