Lost in translation

Inside the ICTR courtrooms are all sorts of communication technology gadgets. Courts proceedings have complex communication issues to deal with that make it hard for detainees, witnesses, lawyers and even judges to communicate effectively.

Inside the ICTR courtrooms are all sorts of communication technology gadgets. Courts proceedings have complex communication issues to deal with that make it hard for detainees, witnesses, lawyers and even judges to communicate effectively.

As a Rwandan working here, the language issue is very interesting for me. Last week there was the unfortunate death of a ‘Voice of America’ journalist who happened to be a Rwandan.

The fallen journalist, he was Rwandan but will be buried in Tanzania, died of a stroke on his way to work last Friday morning.

I did not know him personally but out of professional fellowship I attended the vigil. As the night progressed several people joined the vigil crew; we were all speaking Swahili.

I found out only later that all the people I was talking to were Rwandan but they spoke Swahili not wanting a new face to know they are from Rwanda.

Language barriers ensures that there are many people employed here as translators. In fact this is the only section in which many Rwandans are employed.

The court has a heavy presence of white people; it’s not easy to know which countries they all come from so the colour description is the only way that I can identify them so far.

Most of the legal interns are white just as are many senior experts. Even the senior security officials are white apart from the rude senior official who heads security at the UN detention centre. He is from West Africa.

The middle level executives are mainly West Africans while simple administrative jobs are held by Tanzanians. The internal workings of tribunal itself follow this pattern.

Many of the suspects are defended by West Africans especially from Cameroon - from where a sizable number of the 1994 Rwanda genocide suspects were arrested.

I think this must be because the suspects can easily communicate with the Cameroonians in French.

There is also a big number of defence lawyers from Canada. I thought this is because Canada and Cameroon are big fans of international justice but a seasoned journalist here told me it was more complicated than that.

For Cameroon, the journalists told me that suspects had run there because they believed the good old theories of early European missionaries who decided with ‘scientific evidence’ that some Rwandans had come from Cameroon.

So when the RPF seized Kigali, the genocide suspects shifted their government machinery from Kigali to Gisenyi, moving into Eastern Congo and ending up in Cameroon. The rich ones flew while the poorer ones walked; some only getting as far as Eastern Congo.

This week the court hosted the 8th Reverend Leon H Sullivan Summit. The summit is a huge conference that brings many international experts, African leaders and American politicians to find ways to improve living conditions of on the African continent.

More voices, more languages added to the mix. It’s a miracle we don’t all get lost in translation!

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