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MARIA LUISA TOLDEO: [speaking via a translator] The military got rid of entire schools in the University, where the students studied sociology, anthropology, and psychology. They stripped many psychologists of their professional authority and disappeared many students of psychology. They disappeared many people who might have had ideas opposed to the economic plan.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, justice for the disappeared. And later, the aftermath of genocide in Rwanda.
NEIL KRITZ: The logic of this is to engage the local community in the process of establishing the facts of who was killed in the local village, who participated in the crimes in question, as well as establishing the penalties.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. The detention of former Chilean dictator Agusto Pinochet in England marks a new chapter in the worldwide struggle for human rights and governmental accountability. But throughout the world, numerous cases of forced disappearance and extra-judicial killings continue to occur. Against the grim backdrop nongovernmental groups in Latin America and other parts of the world are joining forces to demand justice. Correspondent Kent Patterson reports from Mexico
[sound of crowd chanting]
KENT PATTERSON: At a rally in Acapulco’s plaza, supporters of the Party of the Democratic Revolution demand the reappearance of several party members who disappeared. Held in incommunicado by police for hours and days, all the missing activists eventually reappeared. They were either released from custody or jailed on charges related to a politically-tainted murder. Although the individuals claim innocence in the case, they are in a sense among the lucky ones. In Acapulco and the surrounding countryside of Guerrero?? State, hundreds of people are reported missing after decades of political turmoil.
TITA RADILLA: [speaking in the background]
PATTERSON: Tita Radilla, is President of the Association of Relatives of Disappeared and Detained Persons of the Costa Grande of Guerrero. Her father, Rosindo Radilla, disappeared in 1974, after being detained at a military checkpoint. The older Rodia was a supporter of the famous political leader Genaro Vasquez, who eventually formed a guerrilla group opposed to the Mexican government. Like many others reportedly detained by the government during the 1970s, Rodia’s father never reappeared. Besides demanding the clarification of old cases, Rodia’s organization is also working on newer cases that have occurred since 1995.
TITA RADILLA: [speaking via a translator] There are about 400 disappeared people in the municipality of Atoyac de Alvarez. However, their relatives hardly complain anymore because of the indifference of the government. There used to be more people who participated in the organizing. Because of a lack of resources and financing all we’re able to operate on is whatever we get together ourselves. That’s why more people can’t come to those types of events. But when it’s closer to their home in Atoyac de Alvarez the turnout is much bigger. If people who are affected by disappearances go to make a complaint and forget to ask for a copy the authorities don’t give them one later when they return. This is how the prosecutors, police, and government work.
TITA RADILLA: [speaking in the background]
PATTERSON: Despite the obstacles, Rodia and her group are making headway. Although some recent politically-related disappearances have taken place on Atoyac de Alvarez, they are far fewer in number than comparable incidents a quarter-century ago.
TITA RADILLA: [speaking via a translator] Disappearances have not happened with as much frequency because the people have organized. There have been times in which a person was taken away and the people got together to rescue that individual. Or there have been cases in which people follow the police or army to their headquarters and pressure the authorities. They are able to save that detained person in time. But back in the seventies, the people were not organized. Also, there was more confidence on the part of the people, who feel more protected because of the existence of human rights organizations.
[sound of someone speaking in Spanish to a crowd via a loudspeaker]
PATTERSON: Rodia works with a network of organizations in Mexico and Latin America. As family members of the disappeared, the groups’ goals are to resolve the mysteries of their vanished relatives, punish the individuals responsible for the disappearances, and prevent similar incidents from ever happening again. Dating from the 1970s, tens of thousands of people in Latin American remain missing. They vanished during the dictatorships that ruled in the southern cone and in Central America, and also during Mexico’s “dirty war” against guerrillas and dissidents.
MARIA LUISA TOLDEO: [speaking in the background]
PATTERSON: Maria Luisa Toldeo of Argentina has a son who disappeared during the military regime that ruled her country between 1976 and 1983. She has never seen him again. Toledo blames the doctrine of national security for the fate of her son and thousands of others. She says the doctrine was formulated in the United States during the 1960s after the success of the Cuban Revolution. The United States then increased military aid and logistical assistance to governments in the Western Hemisphere in an effort to prop up the national security state.
MARIA LUISA TOLDEO: [speaking via a translator] The United States had a very serious role in the repression that befell Argentina. Let’s not forget that in Argentina and the rest of Latin America national security was used as a shield. The 1963 Treaty of Santa Fe, which was signed during the Kennedy Administration, was used as an excuse by the militaries of the hemisphere to implement internal repression. In other words, against the enemy within borders. The other pretext was the Communist scare. It’s true that in Argentina and Latin America there are lots of Communists, but few of the people who were disappeared were Communists. The majority were leaders of social movements: teachers, professors, university students, and workers that belonged to organizations and had certain political tendencies. The military got rid of entire schools in the University, where the students studied sociology, anthropology, and psychology. They stripped many psychologists of their professional authority and disappeared many students of psychology. They disappeared many people who might have had ideas opposed to the economic plan. What’s really happening in our countries today is a reflection of the economic plan that was developed during this time. In our case it was Jose Alfredo Martinez who developed a policy that resulted in a few people having a lot of money and power. But for the rest of the people it meant more unemployment, difficult in obtaining an education, and trouble in getting access to healthcare.
JUDITH GARLAZA: [speaking in the background]
PATTERSON: Judith Garlaza is the President of the Association of Relatives of Detained and Disappeared Persons in Mexico. She became involved in human rights issues after a relative was disappeared in the 1970s. Nowadays, Garlaza notes how the phenomenon of forced disappearance is spreading beyond the political world. She cites the case of Ciudad, Juarez, Mexico, where since 1993, almost 200 young women have been murdered. Some of the victims worked in the assembly plants of the maquilladora industry that exports goods to the United States. Their recovered bodies showed characteristics of crimes committed by military dictatorships, including torture and rape. Garlaza says the whereabouts of 20 young women in Juarez are still unaccounted for.
JUDITH GARLAZA: [speaking via a translator] We’re living testimony that women have been executed for political reasons. We have 18 men and women in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, who were detained and disappeared. We have documented hundreds of other cases of young people who were subjected to torture, forcibly disappeared, and then were later presented alive. All through the course of our work we documented cases of women who were killed and disappeared in earlier years that share the shame characteristics as the current cases in Juarez. What we point out is that since the maquilladora industry arrived, violence against women has increased. We are a national and a Latin American organization, and we have relationships on the international level. We have not heard testimony about similar incidents in other places. The cases in Juarez are exclusive to the region, which borders the United States, and who’s main population is made up of poor farmers and indigenous people from the southern part of the country. And the population is made up of a great number of women who are going to work in the maquilladora industry. There is a negligence on the part of the authorities, who haven’t done an adequate investigation due to the fact that the victims, who have been seemingly singled out, are young and poor.
[sound of someone speaking in Spanish to a crowd via a loudspeaker]
PATTERSON: Women like Garlaza are at the forefront of the international movement to end forced disappearance. Increasingly, they are sharing lessons of each nation’s particular struggle. Maria Luisa Toldeo says the movement in Argentina, which began with a small number of mothers demonstrating in Buenos Aires’s Plaza de Mayo some 20 years ago, is paying off. On the international stage, Baltazar Garcon??, the Spanish judge who indicted former Chilean dictator Agusto Pinochet, has issues arrest warrants for 98 former high-ranking Argentinean officers. Like Pinochet, they are accused of crimes committed against Spanish citizens during the dictatorship. Toledo cites the shifts in public opinion that happened after some officials of the former military dictatorship were put on trial at home.
MARIA LUISA TOLDEO: [speaking via a translator] When the testimonies of the more than 700 witnesses who testified at the trials began to come out, the process was converted into a genuine horror show, which we did not approve of. All the dailies began publishing all the details that were said in the trials. But from that point on many people, including friends of mine I’d known all my life, came to me and asked for forgiveness because they had not believed what I had told them about the disappearance of my son. They thought his disappearance had been a cover for my son to abandon a pregnant wife and run off with another woman. But it was now being proved that everything we said about kidnappings, torture, and secret jails was true. These exposures encouraged a mobilization against the military leaders, especially when President Menem pardoned some of them. It was truly impressive how the people took to the streets when Menem gave out his pardons.
JANET BAUTISTA: [speaking in the background]
PATTERSON: Colombian exile Janet Bautista is the President of the Latin American Federation of Relatives of Detained and Disappeared Persons, FEDEFAM, and Bautista says that in the last few years FEDEFAM has met with family members from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and India, among other countries.
JANET BAUTISTA: [speaking via a translator] Forced disappearance has extended to all the continents, especially to places like Turkey, with the armed conflict going on there. And it’s going on in other countries embroiled in armed conflict. For example, there’s a case of Yugoslavia or Croatia, where there were 19,000 disappearances. More recently we began to receive information about forced disappearances in Kosho and Serbia. According to the information that’s been compiled in a work group, forced disappearances have taken places in 63 countries since World War II. And this is occurring not only with dictatorships, but with democratic governments as well. The reasons are very diverse: political, social, ethnic, religious, and racial. The family members of the disappeared are united not only in Latin America, but in all the continents. This is very important. Just as the world economy has been globalized, we have managed to globalize solidarity among the victims. And not only with words and slogans. We do information workshops, exchange information, conduct forums, and carry out joint political action against states. In that way the governments of the United Nations don’t see us acting alone, like it’s just a problem exclusive to the family members of the disappeared in Latin America. We’re working in four continents, including Europe, because in Europe people are disappearing too. When the governments see us active in four continents, they respect us more.
JANET BAUTISTA [speaking in the background]
PATTERSON: Enjoying consultative status in the United Nations, FEDEFAM is active in a worldwide campaign to force the UN in the year 2000 to pressure countries where forced disappearance is endemic. Some examples include Turkey and Algeria.
[sound of a crowd chanting]
PATTERSON: Meanwhile, back in Mexico, activists in that country are considering the formation of a Truth Commission to finally determine the fate of hundreds of missing people. They are also lobbying the current Mexican Congress to make forced disappearance a crime. Human rights activists want legislation to punish officials who engage in the practice. If passed, the law would apply to all levels of government. For Common Ground, I’m Kent Patterson, reporting.
MCHUGH: Coming up, we’ll hear how Rwanda is trying new methods to move from a culture of impunity to a culture of accountability.
NEIL KRITZ: Hopefully this will be an overall positive process. I suspect it will be a somewhat messy one. It certainly will not be perfect. But the current system is not either.
MCHUGH: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
PORTER: The sheer size of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda has created enormous challenges for the country’s legal system. Neil Kritz is Senior Scholar on the Rule of Law at the US Institute of Peace. He has studied the many different ways Rwanda and the international community have tried to deal with the legal aftermath of genocide. Kritz explains how the unique nature of the crimes has led to the creation of some innovative judicial techniques.
KRITZ: The 1994 genocide in Rwanda involved the slaughter of up to a million people in the course of a 100 days. To put that in context, that’s three-to-four times the rate of killing at the peak of the Holocaust. The country was completely devastated and traumatized by the series of events. In terms of an appropriate response the government of Rwanda actually decided that what had to been argued increasingly in the international community and by human rights groups around the world in recent years was accurate. That in fact the best way to end the cycles of violence was to eliminate the culture of impunity that existed in the country that allowed these sorts of atrocities to take place; to replace that with a culture of accountability.
That had to be done in a context in which, at the end of the genocide there were fewer than 20 lawyers remaining in the entire country, most of whom were not particularly interested in public service. It involved a lengthy and painstaking process of recruiting and training new judges, prosecutors, other personnel, in a context in which there are conservatively 100,000-150,000 potential defendants, at a minimum, who actually participated in the 1994 genocide. They have proceeded in appropriate fashion of drafting a program in late 1996 that created a series of categories of accountability. The first category is those who were the architects and the planners and the leaders of the genocide….
KRITZ: …who are not eligible for this confession program. And who are subject to capital punishment if found guilty. The second category is those who committed, who killed, but were not in the leadership.
KRITZ: The third category is those who, are those who committed other crimes against the person—rape, for example. The fourth category are those committed property crimes. The Rwandan government deserves high marks for the extent to which it has managed to implement this program up until now. There have been some 1,500 cases processed. There are few countries in the world who can actually show—with far greater resources—that they’ve managed to actually process 1,500 genocide cases. That said, that leaves some 130,000 other people currently in detention in very overcrowded prisons, and the processing of those cases would take many, many years at current rates.
As a consequence, the Rwandan government and the Rwandan society is embarking on a new experiment, which is still being debated but which will likely be implemented in the next several months, that would transfer the overwhelming majority of these cases—namely those last three of the four categories—out of the court system to a series of 10,000 or so locally-elected gacaca panels. These are panels based on, based loosely on a traditional Rwandan dispute resolution mechanism, in which elders of the community would gather together the village to resolve a dispute between different parties.
PORTER: Tell us the name of the panel again, and how do you spell that?
KRITZ: Gacaca. G-a-c-a-c-a. The way that this system would work, these panels, down to the lowest cell level in Rwandan society, which in some instances may be as small as a school or a church or a small community, would elect its own panel of people who, according to the proposals, would be required to be known for their integrity and objectivity and lack of bias, upstanding character, etc. The individuals, rather than being brought before the courts, would be brought before these gacaca tribunals, which would assemble the local village, the local community, for an airing of the case. The logic of this is to engage the local community in the process of establishing the facts, of who was killed in the local village, who participated in the crimes in question, as well as establishing the penalties. The penalties, the incentives for confession that have existed under the previous law I mentioned still would exist under this system, with one of the significant changes being that the majority of the penalties, rather than being spent in prison time, would be instead spent doing some kind of community service, in all likelihood in their home communities. If you burned down that house during the genocide you are now assigned to the rebuilding process, for example. The thought being that this can contribute to both the establishment of a more comprehensive record of the genocide, and also to the reintegration of people within their society.
PORTER: I have a lot of questions for you about that. One thing I wanted to ask you first, though, was in the earlier listing of the crimes and who would hear those crimes, where does the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal fit into that mix?
KRITZ: The International War Crimes Tribunal?
KRITZ: The International Tribunal established by the UN Security Council functions independently of this national domestic system. They are proceeding for the most part against individuals—actually in each of their cases so far—against individuals who would fall into that category I. Senior leaders. They, the Rwandan Tribunal, the International Tribunal, has actually been quite successful—more so I would point out than its Yugoslav counterpart—in actually proceeding against those top-level individuals. The Rwandan Tribunal has, already has in custody its Karaviches and Malideches??, for example, the former Prime Minister, the former Minister of Defense, and others. And it is proceeding to try those people. It’s a much smaller number of cases, but it is proceeding with some success.
PORTER: Getting back to the gacaca—is that the right way to pronounce it?
KRITZ: Umm hmm.
PORTER: Where are we in the process of establishing those at the moment?
KRITZ: There is still a national debate underway. There is a draft proposal that is under discussion. At the earliest in all likelihood the legislation would be adopted by the Rwandan National Assembly and the beginning of an implementation of this program would begin probably by early spring of 2000, perhaps by March or April. It’s probably safe to say that even if this course correction proves to be useful—and I would point out that even if all of these cases are transferred to these gacaca panels—that still will leave some few or several thousand cases in that first category to be tried in the courts, which will be important in terms of establishing a formal process of justice.
That said, in the early phase, in the immediate period after the genocide, a process like gacaca was not possible. So even if it’s a course correction that is now appropriate five years down the road, in the immediate aftermath of the genocide, probably the criminal justice approach which was adopted was the only one which was viable, for a number of reasons, including the fact that with civil society so thoroughly decimated, particularly in that early period, a popular participation process simply could not be organized. What was needed was more of a top down approach like the criminal justice approach. There was also the reality, I should point out, that the very nature of the crime that was committed was both already illegal under existing Rwandan law as well as required under international law to be prosecuted, under the obligations of the Genocide Convention. So those—and there are several other reasons why that made sense at the time. As the process evolves it’s then important for society to continue to revisit those questions and determine how it needs to modify its approach.
PORTER: Is there any precedent anywhere in the world to this kind of gacaca process? At least on this scale?
KRITZ: On this scale and for mass murder, no. Obviously this builds on a local Rwandan tradition, and other African societies have similar traditional mechanisms and processes for local level dispute resolution. But certainly this has never been attempted in this kind of a case.
PORTER: Yeah. Do you have any sort of, gut feeling about how it could work and if it will work? And what we might learn from seeing it play out?
KRITZ: Logistically it will obviously be an enormous challenge to establish some 10,000 tribunals across the country. To provide the training for those tribunals, to provide the equipment for those tribunals, to vehicles, etc., to create a national network in which each of these individuals need to be tracked when being transferred from the court system, from the prisons, to these panels. Just on the logistical side this will be an enormous challenge. Beyond that, there are some concerns with respect to whether it will work in all local cases. That will depend in part on the demographics in a particular village, and who remains. Whether a village is populated completely by those who were victims of the genocide, for example, or by those who were supportive in some instances of the genocide. And certainly villages exist in both categories. Those will be at the extremes. In the middle, in the majority of the cases, of mixed villages, hopefully this will be an overall positive process. I suspect it will be a somewhat messy one. It certainly will not be perfect. But the current system is not either. And hopefully it will contribute to a process of national reckoning with this terrible period.
PORTER: That is Neil Kritz. He’s Senior Scholar on the Rule of Law at the US Institute of Peace. For Common Ground, I’m Keith Porter.
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