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অখিলকাম অখিলকামী

Pansexual, Pasexuality এর বাংলা কেউ করেছে কিনা আমার জানা নেই। আমি করছি

Pansexual – অখিলকামী
Pansexuality – অখিলকাম

pansexual
adjective pan·sex·u·al \ ˌpan-ˈsek-sh(ə-)wəl , -shəl \

: of, relating to, or characterized by sexual desire or attraction that is not limited to people of a particular gender identity or sexual orientation

Pansexual people are attracted to all kinds of people, regardless of their gender, sex or presentation. —Farhana Khan

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বাংলার মফস্বল

ফুল ফল মফস্‌সল (প্রথম খণ্ড) ।। মৃদুল দাশগুপ্ত ।। প্রকাশক : পরম্পরা ।। মূল্য : ভারতীয় টাকা ২৫০

বইটি আমি প্রথমে কিনতে চাইনি, পরে ভাবলাম, কিনি উল্টেপাল্টে রেখে দেব, আর পড়া শুরু করেই ভাবতে শুরু করেছি পরবর্তী খণ্ড কখন বেরুবে।

এই পোস্টটিতে আমি বইটি নিয়ে তেমন কিছু লিখব না, বরং প্রচারের কাজ করব, বলব বইটি পড়ুন, বইটি সংগ্রহে রাখার মতো, সংবাদপত্রে যে লেখাগুলো হারিয়ে যায়নি সৌভাগ্য।

কলকাতা এমন এক নগর যেনগরে আমি থাকিনি কিন্তু সেনগর সম্বন্ধে আমি পড়ার কিছু পেলে দেখার কিছু পেলে শোনার কিছু পেলে পড়ে ফেলি দেখি শুনতে চাই। কিন্তু পশ্চিমবঙ্গের অন্যান্য ছোট শহর জেলা শহর বা গ্রামীণ শহর সব মিলিয়ে ওই যে বলে মফস্বলও আমাকে আকর্ষণ করবে এটা বুঝলাম এই বইটি পড়তে গিয়ে।

এরকম বইয়ের আরেকটা উপযোগিতা আছে নগর থেকে মফস্বলকে আলাদা করে চেনায় যেটা আমার মতো যারা শুদ্ধ নাগরিক যারা জীবনে নগর ছাড়া কোনো মফস্বলেই ছিলেন না তাদের জন্য এমন একটা অনুধাবন যা বোঝায় নগরলগ্ন বা গ্রামপ্রান্তের ওই শহরগুলোই নগরকে নগর করে নব নব উন্মেষের বার্তা পাঠায়।

মানে সত্যিই দেখুন কলকাতার রাজনীতিবিদ সংস্কৃতিকর্মী উদ্যোক্তা লেখক কবি শিল্পী পরিচালক কারিগর সমাজকর্মীদের মধ্যে কত কত ওই মফস্বল থেকে উঠে আসা।

কমিউনিটি ব্লগে, বইপ্রস্থ ১৪

One of the finest minds of our times, Ashok Mitra was anguished by poverty and inequality

Economic Graffiti: The angry intellectual

Kaushik Basu

It sounds a cliché, but the death of Ashok Mitra, on May 1, marks the passing of an era. He had been a professor, at Kolkata, Lucknow and Varanasi, a policymaker, in Delhi, Kolkata and Washington, and a politician, having served for long years as finance minister in the Communist government in West Bengal. He had been a consummate columnist, writing in the Economic and Political Weekly, The Telegraph and elsewhere. I don’t know if “obituarist” is a word, but for Ashok Mitra it deserves to be created. He was the master obituarist. His long life of 90 years gave him the opportunity to write many obituaries, for friends and foes alike. Always a gifted writer, on these occasions he rose to a level of poignancy that has few peers.

These varied activities allow us to describe him in many different ways but, above all, he was the quintessential intellectual. Over the years, I met him in many different locales and settings but the backdrop that captured him best was his book-lined home of the last years of his life, in Kolkata. There he would be in his study, the diminutive man, in his starched white dhoti and kurta, with books covering the walls and shelves and coffee tables, ever ready for an “adda” — conversation with no well-defined purpose, that could range over history, politics, economics and the genealogy of people. His home summed up a Kolkata of once-upon-a-time. It was the hub of left-wing thinkers. Like at the watering hole of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, friends came from all over the country, to debate, discuss, bond and fall out.

Ashok Mitra – MP – CPI (M), Express photo by Prakash Singh *** Local Caption *** Ashok Mitra – MP – CPI (M), Express photo by Prakash Singh

While mentioning Sartre and Simone, one cannot not mention the public spat Ashok Mitra had with Ashok Rudra over these two famed lovers and intellectuals. The debate was about who among the two was the greater mind. It was not clear that its resolution was of any consequence —for India, for the world, or for anyone. In fact, I have to confess I have forgotten who was on which side, but recall they argued with passion and fury as if their lives depended on it. You did not have to be prescient to predict that Ashok Mitra, undoubtedly one of the great intellectuals of our time, would not make for an effective finance minister. He did not.

One of my first encounters with Ashok Mitra was in the late 1970s, when my friend, the economist Pulin Nayak, and I invited Raja Chelliah and Ashok Mitra to give public lectures on Centre-state relations in India. It was a jam-packed auditorium. My most vivid memory of the event was just before it began: As I waited with Ashok Mitra outside the lecture theatre, he kept pacing up and down and I could hear him mutter the word “nervous”. As he went in to speak, I caught the full sentence: “Delhi’s audience makes me nervous.” The reason this is stuck in my head is because when he spoke he gave no evidence of any nerves.

The two most striking traits of Ashok Mitra were his intellectual honesty and compassion for the poor and the dispossessed. The inequities of the world appalled and angered him and led him to believe in the possibility of the Communist project of a classless society.

Despite my admiration for him, I must point out that his emotions sometimes overcame his reason and this led to some important policy mistakes. The ideal of a world in which people work according to their abilities and earn according to their needs is indeed a magnificent conception. Ashok Mitra’s mistake was to think that there was an easy way to get there and to hold the world in that equilibrium.

This is the reason why his policies as West Bengal’s finance minister did a lot of damage to the economy. For all his idealism and scholarship, the policies he advocated would not and did not take the economy in the direction he wanted it to go. Growth faltered and, more importantly, the state’s higher education was damaged beyond measure during his time. English education in schools had a setback. The destruction of these “elitisms” would have been worthwhile if they led to greater equality or marked a rise in education for the masses. But that did not happen.

Sadly, I got to see little of Ashok Mitra in his last years because of a falling out. When I was Chief Economic Adviser to the Indian government, I had in a paper proposed asymmetric treatment of those involved in cases of bribery. I suggested that in cases where bribery was pure harassment (being used to make citizens pay for things that are their right), bribe giving should be treated as legal; only bribe taking should be punished. Ashok Mitra wrote an angry article in The Telegraph, attacking not just my idea but me.

I was not upset because I knew Ashok Mitra well enough to have known that this would infuriate him. My idea sounded immoral and Ashok Mitra would not have the patience or clarity to see it was not. We exchanged some letters, but it was not the same after that. Also, the fact that I was Chief Economic Adviser to the Indian government and, later, worked at the World Bank, did not help.

But then he was also the Chief Economic Adviser to the Indian government (during Indira Gandhi’s time) and worked at the World Bank (for longer than I did). I was puzzled. Did he erase these from his memory? Did he carry a distaste for himself for these? I do not have the answers. I draw attention to them only to present a full picture of this complex personality.

Ashok Mitra was a person of great human warmth. He was anguished and angered by the poverty and inequality in the world. The anger at times hindered thinking through what should be done to banish them. And he made mistakes. But with all his contradictions, as an intellectual he was a towering figure, reminiscent of the left-wing French intellectuals of the mid-20th century, a person India can truly be proud of. I will deeply miss Ashokda and his writings, especially the obituaries of those who have the misfortune of dying after him.

আমি পণ্য দিয়ে পণ্যই বিচার করি

স্কুলে থাকতে বছরে ২/৩ বার তো বাড়ি যেতামই কখনো কখনো বছরে ৪/৫ বারও গেছি, ক্লাস সিক্স সেভেন থেকে ক্লাস নাইন টেন পর্যন্ত যখনি গ্রামের বাড়ি যেতাম এদিক ওদিক আপন মনে ঘুরতাম, তার আগে বাড়িতে দাপাদাপি কারো সাথে আত্মীয় বাড়ি এই করেই সময় কাটত। তো এই ৩/৪ বছর আপন মনে ঘোরাঘুরি করতে গিয়ে গ্রামের প্রকৃতিটাকে যেমন আপন করে পেয়েছি তেমনি কিছু ব্যতিক্রমী লোকের সাথেও পরিচয় কথাবার্তা হয়েছে যা আমার মনের উপর বড় প্রভাব ফেলেছে। দুঃখজনক হল গ্রামের বাড়িতে যাওয়া বন্ধ হয়ে যাওয়ার পর আত্মীয় নয় এমন যেসব মানুষের সাথে আমার সখ্যতা গড়ে উঠেছিল এদের কারো সাথেই আর আমার যোগাযোগ থাকেনি এবং পরবর্তীতে কে কোথায় আছে গেছে তারও কোনো খবর রাখা সম্ভব হয়নি।

তাদের মধ্যে আজ এক জনের কথা খুব মনে পড়ছে, পণ্য বর্জনের কথায় তার কথা মনে পড়ে গেল, জীবনে তার সাথেই প্রথম আমার পণ্য বর্জন নিয়ে কথা হয়, তার কাছেই প্রথম শুনি আমরা পণ্য বর্জন করতে পারি, তার একটা মুদ্রা দোষ ছিল কথায় কথায় একটা গল্প বলি বলা, ব্লগপোস্টটার শিরোনামটা তার মুদ্রাদোষ দিয়েই।

তিনি বলছিলেন পড়াশোনার অনেক গল্প তিনি শুনেছেন কিন্তু নিজে তেমন একটা পড়াশোনা করতে পারেননি, তবে স্কুল কলেজ বিশ্ববিদ্যালয়ের ছেলেদের দেখা পেলেই তিনি তাদের সাথে কথা বলেন, প্রথমত একটা উপদেশ দেয়ার জন্য – কোনো কিছু মুখস্থ করবেন না, মুখস্থ করলে পড়ার স্বাদ চলে যায়, ওই যে সাত আট ক্লাস পাস দিয়েও আজো যে তিনি যেকোনো কিছু নিয়ে বসে পড়তে শুরু করতে পারেন তার পেছনের শক্তিটা হল তিনি ক্লাসের পড়া কখনো মুখস্থ করতেন না ভাবতেন বুঝতেন তাই তার পড়ার রুচি কোনো দিন মরে যায়নি, দ্বিতীয়ত দুইটা কথা মনে রাখার অনুরোধ জানানোর জন্য – বাঙালির শত্রুকে ঘৃণা করতে হবে আর জবরদখলকারি আর উচ্ছেদকারীকে সারাজীবন ঘৃণা করতে হবে, তৃতীয়ত একজন মানুষের ঋণ শোধ কোনো দিন করা যাবে না এটা মনে করিয়ে দেয়ার জন্য – শেখ মুজিবুর রহমান। আমাকে তিনি বলেছিলেন এপর্যন্ত একথাগুলো তিনি যত লোককে বলেছিলেন আমাকেই তার মনে হয়েছে আমি তার কথা শুধু মনোযোগ দিয়ে শুনিনিই মনেও রাখব।

কিন্তু আজ তাকে মনে পড়েছে আমার অন্য কারণে, প্রথমবারের ওই সেশনের পর দ্বিতীয় বার যখন তার সাথে দেখা হয় ২/১ বছর পর, তিনি আমাকে একটা ওয়াদা করানোর চেষ্টা করলেন কিন্তু আমি ওয়াদাটা করতে পারলাম না, তিনি আমার মনোযোগ সহকারে তার কথা শোনাকে তার প্রতি আমার অকুণ্ঠ সমর্থন ভেবে আমাকে বলেছিলেন, ওয়াদা করুন কোনোদিন পাকিস্তানি পণ্য ও ইহুদিদের পণ্য ব্যবহার করবেন না, আমি সেই বয়সে তাকে বলেছিলাম ওই ওয়াদা আমি করতে পারব না কারণ আমি পণ্য দিয়ে পণ্যই বিচার করি রাষ্ট্র ও ধর্ম বিচার করি না, আজো আমার মনে পড়লে আমার খুব আশ্চর্য লাগে তখনই ওই বয়সে এত যথাযথ স্বতঃস্ফূর্ত সংলাপ আমার আসত।

হ্যাঁ, এখনো আমি, পাকিস্তানি পণ্য বর্জনের পক্ষে নই, ইসরাইলি পণ্য বর্জনের পক্ষে নই, বার্মিজ পণ্য বর্জনের পক্ষে নই, ভারতীয় পণ্য বর্জনের পক্ষে নই, সৌদি পণ্য বর্জনের পক্ষে নই, ইরানি পণ্য বর্জনের পক্ষে নই – পণ্য নিয়ে আমার কথা একটাই পণ্যের মান নিম্নমানের হলেই তা বর্জনীয়, এবার সেপণ্য দেশি হোক বা বিদেশি হোক। তবে পণ্য বর্জনের আরো একটা নীতি আমি অবলম্বন করছি ইদানিং, একই মানের পণ্য যদি বাংলাদেশের ও বিদেশের পাওয়া যায় আমি বাংলাদেশেরটাই কিনব এবং বাংলাদেশের বানানো কোনো পণ্যের যেমান তার চেয়ে নিম্নমানের ওই পণ্য পৃথিবীর যেদেশেরই হোক আমি বর্জন করব। পণ্য পণ্যবর্জন নিয়ে এটাই আমার শেষ কথা, একথা আপনার পছন্দ হোক আর না হোক।

কমিউনিটি ব্লগে, একটা গল্প বলি

Leonard Bernstein invented how we do modern classical music

Whether he was conducting, composing or communicating, Bernstein was a stylish innovator

Alexandra Coghlan

Between 1958 and 1972, Leonard Bernstein presented 53 episodes of his pioneering Young People’s Concerts on US television. In over 50 hours of broadcasting one moment stands out. It’s in the episode entitled, unpromisingly, “What is a Mode?” Faced with the task of explaining the “tongue-twisting” Mixolydian mode to his Sunday-afternoon audience, Bernstein sits down at the piano. Dressed in a suit and tie, with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra ranked behind him on stage, he begins to play and sing: “Girl, you really got me goin’. You got me so I can’t sleep at night…”

That delicious friction between high and low, the incongruous spectacle of a world-famous conductor and composer singing the Kinks on national television—and the wonderful ease with which Bernstein then transitions into Debussy—says everything you need to know about this singular figure.

Bernstein was an overwhelmingly gifted, era-defining musician, the composer of scores including West Side Story, Candide, Mass and the three genre-defying symphonies, conductor of the New York Philharmonic, a skilled solo pianist, educator, author and activist. But he was also a showman who relished his personal celebrity as much as his professional career. He was a classical musician who composed for Broadway, closer in some ways to Stephen Sondheim than Igor Stravinsky: the grip of his signature baton was fashioned from (what else?) a champagne cork. Bernstein was the artist the public loved and the critics loved to hate.

Such was his notoriety and the scope of his personal influence, it is only now, in what would have been his 100th year, that we have enough distance from Lenny the man to take a clear-eyed look at Lenny the musician. Bernstein protégés still play important roles in musical life—most notably, perhaps, the conductor Marin Alsop, who recently conducted Mass at a Bernstein celebration weekend at the Southbank Centre—and there are few American musicians of a certain generation without a Bernstein story to tell. But both the hero-worship and personal animus towards this divisive figure are fading.

Reaktion’s Critical Lives series has become a useful barometer for an artist’s reputation. Experts, rather than journalists or jobbing biographers, take the temperature of some of culture’s leading figures in concise, un-sensationalist studies. Paul Laird’s Leonard Bernstein may not have the stylistic ease and flair of the best of this series (notably Jonathan Cross’s elegant volume on Stravinsky), written as it is in the ponderous tones of American academia, but it still offers a neatly filleted account of Bernstein’s life and works. It is a calm if not entirely neutral supplement to the unwieldy and often controversial bibliography that now surrounds the composer.

Both book and anniversary invite us to consider not just a life but a legacy. What’s striking is the shuffling of the deck of Bernstein’s many achievements. Ask anyone 30 years ago what he would be remembered for, and the answer would have been his work as a conductor—the vast catalogue both on disc and film made through his long association with Columbia Records and then Deutsche Grammophon. West Side Story aside, his work as a composer probably wouldn’t have merited much discussion (Bernstein himself, interestingly, believed none of his works would outlive him), let alone his pioneering role in music education.

Bernstein became enough of a phenomenon to merit a Time cover story in 1957. Yet the magazine felt able to declare loftily that: “At 38, Bernstein must tell himself that his talents have so far produced great excitement but no great works.” (This the year of West Side Story.) Today, as Laird demonstrates, attitudes have shifted significantly. The suspicion and snobbery that dogged Bernstein throughout his career, reaching a head in the 1960s in the writing of New York Times critic Harold C Schonberg, who branded him a lightweight and a dilettante, have now faded. Critical frustration remains with an artist spread too thin, battling a “lifelong wrestling match” with his own diverse talents and inclinations; but his struggles are now viewed with new sympathy.

Laird takes this sympathy still further. He argues that Bernstein’s many creative outlets and activities—his television series, his Norton Lectures at Harvard, his mentoring of conductors at Tanglewood and even certain of his compositions—were not the rival distractions they’ve traditionally been viewed as, but rather constituent parts of a single coherent urge to educate.

Early on Bernstein identified his own “quasi-rabbinical instinct for teaching and explaining things,” and later declared that, “the public is… an intelligent organism, more often than not longing for insight and knowledge.” He placed immense value on sharing musical understanding in all its forms. Laird reframes classical music’s most glamorous butterfly as the pioneer of the kind of holistic music-making more common in today’s artists.

When Simon Rattle addresses his Proms audience and explains the relationship between a 12-tone Webern miniature and a Mahler symphony, when Antonio Pappano presents a BBC series on classical voices, when Marin Alsop devotes her time to nurturing young female conductors, they all are following a model set by Bernstein.

Today the classical concert is a format under (re)construction. Recent developments have given us Gerard McBurney’s award-winning Beyond the Score series, which opens up a classical work for an audience, pulls it apart, then puts it back together again in a complete performance. There is also Glyndebourne’s Behind the Curtain and the Aurora Orchestra’s collaborations with Radio 3’s Tom Service. All take inspiration from Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, which argued so presciently that classical music really could speak to everyone, proving their point on primetime television. Even today’s major digital innovations—the Berlin Philharmonic’s streaming service, opera broadcasts in cinemas—were anticipated by Bernstein, who was one of the first conductors to harness technology to increase classical music’s reach, ensuring that high-profile concerts were filmed live for later broadcast in cinemas.

But the skill that gave Bernstein this platform was conducting. From the moment the 25-year-old Bernstein stepped in at the last-minute for an ailing Bruno Walter at Carnegie Hall in a broadcast concert, he seized the power of the position, translating it into not only musical but educational, and even political, influence. The significance of his rise through the ranks to become Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1957 cannot be overstated. He was not only the first ever American-born conductor to hold such a position with so prominent an orchestra, but also the first American-born, American-trained conductor to have an international career at all.

But if Bernstein’s music made a powerful statement about American national identity, his career and professional success was no less clear in its message. Classical music in the US was once a milieu dominated by Europeans, used to dismissing home-grown talent as second-best. Anti-Semitism was still so rife that Bernstein’s mentor Serge Koussevitzky suggested that his protégé change his name to help smooth his career. But this stuffy, hidebound culture was turned on its head by this charismatic young conductor whose confidence and ambition overrode all objections.

Bernstein’s highly physical approach—nakedly emotive, muscular—couldn’t have been a greater contrast to his rivals. Even the more demonstrative—Herbert von Karajan, Georg Solti—were restrained compared to Bernstein, whose visual style translated into interpretations whose heart-on-its-sleeve emotionalism and generosity were also new. At their best, Bernstein’s performances are electrifying, shattering the glass case around great works. At their worst, like the infamous 1990 recording of Mozart’s Requiem with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, with its bafflingly slow, unmusical tempi and capricious, unidiomatic stylistic choices, they are unlistenable.

Today we can trace Bernstein’s influence in the rhythmically energised, flamboyant conducting style of Kristjan Järvi and the darling of the LA Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel. But we can also see it in a critical shift in attitude towards conductors such as John Wilson, who has conducted MGM musical scores at the Proms. It was Bernstein who first forced the classical establishment to take Broadway seriously. He split his time between these two worlds and maintained that one did not diminish the other. In Wilson’s career championing musicals and film scores alongside symphonies we see this acceptance at work.

Only in his choice of repertoire does Bernstein’s legacy look dated. At first, he was keen on new work, increasing the amount of American music performed by the New York Philharmonic until it represented a third of all the music he conducted with the ensemble. But later in life he increasingly retreated to the European classics. True, it is thanks to Bernstein that Mahler, previously a fringe figure in concert halls, occupies so central a position today; but in turning his attention to the 19th century, Bernstein all but abandoned his commitment towards contemporary works—aside from his own, of course.

And what of his music—the catalogue of works contemporary critics claimed would never endure? Many have not. It has been interesting during this anniversary year to hear pieces rarely heard restored to the concert hall. The three awkward, exploratory symphonies—each a highly personal re-imagining of the form—feel like experiments without an obvious outcome. The value we place on Bernstein as a composer now rests on just a handful of works: the vivacious violin concerto, Candide, the Chichester Psalms and, towering over them all, West Side Story—the piece that, had Bernstein composed nothing else, would still ensure his place in the repertoire.

While West Side Story remains one of the great works of music-theatre, it is perhaps most important as a symbol of the Bernstein conundrum: a Broadway musical of symphonic scope that gleefully collides jazz and popular dance styles with highly sophisticated, chromatic language to create something at once absolutely classical and undeniably contemporary. The musical broke down barriers without its creator wishing to. The composer who yearned to create “one important piece” who, throughout his life, “always bristled when people wanted to talk about West Side Story,” accidentally prepared the ground for a new détente between highbrow classical music and more popular styles.

In a world of 12-tone avant-gardism, Bernstein dared to emancipate tonality—to give it a voice that wasn’t nostalgic, but instead imagined an alternative musical future. It’s a voice without which the minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, the operas of Jake Heggie, John Corigliano and Nico Muhly wouldn’t be possible. Even Sondheim’s brand of thinking-man’s-music-theatre, perhaps even Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, would be unimaginable without the fundamental reassessment of the genre that West Side Story provoked.

It’s often said that Bernstein has no musical heirs. Perhaps this is true in terms of strict stylistic genealogy, but not in terms of spirit. Today’s philosophy of a genuinely plural, democratic classical music is one rooted in Bernstein’s eclecticism and lack of cynicism. Throughout this anniversary year, I urge you to look closely at every new initiative or innovation proposed for the concert hall. Chances are, whatever it is, this musical maverick got there first.

Fighting for justice after genocide in Rwanda: An interview with Charles Adeogun-Phillips

After the Rwandan genocide saw the murder of up to one million people, prosecutor Charles Adeogun-Phillips was tasked with delivering justice to the victims. Here he talks about his 12 years leading genocide prosecutions at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, how he coped with the crimes he tried and what he learnt about humanity.

Sanjeeb Hossain

CAP-in-UN-court-500x375

In 2001, at the age of 35, you were appointed senior trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Entrusted with the weighty responsibility of ensuring justice for the victims and dealing with deeply disturbing evidence, were you ever so overwhelmed that you felt like giving up?

Yes, but I made a conscious effort as a prosecutor to interact with the victims and witnesses and many a time I found myself championing the cause of those who had lost virtually all the members of their family. Every time I went back to the beautiful Rwandan countryside, I would see my witnesses and people who would help us prove our cases before the courts. That encouraged me. You see, one of the drawbacks of the ICTR was that the trials were taking place so far away from where the crimes occurred. Many of our witnesses would be flown to Tanzania to come and testify, and they would be returned to Rwanda, and they were never able to follow up. So when they saw me, they’d ask: ‘Whatever happened to that defendant? Oh he was convicted! How many years did he get?! Twenty five years? Oh good!’ Just seeing them respond like that was very uplifting and that really energised me to forge ahead.

What do the abhorrent stories of the Rwandan genocide tell us about the nature of humanity? And, having been immersed in these stories, how have you managed to come out the other side unscathed?

I’m not so sure I’ve come out of it unscathed. Clearly the events in Rwanda were the worst examples of man’s inhumanity to man. I did 12 trials in 12 years and for each one I had to give an opening speech. I remember a particular opening speech that I gave at the commencement of the Ntakirutimana joint trial in 2001, when I said:I just wonder, what is it that sustains such frenzy in a human being? Is it hatred? Is it incitement? What is it?’ And the answer we got from many of those who in later years pleaded guilty and came back to testify for us as insider witnesses was that, they were so convinced that they were doing the right thing at the time, based on the propaganda. How can you kill your neighbour you’ve lived with for so many years and believe you’re doing the right thing? Such was the nature of the direct and public incitement on the citizens of Rwanda.

And how did that affect you personally?

Anyone who visited the churches in Rwanda where some of these massacres took place and saw the corpses of men, women and children, twisted in pain, and lying in their hundreds beside the altars, will never forget those sights. Indeed there was so much in the human catastrophe that occurred in Rwanda that defied belief – parents betraying their children, doctors murdering patients and bishops and pastors taking part in the slaughter of their parishioners and members of their congregation.

It is no surprise that more Rwandans died in churches than anywhere else. The Church has always exalted the virtue of obedience, and many of the survivors who testified in some of my trials testified that many of the massacres happened because they blindly obeyed the authorities, regardless of who they were or how evil they were. A disturbingly large number of priests and pastors assisted the killers. They betrayed the hideouts of their Tutsi colleagues and refugees to the killers. They refused to provide a sanctuary for those who were hunted. Many of those responsible for the killings and desecration of churches were members of the congregation. The victims and survivors of these attacks testified as to their shock and bewilderment at the behaviour of people in whom they had trusted and thought of as ‘good Christians’.

I think many years later I realised that maybe I may have been damaged mentally or emotionally. But at the time, I really didn’t have time to think about it. I just plodded on with the work, and it was one trial after another trial, after another. But what was frightening was the resolve of some of the Hutus in exile, several years later, to come back to Rwanda. They were almost boasting that, ‘If I don’t go back, my children will go back and take over the country’. That worried me because I thought, several years later, where is the reconciliation in all this? Why are nerves still so frayed? When the first thing they say is that they can’t wait for the day when they go back and take revenge… Yeah, that worried me.

You had to speak with victims, and hear their stories. How did you maintain a professional distance?

Well, I had a challenge with one woman who had provided a statement to the effect that she wasa witness to the rape of six other women who were hiding with her during the genocide. Overcoming what was widely regarded as a ‘culture of silence’ amongst victims of rape or other forms of sexual violence was one of my major challenges as a genocide prosecutor. Culturally, African women are often reluctant to discuss matters pertaining to rape and other forms of sexual assault. Being a victim of rape or sexual assault and being part of a society that refuses to recognise you as such must be extremely hard. In this regard, I often found that many survivors of acts of rape were reluctant to testify about their experiences as victims of violence as they feel degraded and ashamed or fear they will suffer social ostracism from their husband and/or family if they disclose what has happened to them.

In the landmark trial of serial rapist, Mikaeli Muhimana, which I led before the UN genocide court in 2004, the woman had provided an extensive witness statement chronicling, in great detail, how she witnessed several Tutsi women who sought refuge along with her inside a hospital ward, being raped, before being killed with machetes. She only survived because she lay soaked in blood among several bodies, pretending to be dead. I wanted to meet with her in person and question her about some grey areas I had identified, prior to shortlisting her as a potential prosecution witness.

Speaking through my Tutsi female legal assistant who also doubled as my Kinyarwanda interpreter, I asked: ‘I can understand how you faked your death, but how were you able to survive not being raped by the defendant and his men?” In response, she said that she, too, had been raped but had left that out of her statement, firstly because she had been interviewed by a team of mostly male investigators, but, more importantly, because she had not mentioned the rape to the man she had later married, having lost her entire family during the genocide.

The woman offered to amend her witness statement to indicate the fact that she had been raped on the condition I guarantee that her husband would never become aware of the rape before, during or after her testimony. As much as I needed her testimony this was one undertaking I refused to give. To give it would have meant placing the future of an African woman who had avoided the stigmatisation of rape and managed to re-build her life in complete jeopardy. I wasn’t willing to shoulder such responsibility and I guess that’s a very clear example of when your humanity really overrides your status or standing as a prosecutor.

How does an ICTR prosecutor maintain a healthy balance between personal life and professional life?

With a lot of difficulty especially when you have a young family. It is however very important to learn to take time to switch off and focus on other things which you enjoy doing. The challenge is knowing when the time has come to do just that. This is because, international criminal trials can be very protracted as they can go on for several years.

The witnesses are numerous (the average case has 20 to 25). At the higher end, there are probably 90. You are also dealing with a maze of evidence and documentation. So even when you don’t hear it, you read it. You view it in pictures.

You’re not only hearing a story, but you’re actually seeing the injuries. And sometimes you just have to shut down at the end of the day.

I became an international prosecutor at 31, I had been married for just over 18 months and my family was very young and my children literally grew up on the job. My first, my eldest son, was six months old when I started doing this work, and his two sisters were born on the job. You need to be able to shut down when you leave the office and remind yourself that you have loving children at home to go back to. But on the other hand, you almost feel guilty that they are so well clothed and that they have security around them because you’ve just been talking to a woman who was unable to protect her own children, through no fault of her own. You transcend those emotions. There’s guilt, anger sometimes, but you know you have to stay focused and get the job done.

After the trials ended, you later had the opportunity to find out more about the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). What do you think about a report by Human Rights Watch that claims the unwillingness to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the RPF is one of the ICTR’s main weaknesses?

Yes, there are allegations of atrocities committed by the RPF. I was appointed as Head of Special Investigations and I was looking at what the other side had done. It is clearly a failing of that institution.

We could see this in Liberia and we’ve seen it in other jurisdictions. I guess the sense of the international community is that you can’t pursue both at the same time. Rwanda has taken great strides in economic and social development and I don’t think anyone is interested in ruffling feathers. I personally was disappointed that we weren’t able to do it ourselves in the face of the evidence that we clearly had. I thought maybe we should have done one or two sample cases to be fair because there were allegations on both sides.

Criminal justice demands a balance of the rights of the accused, the rights of the prosecution, and the rights of the victim. How can international criminal law maintain this balance?

That is actually a huge challenge. Unlike ad hoc tribunals, where the victims didn’t have a role, at the ICC victims actually have a voice, and that is important. But I think the jurisprudence of the ad hoc tribunals have gone to great lengths in upholding fair trial rights of defendants. Some of the defendants in these ad hoc tribunals get away with murder in the sense that they have a right to representation even when they cannot afford it. I think the international criminal tribunals are clearly the best examples of the guarantee of fair trial rights of accused persons. The trials are slow because they are complex, and people have argued that the length of time, and the length of pre-trial detention in some cases, have affected the fair trial rights of the defendants. But if you understand the complexities of international criminal trials being conducted far away from the original crime scene you then realise that a length of pre-trial detention of a year or a year-and-a-half is not actually unreasonable in the context of those cases. They are very complex trials.

Alleged war criminals facing trial are often very rich people, able to pay large sums of money to lobbyists who campaign in their favour. Due to the influence of these lobbyists, such alleged perpetrators are sometimes presented to the world as victims of miscarriages of justice. How do you feel about the role played by lobbyists?

It’s true that the perpetrators are drawn from higher echelons of society with access to a lot of resources. But the other point is that the crimes themselves are not seen by the perpetrators as crimes but as the result of political squabbles and differences. We saw that from many of our defendants at the ICTR who put up all sorts defences to genocide. They never saw it as genocide in that sense, it was ‘us against them’, a political difference that got out of hand.

As long as the main actors in this sort of crime are drawn from the higher echelons of society lobbyists will always have some role to play. We saw it in South Africa with the Gupta family and one of the biggest PR firms in London being hired to put a spin on things. That can only work in borderline cases. In other cases the crimes are so heinous that no amount of lobbying is going to absolve them. But political indifference is just as influential as lobbying. Look at Sudan, where the international community has paid only lip service to justice and accountability for heinous crimes. Nothing really comes of referrals to the Security Council. The usual phrase is: ‘Member States are encouraged to co-operate with the International Criminal Court’. That’s where it ends. The major drawback of these tribunals is their lack of law enforcement powers and the fact that they depend almost exclusively on the co-operation of the international community to be able to get anything done, even just to get access to a territory. I think that really is what must be addressed and that’s another reason I would opt for domesticated trials.

For societies that are victims to the most egregious crimes what is the solution? Prosecution? Or amnesties leading to reconciliation? And also, do you think state representatives like presidents and prime ministers possess the moral right to grant amnesties in the first place?

The Gacaca system of justice that was introduced in Rwanda in response to the sheer number of perpetrators involved in the genocide is still one of the most impactful experiments in terms of domestic answers to widespread international crimes. I don’t think it has been replicated anywhere. That’s one positive story out of Africa. Another is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa where Madiba Mandela had decided that he wasn’t going to take the prosecution route but rather have a truth and reconciliation commission, which worked in those circumstances and was tremendously successful. There have been so many experiments that have been deployed from full international ad hoc tribunals to hybrid tribunals in Sierra Leone where there has been a mixture of local and national jurisdictions, in East Timor as well and in Cambodia to a permanent international court. The future of international criminal law lies in strengthening domestic jurisdictions to be able to take on these cases, for the simple reason that you can build local capacity. The problem with doing it ‘internationally’ is that you go out and you build the capacity in the Hague, or in London, but you don’t build the capacity in the country where the crimes occurred, which is really where it’s needed. You need to build the capacity of judges, prosecutors, defence counsel, victim support, etc. So I am all for domestication of cases involving international crimes with the sole view of actually aiding reconciliation, because justice is not only done but it’s seen to be done. That was the drawback in Rwanda. We were sitting so many miles away from Rwanda, the average victim didn’t actually know what was going on. So domesticating trials ensures that justice is done and is seen to be done, aiding reconciliation but more importantly building local capacity and building the local jurisprudence. That should be the future of international criminal justice.

Having studied at Warwick University and then SOAS, how did you train yourself for the ICTR?

The most fascinating aspect of this work was that there was no precedent to go by. None whatsoever. So we literally built the body of law known today as ‘international criminal law’.

The last war crimes tribunals were the Nuremberg trials and we initially tried to replicate Nuremberg by having 28 accused persons charged in one indictment. We very quickly realised that it was impracticable. Where do you put 28 people in the courtroom, let alone their own counsel and co-counsel? The elements of the crimes and the participation were not like the Nuremberg cases where the elements were the same and the perpetrators acted in concert.

We had to build this area of law, both substantive and procedural. The issue of sexual consent, for example, was rendered immaterial where women were seeking refuge because when the circumstances are so coercive you can’t talk about a woman consenting. She’s seeking refuge from her captor and she’s being raped every day by the man who provides her with refuge. Things like witness protection measures and the use of pseudonyms were all novel to this area and are still in existence to this day. So being part of building that whole body of law was very fascinating and a great privilege.

Can you describe a time when emotions were running high and the atmosphere in the courtroom became heated? How did you handle situations like that?

I was leading a rape victim through her evidence before the tribunal in the Mika Muhimana case. And there was a panel of three judges: Judge Rachid Khan from Pakistan, Judge Lee Muthoga from Kenya, and, I think, Judge Emile Short from Ghana. And whilst I was leading this witness she was explaining how she had been raped and the circumstances and trying to describe the room and how things happened. The suspect, the accused, was sitting in the courtroom and the victim was being confronted by this man. So I had to be very gentle in leading her through it. And one of the judges, one of the male judges,became impatient. He turned on his microphone and said: “Look witness, what the prosecutor is trying to find out from you is, where did the action take place?!”

I stood very quietly and let him finish and turn off his microphone. I then said: ‘I accept, My Lord Your Honour that you’re trying to be helpful but I certainly see nothing ‘actionable’ about a rape and I really would not like to describe what happened to this witness as the ‘action’. So if you’ll just be patient and allow me,I will guide this witness through her testimony, difficult as it may be asshe’s being confronted right here by the man who raped her. I am deliberately going slowly and easing her into the conversationbut please be patient.’ Of course, in his own mind, he was being helpful to me in trying to help the witness get through her testimony as quickly as she could. But his choice of words was most unfortunate for a woman who had been through such a heinous crime.

So when a woman is sitting in a courtroom with a man who raped her serially, the last thing you want is to be insensitive to her plight.

After the ICTR, you moved on to commercial litigation – two polar legal environments. How did you make that transition and how should a lawyer prepare to make a similar jump?

War crimes areso unique that you couldn’t make a living out of being a war crimes prosecutor -and for good reason. They are the worst crimes known to mankind. My interest in commercial litigation came purely by accident. I was retained by the government to help recover assets from failed banks and chronic debtors. But interestingly, there was a criminal law aspect to it, because right from the time those loans were given there was never any intention to pay them back. So we advised the government to move from looking at these matters as ‘bank-customer relationships’ that had gone sour to actually building criminal cases out of them. And because of my background in international criminal law, I was able to build white-collar criminal cases from what would otherwise have been normal banking commercial transactions. My experience at the international court has enabled me to do a lot of things and dealing with lawyers from all over the world has enabled me to use those connections to trace and recover assets for my government.

চট্টগ্রাম কলেজের গ্রন্থাগারের সংগ্রহে চট্টগ্রাম কলেজের পুরনো বার্ষিকীগুলো নেই

এই অমূল্য লেখাটি আমাকে পড়তে দিয়েছেন গোলাম মুস্তাফা এবং লেখাটি লিখেছেন উম্মে হাবিবা হক।