Design Course – Voices of the Rwandan Tribunal

By | April 26, 2009

This quarter, I’m taking a design studio class focusing on the dissemination of video interviews of members of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. You might not be familiar with the Rwandan genocide and the ICTR, so here’s some background:

Over three months, starting in April 1994, about 800,000 Rwandans were killed, mostly with machetes, mostly by their neighbours. Despite the 1948 Convention on the Prevention of Genocide, the international community chose not to intervene, instead arguing over the definition of genocide. To make matters worse, when France eventually sent troops in, they stabilized the country by preventing the army of Rwandan expatriates invading from Uganda from forcing a rapid end to the killings.

If you’re interested, I recommend We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch. It’s gripping, disturbing, and difficult to put down.

There’s another book by Romeo Dallaire, the UN general present in Rwanda during the genocide who was repeatedly ordered not to get involved, called Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. In it, he slams both the international community and himself for their conscious decision to just stand by and watch.

The ICTR was established in late 1994 to investigate the genocide and prosecute its leaders. It’s been criticized generally for its cost, its inability to successfully prosecute some genocidaires,and because it is perceived as serving only to salve Western guilt. Whether it was a success or not, the ICTR is scheduled to close in the next year or so, and at that time, its staff will return to their homes around the world. Once this happens, only documents describing its proceedings will remain, and so last year a team from UW went to Tanzania to interview members of the court in an attempt to capture its human side.

In this course, we’re exploring ways of disseminating these interviews, as well as ways of supporting re-use, commentary and annotation by the various groups to whom it is of interest, including Rwandans, UN staff, international legal experts, and the public at large. We’ve got about 70 hours of video in total, comprising interviews with about 40 members of the ICTR, and we want to make it available online in such a way that people can watch it, comment on it, mark it up using tags or other more formal taxonomies, search it, or re-purpose it.

It’s quite a fun problem area – we’ll get to play with folksonomies and crowd-sourcing, and while the content is rather melancholy, it’s also extremely interesting.

Anyway, as part of the class, I’m doing a lot of writing both on the the genocide and about design theory in general. Since I think a lot of this is probably interesting to others, I wanted to re-post snippets of it here; last Saturday’s post on wicked problems was the first example of this.

PS – I’ll get back onto the music appreciation stuff soon, I promise!