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Posted Nov. 28, 2006

Human Rights Interns Share Summer Experiences Abroad

 

Amid the “strikingly beautiful” hillsides of the African nation of Rwanda, one million Tutsis were systematically murdered with machetes over the course of three months, explained second-year law student James Ryan Harvey at a panel on international human rights internships Nov. 13. Harvey and two other law students shared their experiences as interns involved in international human rights trials in Africa and Europe over the summer.

“It all came to a head April 6, 1994. There was a peace accord in Arusha that failed, the president’s plane was shot down, and over the next hundred days between 800,000 to one million Rwandans were slaughtered. It was widespread and systematic killing; violence, rape, and looting, and Tutsis were specifically targeted because of their ethnicity,” Harvey said.

Exploiting deep ethnic divisions, Theoneste Bagosora, the alleged instigator of the Rwandan genocide, incited Hutus to kill Tutsis with a common crop clearing technique in which a group of people begin at a center point and walk in a circuitous direction using their machetes to cut down everything in site. Except this time they used humans, he described.

Harvey began his internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) guarding the Military I Team’s laptops and legal documents while they went to lunch but ended up a fully functional member of the team providing legal support in every capacity. “It’s an incredible legal experience,” he said.


Natalie Blazer '08

Natalie Blazer '08

Hal Brazelton '08

Hal Brazelton '08

Natalie Blazer ‘08 and Hal Brazelton ’08 worked on separate teams for the War Crimes Division of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Prosecution Support Section. Religious tension among Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats fueled a siege on Sarajevo lasting over 1,000 days beginning in 1992 and brought charges of genocide, rape, torture, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity to the accused masterminds.

The complexity of the war crimes resulted in the division of the court into regions. Blazer and Brazelton were assigned to different cases in different regions in a country that had hosted the Olympic Games less than a decade prior to the war.

“[It was] really heavy stuff. I don’t think there were any cases that were easy to listen to,” Blazer said. The cases were complicated without the translation problems that slowed the proceedings. Hearing of the atrocities committed day in and day out took its toll on prosecutors and a psychiatrist was available for those who needed to talk about what they had heard, she continued.

Blazer’s team prosecuted the organizer of several rape camps located in the region to which she was assigned. She was involved in many aspects of the trial, including direct conversation with the accused, an exciting but frightening experience for her.

Witnesses were protected by the court and were placed behind a screen in order to protect their identity during testimony. Only the defendant and witness could see each other. “I only knew my witnesses as number 78, number 5, number 3, I didn’t know their names, but their protection ended once they testified,” a fact that seemed counterintuitive to Blazer. She wrote a motion, which was accepted by the court, to grant protection to witnesses for 30 years after their testimony.

Brazelton’s job involved the pre-trial phase of the prosecution of three individuals alleged to have orchestrated a concentration camp. The night he was assigned to his team, the three perpetrators were arrested. His work entailed questioning witnesses, collecting evidence, and planning trial strategies.

“You get a high level of involvement at these tribunals—it’s not like you would get in the United States,” he said. “I think you get a lot more direct involvement. You’re allowed to sit in on witness questioning. You’re encouraged to ask questions that a lot of times get asked. The prosecutors depend on you to help them out in these situations.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Human Rights Program and the J.B. Moore Society of International Law.
• Reported by Emily Williams