The Pillage Option

How do you stop genocide before it starts?

Legal theorist, James Stewart, has revived a forgotten strategy — and The Hague is listening.

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MAGAZINE  | by Chris Cannon ’00GS

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work —
I am the grass; I cover all.
— Carl Sandburg

There is not enough grass in Rwanda. On April 6, 1994, after decades of clashes between the Hutu government and Tutsi rebels, two surface-to-air missiles struck a plane carrying the Rwandan leader Juvénal Habyarimana. The flaming aircraft crashed into the garden of the presidential palace and disintegrated. Within hours of the attack, thousands of Hutus — incited by the government and goaded by the media — began sweeping through the small African nation, butchering civilians with the half million machetes the government had stockpiled for just such an opportunity. Over the next three months, 800,000 Tutsis died at the hands of the Hutu majority.

Seven years later, James Stewart ’13LAW, a twenty-five-year-old New Zealander, visited the ravaged nation for the first time and saw what the grass had yet to cover: open pits containing thousands of dead bodies preserved in lime. As a legal intern in the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in Arusha, Tanzania, Stewart had come to investigate the murder, torture, and rape of Tutsis in the city of Butare.

Continue reading