Facebook pixel My Clerkship for Justice Rugege of the Supreme Court of Rwanda Skip to main content
Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

Taylor Friedlander
Kigali, Rwanda

As my clerkship for Justice Rugege of the Supreme Court of Rwanda draws to a close, I don't quite know how to describe my feelings. On the one hand, I am looking forward to returning to Pepperdine, but on the other, there are many things that I will miss about Kigali.

To say that I have enjoyed my time here would be an understatement: I've loved it. The place that I call home is the Discover Rwanda Hostel, where I and about ten other summer interns call home. My roommates are from all over the world. One young Canadian woman is an archivist at the genocide memorial. A young Australian journalist is working on a freelance piece about Rwanda's environmental initiatives. Over the past weeks, we have bonded over breakfast and our exploration of the city and nearby towns.

The genocide that descended over the country didn't happen long ago, and indeed is still fresh in the minds of many. When I visited the churches at Nyamata and Ntarama, where many travesties were carried out, it was shocking to see rows of hundreds of bare skulls adjacent to the clothes that victims once wore. I recognized many of the brands and styles as the same kind that I wore about ten years ago. It was irking to see simple things like a Gap pull over or ball point pen that I might find in my own bedroom.

Over 800,000 people were killed during this time. In 1994, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was put in place to prosecute those involved in the genocide. The Tribunal was located in Arusha, Tanzania, as the UN had misgivings as to whether Rwanda was secure enough to serve as a host. This decision polarized sentiments around the formation of the court, as many Rwandans felt that the crimes committed were carried out against Rwandans, and therefore should be heard in Rwanda. However, others felt that the crimes violated international humanitarian law, and therefore should be heard in an international court.

As Rwanda's judiciary rebuilt itself following the genocide, the ICTR considered transferring cases to Rwanda. However, each request for transfer, known as an 11bis motion, had been denied. One of my first assignments was to research why these motions had been denied, and it appeared that most of the concerns centered on Rwanda's ability to provide for adequate witness protection. Yet, the country had made great strides in providing an adequate program, and for many, it seemed that Rwanda was ready to handle the type of high profile case typically reserved for the ICTR.

On June 28, 2011, the ICTR granted the first 11bis motion for Rwanda. It was a wonderful feeling to read the case granting the motion and to see that Rwanda's judicial system had been given the validation it deserves. During my time in Rwanda, I have learned an incredible amount, not only from reading cases, but also from talking to members of the legal community and visiting the memorial centers. It is amazing to see how Rwanda has begun to heal, and what an important role the legal system plays in that process. The Rwandan judiciary has fought hard and long to try high-profile cases in-country in order to allow its people to experience a sense of justice for the wrongs carried out against them. It has been incredible to be in Rwanda as it gets closer to accomplishing that goal.