Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal

User experience design for a politically sensitive project


Providing a public sphere for Rwandan citizens from multi-generations and international stakeholder to be able to have conversations about 49 interview videos from Tribunal staff without being identified.


A digital collection of the interviews the interviews, with 3 new tools enabling users with online public curation while keeping them safe and anonymous.

Rwandans and International Stakeholders

Credibility and Security, Emotional Wellbeing, Redaction, Sealing, and Censorship

Batya Friedman, Daisy Yoo, Trond Nielson, Katie Derthick, Shay Ghassemian



CHI 2016 Paper

I was still a Master of Design student at University of Washington when I joined the Value Sensitive Design Lab at Information school in 2014. It was a new discipline developed by the supervisors of the lab, Batya Friedman, and David Hendry. As I was learning about the principles and research methods of Value-sensitive design I started working on the design artifact of a project they were working on since 2008 in Rwanda. This collaboration went beyond working on the website and I was part of the team until almost a year after graduation as an Interaction design researcher. I worked on multiple projects with Rwandan diaspora in the US, holding design research workshops for them in different locations and synthesizing the findings which were published in a paper in 2016.


In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), one of the first ad hoc international criminal tribunals. The Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal collection contains 49 video interviews with personnel from the ICTR. Collected in 2008, these interviews reveal the challenges of striving for justice and reconciliation after genocide. In their own voices, tribunal personnel speak to Rwandans, the international justice community, and the global public, now, 50 and 100 years from now. This digital collection is available to all people to watch, tag, curate, and download for their use in future projects.

Multi-lifespan information and computer systems have a critical role to play in the processes and outcomes of transitional justice systems, potentially making them more accessible and comprehensible to the people who confront injustice, now and well into the future. Yet how to design such systems and what design processes to employ remain open questions. In this research, we take up these and other challenges in the context of the Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal project. We describe our design approach, including a set of nine key guiding design principles, nine design challenges and our experience putting these guiding design principles into practice.

Design Process

Designing the website of the project came with a number of challenges because of its restrictions due to circumstances and principles. Methods I used for design and design research were direct and indirect stakeholders analysis, developing personas, making wireframes and testing them with multiple groups, making mock-ups for usability testing and final iteration.

User experience design was a different experience for me since I had to maintain project’s principles:
Access / Accuracy / Credibility / Impartiality / Legitimacy / Multi-lifespan / Respect / Safety / Transparency

Challenge 1:Unpacking Language

Multiple languages used in and around the Voices from the Rwanda Tribunal collection:
English, French, and Kinyarwanda.

“Release now in the languages of the interviews” or “release later once all the interviews had been translated into Kinyarwanda”:
spoke with numerous groups and individuals across many sectors of Rwandan society to garner their views on what should be done. Virtually all were in agreement: release now. Many expressed the sentiment that Westerners often came and took things from Rwanda but did not give back; releasing the interviews quickly would provide them to Rwanda.

Principles: Credibility, Impartiality, Legitimacy.


Preparing the platform for trackable transcripts, as they are added little by little.

Challenge 2:Speaking Safely

Genocide Ideology Law:
Contravention of the 2008 law is punishable by up to 25 years in prison. A climate with heavy restrictions and strong punitive consequences for unfettered speech concerning the genocide. If in the current climate and with such content a discussion forum is not feasible at a given point in time, what other forms of speech (if any) might be possible?

Principles: Credibility, Safety.


Online public curation tools: Online visitors can “speak,” albeit in a limited way, by making selected content from the interviews more visible to others, so that those selected segments are more likely to be “heard” by others.

“Tag”, “Clip”, “Download” and “Exhibit” tools were developed for users to express their ideas anonymously or share their interpretation of the videos to others freely, without being tracked.

Challenge 3:Whose Words Define the Collection?

Diverse perspectives:
Different communities may construct different meanings based on interest, culture, and context (e.g., Rwandans, international justice community); different individuals may do so based on different life experience (e.g., perpetrators, survivors, those born after the genocide); and the same person might even see multiple messages within a single interview segment.

Principles: Legitimacy, RespectSafetyTransparency.


Online public tagging tool: Online visitors can tag and characterize video segments with the option to provide information describing themselves (e.g., as Rwandan, African or Non-African). This is a prevention of being defined by meta-data provided by big search engines.

Challenge 4:Widespread Access

This collection has a wide range of audience and many of them have difficulties to access the Internet or at least a high-speed connection. Furthermore, we were unaware of the level of digital literacy for many of the stakeholders.

Principles: Multi-lifespan, Access.


Download links for content in different formats (audio and video)
Keeping the design light with the least JS for the content to load in slow Internet connections
Keeping the design very basic for users with lower digital literacy
Responsive design for different devices

Challenge 5:Negotiating Independence

The contested history and context surrounding the Rwandan genocide:
Including the involvement, actions, and lack of actions of actors including the United Nations and persons now in powerful positions in the Rwandan government.

The need to establish perceived and actual independence from the ICTR, the UN, and the Government of Rwanda:
The project policy was established not to solicit or take funds from any of those entities. We also established the project policy that none of these entities could directly specify who from the ICTR would participate in an interview, dictate the content of interview (or ban particular topics), or review or otherwise censor content.

Principles: AccessAccuracyCredibilityRespect.


Clarifying independence by carefully studying other projects around Rwandan Genocide and separating the design lines from them both in form and content.