Local Attorney Becomes Africa War Crimes Expert

It's been five years since the start of the campaign of rape and murder began in the Sudan's Darfur region. Someday, the masterminds of the Darfur killings could end up on trial before an international court, just like those who planned the genocide in Rwanda a decade ago. KPCC's Special Correspondent Kitty Felde spoke to a Los Angeles attorney who has just finished prosecuting the largest genocide case in history.

Kitty Felde: Barbara Mulvaney was a soccer mom, a swim coach, and a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles County. And then September 11th changed her world.

Barbara Mulvaney: I think there's different ways of looking at it. One is, we've been attacked and I'm going to go hide. Or, there's a real serious problem, and wouldn't it be nice to go out and find out what we could do in the international community to solve some of these issues? So my response was the latter.

Felde: Mulvaney left the DA's Office and became a senior trial attorney with the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Her job was to prosecute top Rwandan military leaders accused of masterminding the slaughter of 800,000 people in 100 days. As a deputy DA, Mulvaney had put killers in jail before. But she says when it came to trying war criminals, the skills she learned from prosecuting white collar fraud prepared her better.

Mulvaney: In those, you have to figure out how it is they planned to do what they were going to do, how it was executed. And often it wasn't the defendants themselves who were directly doing a visible crime, but it was how they put everyone together.

Felde: Mulvaney has taken her international law experience to Baghdad, where she helped stitch together international human rights law with Iraqi law. But Barbara Mulvaney says the Rwanda Tribunal changed her forever.

Mulvaney: It's not that you lose compassion, because I can still cry at the drop of a hat on some certain things. But other ones? It's like, I'm different. And, you know, you see so much death and dying. You are on the edge of evil, and you see things – it's like being in Africa, in some ways as opposed to here. Is that everyday is a life and death experience, and you view the world differently.

Felde: Barbara Mulvaney says her work prosecuting war criminals in Rwanda should give some hope to human rights activists here in Southern California.

Mulvaney: I know a lot of people are concerned about Darfur, but I also want everyone to know that there are some of us actually out there doing something. ... We should realize we do have successes. ... We actually are holding the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide responsible, and I think that that should be known.

Felde: Barbara Mulvaney expects a verdict soon in the Rwandan military case she handled. Her next project is a book about her experiences.

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