Rwanda Genocide Victims Speak Out by Sandra Ka Hon Chu and Anne-Marie de Brouwer
In the 100 days of genocide that ravaged the small Central African nation of Rwanda from April until July 1994, about one million Tutsi and Hutu people were killed, and an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped.
According to a United Nations report, rape was the rule, its absence the exception. Sexual violence occurred
Fifteen years later, the impact of the sexual violence endured by survivors continues to be monumental, threatening their daily survival. An astounding 70 per cent are HIV-positive. Recognizing this, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution in 2004 affirming that survivors of sexual violence are among those who face the greatest hardship in post-conflict Rwanda. Gender inequality and gender-based violence existed in Rwanda prior to the genocide, but the events of 1994 provided a backdrop for rape to be perpetrated against Tutsi women and their sympathizers on a mass scale. The ideology of Hutu power was underscored through the dehumanization of Tutsi women.
When Belgian colonialists arrived in Rwanda in 1916, they favoured the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority. The Belgians viewed the Tutsi as more similar to Europeans and, therefore, deemed them to be more intelligent. The clergy in Rwanda were complicit in creating and maintaining divisions between Tutsi and Hutu. Tutsi were awarded better jobs and had greater educational opportunities, a distinction reinforced by the development of separate educational systems.
The Belgians classified them by their physical traits, too: they considered Tutsi to be tall, thin and light-skinned and Hutu to be short, stout and darker skinned. In the early 1930s, to solidify the division between Tutsi and Hutu, the Belgians produced identity cards classifying individuals according to their ethnic group: Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. These identity cards, still in use in the 1990s, led many Tutsi to their death by readily identifying them to the génocidaires.
Between 1959 and 1973, more than 700,000 Rwandan Tutsi were exiled to neighbouring countries. Tutsi refugees were barred from returning, despite many peaceful efforts to do so. Some joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front—the RPF, commonly referred to as the Inkotanyi—a political and military movement formed by Tutsi refugees in Uganda to demand Rwandan unity. On October 1, 1990, the RPF, seeking to pressure the ruling Rwandan government into a power-sharing agreement, invaded Rwanda from Uganda. They were repelled by troops from France and Zaire sent to reinforce the Rwandan government. Tutsi living in Rwanda were blamed for the RPF attack, and the Rwandan government massacred about two thousand Tutsi across the country in apparent retaliation. When President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, he was returning to Rwanda from peace negotiations with the RPF in Tanzania. The president was killed instantly, and with him, all hope for peace.
The Atrocities Begin
Rape did occur inside victims’ or perpetrators’ houses, but more often it was committed in plain view of others, at sites such as schools, churches, roadblocks and government buildings. Many women were raped in the bushes where they had hidden to avoid being discovered. Frequently, rape victims’ corpses were left spread-eagled in public view, as a reminder of the brutality and power of the genocide’s perpetrators. In addition to the sexual violence they endured, many women witnessed crimes such as torture and murder committed against their loved ones. Many lost their houses and property.
The perpetrators of sexual violence were mostly members of the Hutu militia, the Interahamwe. But rapes were also committed by Presidential Guards, military soldiers of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), the Rwandan police and civilians, as well as by international soldiers—most notably the French, who were stationed in the southwest of the country under a UN mandate to supposedly establish and maintain a continuing physical and psychological trauma from the indescribable brutality they suffered and witnessed.
In many cases, the grief and trauma afflicting these embattled women are further compounded by the burden of caring for the injured and the orphaned. And even before the memory of genocide had begun to fade, many women bore children conceived as a result of rape. Although some women resorted to self-induced abortions, an estimated 2,000 to15,000 “children of hate,” or enfants mauvais souvenir (children of bad memories) were born after the genocide.
Rape and other acts of violence carried out in the scope of war considerably increase women’s vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases. HIV and other sexually transmitted infections have been described as the legacy left to women raped during the genocide. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to HIV infection during periods of conflict, since families and communities are broken up and displaced. The injuries that often result from rape, such as tearing and abrasions, further increase victims’ risk of infection. In Rwanda, the HIV rate in rural areas increased dramatically, from one percent before the onset of the genocide to 11 percent in 1997.
In Search of Justice
In May 2005, a Gender Desk was created within the Rwandan National Police to deal with some of these problems. Police have been trained to address sexual and gender-based violence, and the Gender Desk offers a nationwide toll-free telephone service for reporting these crimes. According to UNIFEM, in 2006 the Gender Desk enabled the Rwandan Police to refer 1,777 rape cases for prosecution, resulting in 803 convictions. Nevertheless, national legislation that clearly identifies and provides redress for violence against
Rwanda’s genocide law recognizes rape and sexual torture as acts of genocide and as crimes against humanity,
The resolution notes that women and girls are particularly targeted by sexual violence, which is used in some cases as “a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.”
Under an amended genocide law of 2008, the semitraditional gacaca courts, presided over by individuals with “high integrity” elected from the community, began to try the alleged perpetrators of rapes committed during the 1994 genocide. Prior to this amendment, gacaca courts had jurisdiction to deal with all crimes related to the genocide except category one crimes, which were slated for prosecution before national courts. In light of the enormous number of individuals accused of category one crimes, however, and the amount of time required to process these cases before national courts, cases of sexual violence not yet prosecuted, involving some 6,808 persons, were redirected to gacaca courts.
One notable feature of the gacaca is the training provided to gacaca judges on how to interact with survivors of sexual violence in court. Trials involving sexual violence are also required to proceed in closed session to protect survivors from stigmatization and intimidation by community members supporting the accused. In addition, the genocide law of 2008 stipulates that trauma counsellors must be available for survivors of sexual violence, to help them cope with their past experiences and the trial process itself.
However, when survivors find the courage to come forward, the justice system too often fails to guarantee their physical security. Between 1995 and mid-May 2008, about 167 genocide survivors were murdered. Witnesses, judges and members of the gacaca courts have also been targeted. Accordingly, many survivors express fear of attending gacaca because of the threats of intimidation or death at the hands of those related to the accused génocidaires. Many also point out that the gacaca does not provide them with a sense of justice; many rapists receive short sentences and are already being released into the community in exchange for their confessions.
FInd out more at www.menwhokilledme.com