Judgment Day

By Halina Schiffman-Shilo

“There will be no humanity without forgiveness. There will be no forgiveness without justice. But justice will be impossible without humanity.”

-Yolande Mukagasana. Inscribed in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

On December 20, the ICTR delivered its last judgment. Augustin Ngirabatware, indicted in 1999 for his alleged role in the Rwandan genocide, was found guilty of genocide, direct and public incitement to genocide, and rape by Trial Chamber II. He was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment.

Since our arrival in August, those of us interns designated to Chambers worked almost exclusively on the Ngirabatware case. We reviewed the files, discussed (and at times argued) its legal and factual points, and even visited some places in Rwanda where crimes particular to this case were committed. In short, we spent the last four months living and breathing Ngirabatware.

And on judgment day, we were in the courtroom.

Initially, the mood, which I assumed would be heavy, felt light and informal. The prosecution and the defense were sitting in their designated sections of the courtroom talking quietly and appearing perfectly calm. Police officers and other court personnel casually walked in and out, sometimes stopping to chat. I had started to wonder when, or if, the hearing would start when the judges entered the courtroom. Everyone rose.

A man’s fate hung in the balance and everyone listened intently as the presiding judge delivered the oral summary. When the accused was asked to rise for the verdict about 45 minutes later, the atmosphere was as tense as I’d imagined earlier. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Ngirabatware family who were sitting in the gallery draw closer to one another.

Before he was a convicted genocidaire, Augustin Ngirabatware served as the Minister of Planning in the interim Rwandan government in the 1990s; he held a PhD in economics. He now stood accused of committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity during the 100 day period in 1994 when over 800,000 people, both Tutsi and Hutu, were brutally maimed, raped, and murdered.

The ICTR’s mission was to prosecute those who committed genocide and other grave crimes in Rwanda in 1994, and to show that the world would not condone crimes of this magnitude and nature. Eighteen years and 73 cases later, the ICTR’s mandate has concluded.

When we interns arrived to Arusha, we were given a one-day orientation at the ICTR. The intern coordinator explained that the privileges that ICTR staff benefit from absolutely did not apply to us, and added that, after all, we were “just interns. Lowly, lowly interns.”

It was honor to serve as a lowly intern for the ICTR.


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