International War Crimes Tribunal in Rwanda - Stephen Rapp

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Date/Time:Wednesday, 12 Apr 2006 at 8:00 pm
Location:Sun Room, Memorial Union
Channel:World Affairs Series
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Stephen Rapp , a former U.S. attorney in Iowa, has spent the last four years rounding up and prosecuting suspects in the 1994 Rwandan genocide that left 800,000 dead. As chief of prosecutions for the head of the United Nations' International War Crimes Tribunal of Rwanda, he is coordinating at least 40 more trials, assisting in international efforts to find suspects hiding abroad, and teaching what he's learned practicing a largely uncharted area of international law. Part of the World Affairs series on Global Justise and Human Rights.

Extended Bio:

Stephen Rapp is Chief of Prosecutions at the United Nations-International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Prior to appointment to his present position at the Tribunal, Rapp was the Senior Trial Attorney who headed the prosecution of what has been called the "Media Trial," the case against the principals of RTLM radio and the editor of the Kangura newspaper for allegedly inciting persecution and genocide. He was given responsibility for the case in May 2001 when the trial was in its seventh month. The trial was concluded with final arguments in August 2003, after 238 days of testimony and the presentation of over 20,000 pages of documents. A major issue in the case is whether the "hate speech" that prepared the way for the genocide can be reached under the applicable law and whether it was protected "free expression." On 3 December 2003, the Trial Chamber pronounced its Judgment. It found each of the defendants guilty of Genocide, Direct and Public Incitement to Commit Genocide, Conspiracy to Commit Genocide, Extermination as a Crime Against Humanity and Persecution as a Crime Against Humanity.

Prior to his service at the UN-ICTR, Rapp was United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa. He was appointed to this position by President Clinton in November 1993 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He served until May 2001. During his tenure, his office filed the first cases in the nation under the Brady Handgun Control Act and the Violence Against Women Act. Prior to service as U.S. Attorney he was in private practice of law in Waterloo, Iowa. He also served as a Staff Director and Counsel at the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and as an elected member of the Iowa Legislature.

Rapp is a native of Cedar Falls, Iowa. He attended local public schools and graduated from Cedar Falls High School. Rapp received his B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University in government and international relations. He attended Columbia Law School and received his J.D. degree with honors from Drake University.

He is married to Donna (Dolly) Maier, a professor of history at the University of Northern Iowa. They have two children, Alexander, who is an undergraduate student at Cambridge University-St. John's College in England, and Stephanie, who is in the next to the last year of secondary education at the International School Moshi in Tanzania.

Article in the Des Moines Register:
Iowa's former U.S. attorney is chosen to coordinate war crimes trials for U.N.

May 9, 2005

It's been 11 years since the genocide in Rwanda, but Stephen Rapp revisits the tragedy nearly every day. A former U.S. attorney in Iowa, Rapp has spent the last four years rounding up and prosecuting suspects in the 14-week devastation that left 800,000 dead. Rapp's responsibilities grew recently. The 56-year-old was named chief of prosecutions for the head of the United Nations' International War Crimes Tribunal of Rwanda, which was established to bring to justice people who perpetrated the violence. The demanding two-year appointment, approved last week, will have him coordinating at least 40 more trials, assisting in international efforts to find suspects hiding abroad, and teaching what he's learned practicing a largely uncharted area of international law. "The whole idea of this area of the law, if it means anything, is to try to deter these kinds of atrocities in the future," Rapp said recently in an interview from his east African home in Arusha, Tanzania. Added responsibility Stephen Rapp , a former U.S. attorney in Iowa who has spent the last four years prosecuting 1994 genocide suspects in Rwanda, has been named chief of prosecutions for the head of the United Nations' International War Crimes Tribunal of Rwanda. His two-year appointment was approved last week. Although an average of 8,000 people were killed each day in Rwanda during the 1994 uprising - three times those killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center - many Americans and others in the West have not grasped the scope of the slaughter. "It has been a difficult thing for people to follow," Rapp said. "There is a tendency because it happened in Africa to view it as a primitive tribal conflict. But that's not true." Two recent movies - Academy Award nominee "Hotel Rwanda" and HBO's "Sometimes in April" - and a recently released book, "Justice on the Grass" by journalist Dina Temple-Raston, are helping to put the conflict in better context, he said. A movie like "Hotel Rwanda," especially with its happy ending, "is an accessible way to deal with the conflict," he said. Rapp said his current work has taken him many times to the Hotel Mille Collines in Kigali, the setting for "Hotel Rwanda," and he has become well- acquainted with the U.N. colonel who was portrayed in the film by actor Nick Nolte. Film subject Paul Rusesabagina, the assistant hotel manager who saved nearly 1,200 people, left Rwanda with his family after the crisis. The 1994 genocide began with the suspicious death of President Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash. Members of Rwanda's majority ethnic group, the Hutu, went on a rampage against the minority Tutsi. Habyarimana, a Hutu, had been trying to set up a transitional government in Rwanda and wanted to include a Tutsi-dominated rebel group. This enraged Hutu extremists. Thousands of people wound up being trapped in churches, slain with machetes, shot or burned alive. Women were raped before being executed. Millions of people fled the country. Rapp may be best known internationally for his role in the three-year "media trial" that concluded in 2003, in which he successfully prosecuted media executives who helped incite the country's extremist militia as well as broadcast the whereabouts of Tutsi sympathizers. The case has earned him a place in legal history. Experts have said the media trial set precedent for other cases going before the International War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague in the Netherlands. The Rwandan tribunal also has created a legal legacy for people who increasingly are supporting efforts to locate and punish those responsible for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. The court cases also will be critical in the aftermath of more current conflicts, such as the decade-long civil war in Sierra Leone, atrocities taking place against refugees in Darfur, Sudan, as well as the prosecution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for mass killings of his people. "It will be critical whenever the Iraqi tribunal meets to prosecute Saddam Hussein," Rapp said. "I imagine that one of the first things they'll do is reach for our decision in the media case to see if it meets the definition of genocide." The United Nations has given Rapp and his colleagues until 2008 to prosecute or arrange for the prosecutions of roughly 100 additional leaders suspected to be responsible for the Rwandan killings. The highly complicated multilanguage, multidefendant court proceedings, separate from others ongoing in the Rwandan court system, take place in Tanzania, some 500 miles from where the violence took place. One high-profile case accusing four senior military officers of genocide will involve about 180 mostly reluctant witnesses by the time it is over. The judges involved are from Norway, Fiji and Russia. The defense lawyers are from France, Canada, the United States and Kenya, according to the tribunal's Web site. "We're dealing for the most part with people who would have escaped justice but for the establishment of the tribunal," Rapp said. Although the tribunal's work is viewed as important to victims of the genocide, Rapp said his role - coaxing reluctant defendants to testify against one another - is often viewed as controversial. "The problem with these tribunals and these cases is that . . . trying to get people to tell you the truth, when the truth is so horrible, is a real challenge," he said. "Sometimes it requires lying down with dogs and getting fleas. It's a tough business, but at least we've been successful so far." Rapp said he likely will move on after his new appointment, but prosecuting war crimes has become his life's work. If asked, he said, he would like to go to Cambodia to help prosecute the aging leaders of the Khmer Rouge. "If nothing else, I'll be involved in it," he said. "It's how I want to spend the rest of my life: trying to bring justice where it hasn't existed before."

Copyright 2004, The Des Moines Register.

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