Rwanda: HR Abuses against Women, 9/27/96

Rwanda: HR Abuses against Women, 9/27/96

Rwanda: HR Abuses against Women

Date Distributed (ymd): 960927

Rwanda's Genocide: Human Rights Abuses Against Women

Human Rights Watch/

Federation Internationale des Ligue des Droits de l'Homme

September 24, 1996

During the genocide of 1994, Hutu militia groups and the Rwandan military regularly used rape and other sexual violence as weapons in their genocidal campaign against the Tutsi community. In Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath, released today, Human Rights Watch and the Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH) provide detailed and disturbing testimonies from women who survived horrific attacks on their families and themselves, only to face a future complicated by laws and practices that discriminate against them and social services that cannot begin to meet their needs.

Human Rights Watch and FIDH call on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), convening on September 26 in Arusha, to investigate and prosecute rape and other gender-related crimes. In addition, we urge the Rwandan government to ensure that women are guaranteed equal protection under domestic law and alert the international humanitarian community to the necessity for their humanitarian programs to address women's needs, especially in the areas of health care, trauma counseling, housing, credit, and education. "The genocide in Rwanda left a population that is 70% female, and the stories told by survivors defy comprehension. What is clear is that Rwanda will only rebuild itself through these women, and the international community must do everything possible to help them deal effectively with the past in order to move productively into the future," said Dorothy Q. Thomas, director of the Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project.

Although the exact number of rapes that occurred in Rwanda may never be known, testimonies in the 104-page report confirm that rape was extremely widespread and that women were individually raped, gang-raped, raped with objects such as sharpened sticks or gun barrels, held in sexual slavery or sexually mutilated. These crimes were frequently part of a pattern in which women were raped after they had witnessed the torture and killings of their relatives and the destruction and looting of their homes. Women from both the Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups were raped, although most rape and other forms of violence were targeted against Tutsi women.

Until very recently, the ICTR largely neglected its responsibility to investigate and prosecute rape. It has to date issued no indictments for rape and other forms of sexual violence. Initial investigations were hampered by serious methodological flaws, including investigative procedures which were not conducive to eliciting rape testimonies from Rwandan women. In July 1996, the International Tribunal took the welcome step of forming a sexual assault committee to coordinate the examination of gender-based violence and has begun to investigate such abuse. However, unless the ICTR takes further steps to incorporate attention to sexual violence into its overall work, rape and other gender-based crimes could go unpunished.

Human Rights Watch and FIDH call on the ICTR to

-- fully investigate and prosecute, where appropriate, rape, sexual slavery and sexual mutilation as crimes against humanity, genocide crimes, or war crimes;

-- ensure that the issue of violence against women is treated with the same gravity as other crimes in its jurisdiction;

-- amend its investigative procedures and methodology, which have largely failed to elicit rape testimonies, to ensure that investigations of rape and other forms of sexual violence are conducted by teams that include women investigators and interpreters skilled in interviewing women survivors of gender-based violence;

-- and strengthen and expand its Witness Protection Unit to ensure that victims and witnesses are protected against potential reprisals and given the appropriate support services.

Gender-based crimes are even more likely to go unpunished given that the Rwandan judicial system is still not functioning. In August 1996, the Rwandan legislature passed a law which authorizes prosecution of crimes committed during the genocide, including rape. However, the likelihood of any rape prosecutions, even with a functioning judiciary, is remote given the lack of investigation into cases of rape and sexual violence and given the discriminatory attitudes towards gender-based crimes on the part of local police inspectors collecting evidence.

Human Rights Watch and FIDH call on the Rwandan government to

-- fully investigate and prosecute the sexual violence that took place during the genocide;

-- and ensure that all police inspectors receive mandatory training on the issue of rape and other sexual abuse, including their status as crimes punishable by law.

As Rwandan women work to rebuild their lives in the wake of the genocide, they must struggle to make ends meet, to reclaim their property, to rebuild their destroyed homes and to raise surviving children, both their own and orphans. These problems are compounded by their second class status under Rwandan law. Many widows have been unable to return to their property because of discriminatory practices in customary law which often deny them the right to inherit. The government has initiated a legal commission to address these issues and to introduce legislation to allow women to inherit equally with men, but the reforms are expected to take a long time.

Human Rights Watch and FIDH call on the Rwandan government to ensure that legal reforms eliminating discrimination are adopted expeditiously and to upholds its obligations under International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights an the Convention on the Elimination All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to ensure that Rwandan women are guaranteed equal protection of the law.

The situation of women in Rwanda cries out for a stepped up humanitarian response from both the international community and the Rwandan government. Since July 1994, international donors have expended approximately $2.5 billion on the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire and Tanzania, while devoting only $572 million to Rwanda itself. Of that, a negligible amount is targeted for gender-related issues, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of the country is female. Only a few aid programs address the specific needs of Rwanda's women and the United Nations Field Operation in Rwanda, which has a mandate to protect and promote human rights, is not addressing the current discrimination against women. The Rwandan government, while concerned about these women's pressing needs, has yet to develop a coordinated strategy to respond to these issues.

Human Rights Watch and FIDH call on the international community and the Rwandan government to

-- ensure that aid programs do not neglect women's needs, especially in the areas of criminal justice, health care, housing, credit, education, vocational training, and trauma counseling. To the degree possible, programs for rape survivors should be integrated into broader programs to ensure that rape survivors are not further stigmatized;

-- provide support for training judicial and law enforcement personnel particularly investigators of genocide crimes on gender-based crimes against women. Programs should also be devised to enhance the recruitment of women investigators;

-- ensure adequate financial and logistical support for the ICTR and the UN Human Rights Field Operation;

-- and increase the cooperation and coordination among different government ministries with the aim of improving the social, medical and legal responses to women's needs in the aftermath of the genocide. An inter-ministerial task force should be created to deal with the violence inflicted on women during the genocide and related current problems facing women.

This report is based on an investigative mission to Rwanda by Human Rights Watch and FIDH in March and April 1996. Researchers conducted interviews with victims of rape and sexual violence and current abuses in six of Rwanda's eleven prefectures. Human Rights Watch/FIDH also met with a wide array of non-governmental human rights and women's rights organizations, social workers, journalists, doctors, nurses, government officials and representatives of the International Tribunal and humanitarian organizations.

Copies of this report in French and English are available from the Publications Department, Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104 for $12.00 (domestic shipping) and $15.00 (international shipping). Visa and MasterCard are accepted. Copies are also available from FIDH, 17 Passage de la Main d'Or, Paris 75011, France.

Human Rights Watch/Africa

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of the Helsinki accords. It is supported by contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly. Its Africa division was established in 1988 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Peter Takirambudde is the executive director; Janet Fleischman is the Washington director; Suliman Ali Baldo is the senior researcher; Alex Vines is the research associate; Bronwen Manby and Binaifer Nowrojee are counsels; and Alison DesForges is a consultant. William Carmichael is the chair of the advisory committee and Alice Brown is the vice chair.

Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project

The Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project was established in 1990 to monitor violence against women and gender discrimination throughout the world. Dorothy Q. Thomas is the director; Regan Ralph is the Washington director; LaShawn R. Jefferson is the research associate; Robin Levi is the Orville Schell fellow; Sinsi Hernandez-Cancio is the Women's Law and Public Policy Fellow; Binaifer Nowrojee is the consultant; and Evelyn Miah and Kerry McArthur are the associates. Kathleen Peratis is chair of the advisory committee and Nahid Toubia is the vice chair.

Federation Internationale Des Ligues Des Droits De L'homme (FIDH)

The International Federation of Human Rights is an international nongovernmental organization for the defense of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Created in 1922, it includes 89 national affiliates throughout the world. To date, FIDH has undertaken more than a thousand missions for investigation, observation of trials, mediation or training in some one hundred countries. FIDH enjoys consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe and observer status with the African Commission of Human and Peoples' Rights. Patrick Baudouin is president (France). The international board is comprised of: Pascuale Bandiera (Italy), Helene Cidade-Moura (Portugal), Ren Degni-Segui (the Ivory Coast), Enoch Djondang (Chad), Michael Ellman (Great Britain), Oswaldo Enriquez (Guatemala), Carmen Ferrer Pena (Spain), Cecilia Jimenez (the Philippines), Haytham Manna (Syria), Gerald McKenzie (Canada), Sabine Missistrano (Belgium), Francisco Soberon (Peru), Robert Verdier (France), vice presidents; Odile Sidem Poulain (France), Claude Katz (France) and William Bourdon (France) are secretary generals; and Philippe Vallet is treasurer. The Africa team within the executive board is composed of Catherine Choquet, deputy secretary general responsible for Africa, Eric Gillet, coordinator for Burundi and Rwanda, and Sam Wordworth, coordinator for anglophone Africa. Antoine Bernard is the executive director of FIDH, and Emmanuelle Robineau Duverger is responsible for Africa at the international secretariat.

Human Rights Watch 485 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10017-6104 TEL: 212/972-8400 FAX: 212/972-0905 E-mail:

Federation Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme 17 Passage de la Main d'Or, Paris 75011 France TEL: (331) 43 55 25 18 FAX: (331) 43 55 18 80

Gopher Address: gopher:// Listserv address: To subscribe to the list, send an e-mail message to with "subscribe hrw-news" in the body of the message (leave the subject line blank).


Message-Id: <> From: Date: Fri, 27 Sep 1996 15:03:49 -0500 Subject: Rwanda: HR Abuses against Women

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Country Specific