Monday, June 25, 2007

25 June 2007 - From Birthdays to Weddings

So, I had a very nice and relaxing weekend. I did go to a friend’s birthday gathering at a restaurant called Africana. The food was quite tasty (we had goat brochettes and French fries), but of course it took over 2 hours to prepare it since we had a large group. It was a pleasant evening. They even gave me a rose and sang happy birthday to me in Kinyarwanda. I have the same birthday as my friend who was celebrating that evening. Her friends apologized for not knowing sooner. They wanted to bring me presents as well. It was very sweet of them.

I do have a little warning for those of you planning on having a birthday in Rwanda. If it is your birthday and you invite people out, you are required to pay for everyone. And, people are allowed to bring as many guests as they want. If people know there is free food, of course they will show up. You may think you have invited 5 close friends, but you will end up with about 15 – 20 people that you don’t really know. I am still trying to figure out if this is just a ‘Mzungu (foreigner) thing’ where you have to pay if you invite people out or if all Rwandans pay for their friends on their birthdays. But, what I do know is if you decide to invite people out in Rwanda for your birthday, you must be prepared to spend quite a bit of money. Of course, if you have friends that you really enjoy spending time with, it’s definitely worth it.

Also, quick note about weddings. People in Rwanda do not pay for their own weddings. The community is expected to pay. They hold several meetings leading up to the wedding in which family and friends attend to help plan the wedding, figure out the budget, and then pay for the wedding. Not bad! I am thinking we need to introduce this concept in the States. Friends and family pay for the wedding instead of giving wedding presents. It is considered very rude for someone to pay for their own wedding. Weddings are meant to be community events in which everyone participates. Usually about 200 – 400 people will show up at the reception where they have traditional dancing, soda, and cake. My boss has a wedding 7 July, and yes, I have been helping with the preparations just like everyone else.

Since my boss is getting married in two weeks, he has taken the next 4 weeks off. So, I am now on my own for the most part. I still have some work to do for him, but mainly I have to be proactive and begin my own projects. It looks like I will get to go out in the field for the first time this week. The legal officers are still working on training the judges on the new instruction about serving community service first and then finishing out the prison sentence. I am going to go with one of the legal officers out to Western Rwanda on Thursday to watch the training.

And then I am going to Goma for the weekend. I am so excited to get to travel a bit! I am also trying to plan a trip to Burundi the last weekend I am here, but I have to wait and see what the security situation is like there. Burundi has some beautiful beaches which I would love to see. There has been a cease fire, which from what I have been told, every rebel group has agreed to. But, who knows what it will be like in a month.

Oh, and I cooked last night all by myself! I know to most of you this does not seem like a big deal. But, I only basically know how to use a microwave, and surprise, surprise, I don’t have one here. But, I made rice and vegetables on our gas stove. And I think it tasted pretty good.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

20 June 2007 - Penal Reform International

So, I had a very nice birthday. Nothing too exciting. I didn’t tell any of my work colleagues it was my birthday. Last year I celebrated my birthday here in Nyamata. The entire village came out to celebrate my birthday. It was a very special day that I will never forget, but I decided that it would be best to keep it low-key this year. So, I just went with 4 friends for Ethiopian food. I received gummy bears from my German friends, possibly the best gift ever here. They are very difficult to obtain here and German gummy bears are the best!

I am currently reading through all of Penal Reform International reports on Gacaca. PRI - and Avocats Sans Frontière are the only two international organizations that work with the National Service of Gacaca Courts to monitor the process on the field (at least this is what I have been told). There are other local organizations that also help monitor the Gacaca Courts but PRI and ASF are international organizations that are not financed by Rwanda as far as I know. They are meant to give a more objective view of the process as well as provide extra resources for Gacaca. The National Service of Gacaca Courts cannot possibly finance monitors to be at every trial.

These organizations are at times critical of Gacaca, but they attempt to offer only constructive criticism and offer solutions to the problems. So, my job is to read through the reports and list out all of the recommendations given by PRI. If I have time I will try to copy some of the work I’ve done onto this site.

Monday, June 18, 2007

18 June 2007 - My Birthday

So, I had food poisoning all of last week. Got sick on Sunday and did not go to the doctor until Friday. I missed a couple days of work and had to leave early the other days I was here. I should have just gone to the doctor in the beginning. Oh well, I am feeling much better now.

This past weekend we had a massive BBQ at my house. It began at 1 pm and lasted until about 12:30 am. I still wasn’t feeling 100 percent, so I didn’t last that late. But, it was quite enjoyable. We had amazing goat kebobs. They were delicious, but our whole house now smells like goat. I may never be able to eat goat again.

I missed a bit of work last week and even when I was here I didn’t manage to work on anything substantial as I felt miserable, so there is not much to report. I did however work on a response to a young student in Germany’s email. He wanted some information for a report on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the Gacaca Courts. I’ve attached some of it below. It may be able to give some of you a better picture of the Gacaca Courts.

• Gacaca is scheduled to finish the end of this year, 2007. However, there is a possibility that the Gacaca Court’s mandate will be extended.
• There are three main phases to Gacaca
o Collection of information phase
o Categorization
o Trial
• The pilot phase for collection of information phase began 19 June 2002 in one prefecture, which consisted of 12 Cells.
• The second group of the pilot phase, which consisted of 672 Cells, began their collection of information phase 25 November 2007.
• The entire country began the collection of information phase 15 January 2005. There are a total of 9,013 Cells in Rwanda.
• The close of the collection of information stage was 31 December 2005.
• After the information stage the following remained accused
o 77,260 – Category 1
o 432,557 – Category 2
o 308,564 – Category 3
o 818,564 – Total
• It is important to note that the Organic Law has undergone changes and amendments. The criteria between Category One and Two have changed.
o 3,200 – changed category due to the changes in the law
• All trials throughout Rwanda began 10 March 2005 and are scheduled to be completed by December 2007. There are strategies in place in case the cases are not completed.
• These statistics are from 30 April 2007. It is important to note these numbers have greatly increased. The numbers below are for Category 2:
o 76,371 – trials have been completed
o 7,754 – were found innocent
o 18,737 – were forced to serve TIG (community service)
o 17,375 – acquittals
o 7,988 – have appealed
• All Category One prisoners are tried by the Ordinary Courts of Rwanda. They are not tried by the Gacaca Courts. Category 3 consists of crimes against property and those found in this category are not forced to spend time in prison. The main concern of the Gacaca Courts is to complete Category 2 cases.
• As of today, 14 June 2007, approximately 100,000 Category 2 cases have been tried and a little over 300,000 cases remain.
• Not all that remain accused under Category 2 remain in prison. Some have been released and await their trial outside of prison.
• Those that were released under the presidential releases must still stand before Gacaca Courts; they are just no longer in prison. After their release they were sent to rehabilitation camps which dealt with not only the effects of the Genocide, but the future of Rwanda and how to live in harmony with their Rwandan brothers and sister.
• There is community service which is called TIG (Travaux d’intérêt general). The amount of time one spends in TIG depends on the sentence handed down by the courts. TIG is given in place of time spent in prison. It is for those who have confessed.
• Gacaca does not have a problem with the treatment of the prisoners at the ICTR. If Rwanda had the resources, all of the prisoners in Rwanda would be kept under such conditions. The only complaint from the Gacaca Courts is that the trial speed at the ICTR has been extremely slow. The ICTR has many more resources than the National Service of Gacaca Courts and yet the trial rate is much slower than that of the Gacaca Courts.

Oh, by the way, it’s my birthday today. No one at work knows…which is probably a good thing. But, I am going out for Ethiopian food tonight after my French classes. Mmmmm…Ethiopian food. Let’s hope my stomach can handle it.

That’s right. I am taking French lessons 4 days a week now. I even watched ‘The Breakup’ with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn yesterday entirely in French. We had rented it from the ‘video rental store’ here, so of course it was a copy. It was suppose to be in English, but you never can tell with these things. And of course there was no menu to switch the language. I understood about ¼ of it…which is better than nothing at all.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

6 June 2007 - The New 'Instruction'

So, nothing too exciting here. Monday I sat through a very long meeting which was, of course, in Kinyarwanda. I did receive a little help with translation. The government has been complaining (quite openly actually) that there are too many people in prison. They have told the National Service of Gacaca Courts to do something about this. So, they have recently passed a new ‘instruction’ as they call it that allows prisoners who confess to do their community service first and then serve their prison sentence. I think they are attempting to stagger out the prison sentences so not everyone is serving at once.

Of course this is only available to prisoners who confess now. It is not retroactive. However, prisoners that have already been tried can appeal in order to serve their community service before finishing out their prison sentence. It will be interesting to see if this will actually alleviate the congestion in the prisons. It has already been over 12 years since they have been in prison. One would think that if they were going to confess, they would have done so already. They have already offered several incentives to confess. And, I don’t know how many people would really want to be set free knowing that they will have to return to prison in a few years. Although the prisons are horrific, so maybe they would prefer a break in between? I’m not sure I fully understand this concept. But, I don’t know that there were many other options.

People are working very hard to come up with solutions to all of these problems. Yet, I don’t know if it is even possible to really come up with solutions that are sufficient enough to deal with these problems. The National Service of Gacaca Courts has taken on a virtually impossible task, and has received a lot of criticism for not doing the job adequately enough. The trials are going too slow, but then they change things and the trials are not efficient enough. People are upset that there are so many people in prison, but then if anyone is released the survivor groups become infuriated, which is understandable…it just shows that it is pretty much a no win situation.

I spent a few months working for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda which was the international response to the genocide. They had much fewer cases and a lot more money and yet they didn’t seem to be capable of much more. I know that the ICTR has received its share of criticism, but it seems unfair to try to hold Gacaca to international standards when the ICTR, which is run by the United Nations, cannot even satisfy the international community.

I know these various organizations are only trying to do their job. People are very concerned that if this situation is not taken care of sufficiently then it could lead to a second genocide. It is very important to have organizations which monitor countries. It is just frustrating that no one seems to pay attention to what these organizations say until something like the Genocide has happened and it’s too late.

I know the situation here is not hopeless. Already so much has been accomplished and Rwanda is attempting to put its past behind them. However, at times, it does seem hopeless. Just when everything appears to be going well, you realize there is this huge mess which is impossible to clean up.

And on that happy note…

By the way, there is no longer a movie theatre in Kigali. Apparently Planet, this was the name of the movie theatre, was just a front for a crack ring and has been shut down. At least this is what I have been told, and it definitely appears to have been closed down. Very, very interesting. Kigali is such a bizarre place.

Monday, June 4, 2007

2 - 3 June 2007 - Lake Kivu

This weekend I went to Kibuye which is in the West of Kigali on Lake Kivu. We stayed in this cute little guesthouse right on the lake. It was amazing. It was so beautiful, words cannot even describe. Not to mention the fact we could see the Democratic Republic of Congo across the lake. At night you could see the volcano glowing in Goma. It is such a bizarre feeling knowing you are standing in the heart of Africa.

I spent my time basically sunbathing on the dock in front of the house. I managed to get quite burnt. I put on sun block, but of course being practically on the Equator the sun is very powerful. I’m a new shade of red…which is a little embarrassing.

There were four of us staying at the house, three German girls and myself. As you can imagine…we attracted some attention. At first it was merely the fishermen that would pass by and hang out in front of our dock. But, then they began to bring boats filled with children to come stare at us. Yes, we became a human zoo. The kids were fine at first, but the last group decided it would be fun to start screaming at us. Of course the adults with them thought this was hilarious. It’s bad enough to gawk, but to start screaming inappropriate things…not so much ok. I love kids, but poorly behaved children really bother me.

This of course does not happen all of the time. Most of the time the people are warm and friendly and the kids just want to shake your hands and practice their French. Luckily I speak about as much French as the kids do. It somehow seems to work out.

On the way home, we managed to get pulled over. We crossed over a solid line to pass someone. The police officer only spoke Kinyarwanda. After spending a few minutes attempting to explain to us what we had done, he just got frustrated and had has us leave. Sometimes being a foreigner has its advantages :-)

When we returned home, we were tired, sunburnt, and starving so we went out to this new ‘hip’ restaurant. We waited 30 minutes to get all of our drinks (my friend ordered a tea which, even though it is the national drink, seemed to cause problems)…for over 2 hours for our food…and about 15 minutes to get the check. Argh! And of course it was one of the most expensive restaurants in Kigali. In fact an American lady was managing for the night…so frustrating. You have to wonder…what exactly they are doing. How can they possibly take so long to prepare pasta, salad, and a couple burgers? Did they have to slaughter the cow and make the pasta from scratch? Amazing.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

1 June 2007 - Wow! It's June!

So…not much to report. My boss is away on a retreat. I’ve just been working on writing a report on the possible human rights violations created by the Organic Law. I’ve been reading quite a few articles, all of which are quite negative, and that is about it. Oh, the life of an intern.

The weather has been miserable. It’s suppose to be the dry season…it is definitely not. Rainy weather always makes me sleepy, and I think the people in my office feel the same. They have had the District Co-ordinator Conference this week and they have only just returned from the field last Friday. Each legal officer was out in the field training the judges on the recent changes to the law. They were out in the field for a month. I can only imagine how exhausted they are.

I think this weekend I am going to try to get away to Kibuye. Kibuye is to the west of Kigali and is on Lake Kivu. The last time I was there was in 2003, so I am excited to return and have a peaceful weekend sunbathing and reading.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

30 May 2007

Yesterday I worked on editing a script that the National Service of Gacaca Courts has created. They have made a documentary in Kinyarwanda and are now translating it into English. They first translated it directly from Kinyarwanda, so not all of it quite made sense. I tried to go through and make some sense of it. But, if anyone ever watches it, I don’t want to get blamed for the poor English. I really did try to do my best without offending the person who did the original translation.

I also got to meet someone from the US Justice Department yesterday. They were just on their way back to the States. At the District Co-ordinator Conference yesterday, we spent about 2 hours trying to determine where the individuals were from. It was amazing. Even though most of the Rwandans now in the States have changed their names, the people at the conference were able to figure out who they all were. This country is so small. It was bizarre. Everyone knows everyone here…and these District Co-ordinators seem to have every case memorized, which is amazing considering some of the districts have over 10,000 cases.

On my way to work today I saw monkeys running around. They were like massive cats, only much cooler, and probably more dangerous if I would have been carrying food. Sometimes I forget where I am. Well, I guess it’s easy to remember when a large group of children decides to follow you around and screams ‘Muzungo, Muzungo'...this means foreigner. Usually it means white foreigner, but they will even use it towards rich Rwandans at times. At times you just want to be left alone…but this is only possible in the privacy of your own home…or possibly the fancy hotels and restaurants…but even there you get harassed on the way in or out. Most of the time they are just curious children, but even this can become irritating when they continually want to touch you and all you want to do is go home after a long day of work.

My usual taxi driver was not there today. I got stuck taking a moto taxi (motorcycle) to work. I am of course in a skirt. This requires grace which I do not possess. I am sure it’s amusing for one and all…but I had to get to work. What can you do?!