The new US point man on war crimes: Stephen Rapp
New war crimes ambassador Stephen Rapp exemplifies Obama's deeper engagement on international law. His résumé includes prosecution of those who promoted genocide in Rwanda.
New US ambassador for war crimes Stephen Rapp knows firsthand what it takes to prosecute man's inhumanity to man. The former Iowa district attorney has already prosecuted participants in the Rwanda genocide and former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor.Skip to next paragraph
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The United States is much criticized abroad for its attitude toward international justice and world courts. The charge in Europe and Africa is that the US wants universal law for others but not for itself.
But in Mr. Rapp, who took up his duties Sept. 8, President Obama has found someone who international justice advocates expect will deepen US engagement in crimes against humanity cases.
For instance, Rapp favors an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of Kenya's 2007-08 postelection violence and wants an investigation into September's soccer stadium killings and rape in Guinea. "Mass crimes against humanity are not acceptable ... and the US will be more engaged," Rapp told a conference of jurists in Madrid earlier this month.
"[Rapp] comes to the job with experience in international criminal justice," says Stuart Alford, a London barrister and chair of the War Crimes Committee of the International Bar Association. "He understands the difficulties of putting on trial men like Charles Taylor. He knows the security issues involved, and the reconciliation issues within the region, including Liberia. To have someone from the US with that kind of background is encouraging."
From Iowa to Rwanda
Rapp is known to have "prosecutorial zeal." Four days after being tapped to take charge of the Rwanda tribunal in 2005, "I was on the plane to Kigali," he said in a Monitor interview. Rapp brought his whole family from Iowa and says he wants to spend his life "bringing justice to places that have never had it before."
Rapp, who traveled to Africa in a small Beechcraft airplane that often packed lawyers and defendants together, has prosecuted cases centered on violence against women, child soldier recruitment, and the use of the media to create and direct genocide.
In Rwanda, he prosecuted the "media case," mainly against radio station RTLM, which infamously implored Hutus to kill the "cockroaches" or Tutsi minority in the 1994 genocide. The case took 34 months. The judges found that RTLM was not only a mass mechanism for inciting violence, but also a logistical tool for genocide – directing troops and reading the license tag numbers of Tutsi cars to machete-wielding men waiting at checkpoints.