When US Marine Capt. Peter Sennett first visited Rwanda a
year ago, he found a country so traumatized by the 1994 genocide
that wiped out one-eighth of the population, his mission seemed,
It wasn't so much that the prosecutors and criminal
investigators he was to train lacked sophisticated knowledge of
courtroom protocol and investigative techniques. It was that they
lacked focus and direction.
"They were completely overwhelmed by what had happened. They
did not know where to begin bringing people to justice," Captain
Sennett recalls. "I'd get them in class and ask a question, and all
I'd get were these blank stares."
A dark-haired, solid-looking reservist in the Naval Justice
School Detachment, Sennett was sent by the US State Department in
May 1996 to help Rwanda's justice system deal with the consequences
of the 1994 genocide. About 800,000 people, mostly from the Tutsi
ethnic group, were buried in mass graves, and some 50,000 suspects,
mostly from the Hutu ethnic group, were sitting in jail, awaiting
A process of national reconciliation is now struggling to
make headway. Tutsis and Hutus are no longer identified as such
on ID cards.
And large-scale efforts have been made to re-integrate Hutu
refugees, who fled after the genocide, fearing retribution from the
Tutsi rebels who took over the country in 1994. Since their forced
return last year, hundreds of thousands have flowed back into
Rwanda from camps in eastern Congo and Tanzania.
Still, with the number of suspects jailed on genocide charges
now up to more than 110,000 - with only 156 having been tried so
far - Rwandan courts are under a far greater strain today than they
were a year ago. Many prisoners are held in overcrowded cells
without adequate food or water.
"We estimate that at this rate it will take them 345 years to
prosecute all the people they have sitting in jail," says Andrea
Ori, an aid worker with the UN refugee agency in Kigali.
Which may be why Sennett and a team of two attorneys and
three criminal investigators were sent in again with blessings from
the State Department and 50 headsets for simultaneous translation.
"We have classes from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.," Capt. John
Marley, now a civilian attorney, explains. "We teach our 32
students basic courtrooms skills like opening arguments, evidence
exhibit, closing statements, and so on."
Twenty of the trainees are civilian prosecutors selected by
Rwanda's Ministry of Justice; the rest are military prosecutors.
"We found a completely different situation this time around.
The people we're training now are much more focused in identifying
problem areas. We're now getting questions about duplicitous
charges and witness protection," Sennett adds.
Back to basics
The three criminal investigators brought in from the Rhode
Island and Los Angeles Police Departments are teaching aspects of
building a case against an accused person. …