Today was our trip to the war crimes court, and I thought it was also going to be one of the less emotional days we were going to experience on the trip. Not because the war crimes court was any less important, but instead because for me, seeing a place of justice and how perpetrators were being held accountable for their actions should be a relatively happier place. A place for victims to experience some sense to satisfaction, or better put, to gain a sense of closure after experiencing their loss. I thought, as I have been identifying with one group of victims throughout our trip, that I might experience this same feeling of closure as well.
I think what spoke to me most during this experience was the incredible amount that I didn’t know about the courts that I had just previously assumed. We learned about their sentencing policies, to which I had previously just assumed that anyone convicted of the serious crime of genocide would be put to death, or at least a lifetime in prison. However, as I would learn, the maximum sentence for this crime was initially only 40 years in prison, and later reduced to 20 years in prison. Hearing that the sentencing policies changed so drastically was initially a shock to me. I didn’t understand why they would be so lax and why their court system would allow for a change to a sentencing policy that seemed more favorable to the perpetrators. However, listening to the judge I gained a clearer understanding of why this would happen.
I was also surprised hearing about how poorly off some of the convicted were. I expected that those responsible for the war crimes would have been the best off as we heard about soldiers forcing families to give up their homes during the war under the threat of violence or death. However, the judge informed us that this wasn’t the case. I pictured a villain when trying to picture these criminals, but the picture she presented was very different, a poor and often unemployed person with little to take from.
Another one of the more interesting things I experienced during our interview of the judge was that there were war crimes perpetrated on both sides of the conflict. That was an eye opening statistic to me. I know it shouldn’t take away from any of the tragic things I have seen thus far, however hearing about this helped make me understand that no one is innocent in a war zone and that often one set of atrocities can lead to another. It helped me empathize with everyone effected by the conflict knowing there were obviously victims on both sides, war crimes or not.
I was interested in the social work portion of the interview as well. It was nice to conceptualize how we could be effective as social workers, giving me some closure as to how I could gain some level of control in such a terrible situation. I keep thinking how I would feel if this had happened to a group of people in Colorado. How would I deal with it? What would that trauma look like? And the only thing I can come up with is just how amazed I am that the people of this country have moved on so well. I know they have had twenty years to do so, but the level of social change measures that have been implemented to change things on a large scale is impressive. And the impact of these measures provide a place for the victims in this war to let out their anger and put to rest their sadness. And while the judge we spoke with suggested that this is often not the case, with families feeling punishments are too short, at least on some level families know that their grievances can be heard and that something will be done about them.