U.N. tribunal to provide insight to international law to grad student

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Nathan Mendenhall read about the atrocities and gazed at grisly photographs of the genocide that devastated Rwanda 11 years ago. A graduate student in criminal justice at Southeast Missouri State University, he plans to begin learning much more about the African nation's deadly past next month when he starts a six-month internship with a United Nations criminal tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.

An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed over a three-month period from April to June. The violence was sparked by the death of the Rwandan president, whose plane was shot down above Kigali Airport on April 6, 1994.

The U.N. Security Council established the criminal tribunal in November 1994 to prosecute Rwandans responsible for the slaughter. Since its first prosecution in 1996, the tribunal has convicted 20 people and acquitted three others.

Mendenhall, 25, will be working with the tribunal's witness support and protection office. That office provides protection for witnesses who are called to testify before the tribunal. It also assists witnesses needing to relocate and provides counseling and therapy if needed.

Mendenhall, who grew up in Fort Smith, Ark., won't be paid by the United Nations. He hopes to obtain a private fellowship but could end up spending some $3,000 of his own money during his stay in Tanzania. He isn't complaining.

Long-term investment

"I look at it as a long-term investment," said Mendenhall, who plans to go to law school next fall and pursue a career in international law.

Mendenhall has been vaccinated to guard against yellow fever, hepatitis, meningitis and several other serious diseases.

He speaks a little Swahili but said English also is spoken in Arusha, a predominately Muslim city of about 250,000 people.

Located in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, Arusha is rugged by American standards, a city of dirt streets and sewage pits. But it does have electricity and the Internet.

He plans to keep in touch with Southeast criminal justice faculty by e-mail.

Mendenhall will be transported to and from work by U.N. security guards, but said, "You don't want to walk around alone at night."

Dr. John Wade, who chairs the criminal justice and sociology department, likes Mendenhall's enthusiastic attitude.

"I don't think when I was his age I'd have the courage to do this," he said. "That's a hunger for learning that most students don't have."


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