A Kaua’i resident spent a week in Africa earlier this year to help prosecutors go after the leaders of a 1994 massacre that left more than half a million people dead.
Kilauea’s Frank Rothschild taught lawyers how to use PowerPoint to bring to justice defendants charged with murdering men, women and children in Rwanda between April and July 1994.
During that time period, grenades and firearms, along with machetes, clubs, knives and spears were used in the mass killings.
In response to the massacre, the United Nations set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to bring to justice the people responsible for the crime of genocide.
The Tribunal is located in Arusha, Tanzania, and Rothschild spent a week there at the end of January teaching 30 prosecutors from around the world how to use PowerPoint in their court arguments.
Rothschild specializes in giving presentations on what PowerPoint can do, and leads workshops with lawyers on how to do it.
Rothschild is a per diem Family and District Court judge here in Hawai’i. He is also a mediator and arbitrator for the American Arbitration Association, and a mediator for the Hawaii Judiciary’s Center for Alternative Dispute Resolution.
He also teaches for the National Institute for Trial Advocacy, based at the University of Notre Dame. The institute is a not-for-profit, legal education center.
In Arusha, Rothschild taught 30 prosecutors from the International Criminal Tribunal in the former Yugoslavia and from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, how to use PowerPoint.
Rothschild noted that the prosecutors he taught were a dedicated, idealistic bunch of lawyers who were working for a worthy cause.
“Terrible things happened in Rwanda,” said Rothschild. “The U.N. stepped in to try to bring some justice to the people who caused the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people,” he said.
He said PowerPoint allows lawyers to put anything they can dream of up onto a screen.
“The trick is to learn how to do it artfully, and persuasively,” said Rothschild.
He said people are affected by things if they can see and not just hear about them.
“A picture is worth a thousand words on the screen,” he said.
One attorney Rothschild taught was at the hotel that later became the subject of the movie, “Hotel Rwanda.”
Rothschild said the attorney hid in a closet, surviving mostly on water, for two months.
He pointed out that the lawyers and the judges are from around the world, and that English and French are the official languages spoken at the Tribunal.
Rothschild said that translating one language into another is a huge issue, since witnesses often speak Swahili, or a dialect of another African language.
Rothschild said the Tribunal sentences may be appealed in Arusha.
“A trial court says, ‘You get 40 years.’ You can get an appeals court that says, ‘Even if you were guilty, 40 years is too much. You should have only gotten 10 years.’ Or, the prosecution can say, ‘It should have been 60 years,'” he said.
Rothschild said that the sentencing portion is always contentious when a case is appealed. If 100 witnesses saw what happened, and photographs support the charge, the question before the appellate court is, “Was the sentence too severe? .. or not severe enough?” Rothschild said.
The Tribunal’s stiffest sentence is life in prison.
The Tribunal has no death penalty, Rothschild pointed out, and a life sentence can be appealed and a request made that it be lowered.
“The appellate court has the power to reduce a sentence,” said Rothschild. “We don’t have sentence appeals here in Hawai’i, but I do know at least one state that does — Alaska, where I formerly lived and worked.”
So far, Rothschild pointed out, the Tribunal has tried 26 defendants since 1997. with all but three being convicted. There are four trials currently under way with multiple defendants in each case.
He noted that the trials can take three to five years with hundreds of thousands of pages of supporting documents.
Rothschild pointed out that there are 17 detainees awaiting their day in court. The plan is to complete the trials by 2008, but 2010 is a more realistic figure.
Rothschild was invited to go to Africa through his long-term professional and social friendship with Ann Williams, who is on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago.
He also went to Africa because he is known as the “technology guru” for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, an organization where he teaches.
“I’ve also written books on technology, and in particular, PowerPoint for lawyers,” he said.
“Ann knows the power of PowerPoint,” said Rothschild. “She’s seen it used in her court. She thought it would be a great idea for the prosecutors both at The Hague and in Rwanda to know how to integrate this technology into their trial presentations and also into their appellate presentations.”
According to the Tribunal’s Web site, Rwanda’s prime minister at the time of the atrocities pleaded guilty for the crime of genocide.
The guilty plea was the first time that an accused person pleaded guilty to genocide before an international criminal tribunal, and it was also the first time that a head of government was convicted for the crime of genocide.
- Cynthia Kaneshiro, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 256) or email@example.com