ICTR Arusha - now a tourist attraction?

Just like Rwanda is today attracting visitors from all over the world curious to see this tiny African country in which the second genocide of the twentieth century took place, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, is supplementing the tiny little town of Arusha, Tanzania, in tourism attraction revenue. 

Just like Rwanda is today attracting visitors from all over the world curious to see this tiny African country in which the second genocide of the twentieth century took place, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, is supplementing the tiny little town of Arusha, Tanzania, in tourism attraction revenue. 

Created in November 1994 by the UN Security Council, the ICTR has a mandate to hunt down and put to trial all principal authors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, which genocide was perpetrated by the then Government of Rwanda Hutu extremists and claimed approximately over 1 million lives.

Situated close to the famous Mount Kilimanjaro, the ICTR has now become a tourist stage on the road of the touring Safaris in East Africa.

Not long ago, I had a chance meeting with a foreign journalist, an American, on his way back home through Kigali from Arusha. This was at MTN Bourbon Coffee Shop, Nyarutarama.

He introduced himself to me as Tim Chandler. We chatted on various issues, journalist to journalist. Eventually, one thing or another led to the ICTR, but what he told me about it was very revealing and educative.

“On the one hand, he told me, the Tanzanian population, apart from guided tours for students and schoolboys, shows little interest in the activities of the court. On the other hand the tourists come so many that they even, at times, fill the public gallery all by themselves,” he explained.

The holidaymakers, who come in these expeditions to discover the majestic landscapes of Tanzania and of neighbouring Kenya, constitute a good part of the public, for the hearings.

Also, in the county primarily to climb the Kilimanjaro, tourists from various countries, make it a point to stop at the Arusha Tribunal, in order to see at close quarters, these African Nazis, these people who have been accused of having planned and executed the extermination of a million ethnic Tutsis, in a record time of one hundred days. Call it killing two birds with a stone?

Tim told me of a Dutch lady tourist he met named Aaltje, who, clad in shorts and tee shirt, clattering her leather sandals bought in a local souvenir shop, who had told him that she would like especially, to see the woman accused of inciting rape.

“It is said that she is the first woman in the world to be accused of genocide, she told me.” My friend explained further.

In case you haven’t guessed, the lady was alluding to the only Rwandan woman held by the tribunal, ex-minister of Gender and Family Development, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko.

Listen to Aaltje’s comments when she eventually set her eyes upon her: “Mother of atrocities? She has beautiful hair. She seems in perfect good health and does not have anything of a monster”!  Beauty in the eyes of the beholder!

The pun may true, but there are a few interesting facts about the woman and her trial that constitute a veritable tourist attraction catalogue: she is the first woman ever to be charged with genocide by an international court; she is the first woman to be charged with incitement to the rape of other women; she remains the only woman detained by the ICTR to date; and, if convicted to life, since the prosecution has submitted that the only appropriate sentence in her case is imprisonment for the rest of her life, she will have been the first woman to do so.

No wonder therefore, that the world curious, especially the womenfolk, would want to see this extraordinarily wicked woman.

As far as the organizers of the tour Safaris are concerned, Arusha is ideally located for a stop of a few hours, between two game parks.

For tourists coming to Tanzania or on their way to Kenya, the temptation is too much for one to stop in Arusha, and visit the ICTR, after the many stories one may have heard or may have read in the press about the Rwanda genocide, and the International Court trying the perpetrators of the genocide.

Tim went on to tell me about Martinel Prudeau, a French tourist he also met. On his part, Martinel came to visit the court in order to see Colonel Théoneste Bagosora.

He confided in Tim that the media in France sometimes speaks about Bagosora and that he had already seen his photographs in the press.

“But since I am already here, I would like to see with my eyes, this devil that General Dallaire says in his book he shook hands with. Besides, after having climbed the Kilimanjaro, it is a refreshing respite, and when I leave the room, it will be a satisfaction to have attended a ‘hearing’ in front of an international court. Very few French people have attended a similar session.”

(Theoneste Bagosora, ‘the brain, or the mastermind of the genocide’ who has been described by some as the Nazi Himmler, has already been convicted to life by the tribunal).

In order to shift the conversation from the tourism attraction accolade he was attaching to the ICTR, I asked Tim what he thought about the tribunal per se. What did he think were its achievements - has the tribunal fulfilled its mandate?

“The historical aspect of the work of the Tribunal is not without interest”. He told me.

“This is a place where the history of international justice is being written, and despite concerns over the work that remains incomplete, the Tribunal has had many notable achievements in terms of judicial professionalism.

“Years after its creation (the tribunal), quite an impressive number of genocide suspects have been indicted, some have been arrested and others convicted, while others yet have been sentenced.

However, the tribunal is facing public backlash over its snail-paced performance. It’s of little wonder that the impression most Rwandans have of the court is one of ineffectiveness.

They cannot understand how such a well-facilitated court can dispose of only about 40 cases over the years, yet the traditional courts called Gacaca, have disposed of hundreds. The tribunal’s staff is getting free money, in their opinion.

“All the same, the tribunal and the city of Arusha will be engraved in the history of humanity. It is already part of History.

Even after its closure, it will continue to attract visitors as a historic site. As for me, it has been a privilege to have been there before its closure,” he concluded.
We remained quiet for some moments after this. I was thinking:

The work of the ICTR may be far from complete. According to the ICTR’s Completion Strategy, through several resolutions, the Security Council called on the Tribunal to complete its investigations by end of 2004, complete all trial activities by end of 2008, (this date was later extended to the end of 2009) and all work is to be completed by 2010.

It has recently been discussed that these goals may not be realistic and are likely to change. Therefore, the ICTR’s mandate is set to expire at the end of 2010 but negotiations are underway to extend the deadline to 2012 in order to allow the court to round up its work.

And the ICTR Arusha to enjoy its status of a tourist attraction?

The genocides of the twentieth century elicited such feelings of horror and revulsion throughout the world, that the United Nations in 1948 adopted a Convention as a pledge to ensure the horrors of the Holocaust would never be repeated.

But since then, the world community has consistently failed to prevent the occurrence of genocide in places like Rwanda and Darfur.

Why has the promise of “never again” proven so difficult to honour? Genocide will end when it suits the great powers that have a stake in it.