While I was staying in Moshi in northern Tanzania, a group of us from the hostel took a day trip to nearby Arusha. I won’t deny it – we were enticed by the colourful souvenirs at the Maasai market – but our main objective was to observe the Rwandan war trials that were taking place at the United Nations building. Unbeknown to us, we were about to come within feet of the man who was the interior minister of the interim government of Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.
In 2005, Callixte Kalimanzira had been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on the counts of genocide, complicity in genocide and public incitement to commit genocide. After pleading ‘not guilty’, he had been sentenced in 2009 to 30 years imprisonment. He then appealed on eleven grounds against his rights to a fair trial and we were there to witness it.
After another extremely cramped bus journey, made only mildly bearable by some old 80s tunes on the radio, we reached Arusha at about 9am. As the blood returned to our legs, we made our way to the United Nations building. I handed over my passport in exchange for visitor badges for our group and we proceeded through the gates.
As we entered the courtyard, we turned to see a convoy of army vehicles and swish-looking cars worming their way through the main gates. It turned out we had arrived at exactly the same time as the president of Tanzania, who got out of the car right by us as we stood a little shell shocked.
We were swept along in a tide of media and security, but lost them as we entered the main building. I never did discover what his purpose was for being there.
We made our way to the fourth floor where the Rwandan war trials were taking place and were ushered into a narrow room with windows for viewing the court proceedings and headphones so we could select an interpreter and listen in.
I have to admit that the trials were a bit on the dull side. But it didn’t detract from the enormity of what they represented. Mr Kalimanzira’s lawyer was a French man who, from my inexperienced perspective, had absolutely no idea what he was doing – or perhaps he just felt he was fighting a lost cause.
He had an hour and a half to put forward arguements as to why his client had been wrongly convicted, and all he could come up with were complaints that a lot of the documents for the trials had been in English, which wasn’t his native language! He then moved onto a strange story about how he’d not been able to defend his client properly because he had a medical condition that left him temporarily paralysed one morning and had spent a lot of time in hospital on morphine.
When the lawyer finally broached the subject of why the opposition’s (many) witness reports supposedly weren’t reliable, he ran out of time. I expect this was intentional since it was probably impossible to prove that so many people had falsely accused him of these crimes.
I can’t say I was disappointed that Kalimanzera’s lawyer was so inept. The man was a monster. I had little doubt that he had done the horrific things he was being convicted of and I hoped he would be locked up for the rest of his life. I have since learned that, although a number of his convictions were reversed, he remained convicted for aiding and abetting the genocide of Tutsis and will remain in prison for many years. There is justice after all.