(New York) - Tens of thousands of Rwandan women were raped during the genocide and in the decade since, but only a few perpetrators of sexual violence have been prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 58-page report, "Struggling to Survive: Barriers to Justice for Rape Victims in Rwanda," investigates the persistent weaknesses in the Rwandan legal system that hamper the investigation and prosecution of sexual violence. The report also documents the desperate health and economic situation of rape survivors. Many of the women who were raped became infected with HIV.
"Women who were raped during the Rwandan genocide and afterwards are still struggling to find justice," said LaShawn Jefferson, executive director of the Women's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "Rwanda's legal system remains ill-equipped to address sexual violence cases."
Weaknesses in the legal system include insufficient protection for victims and witnesses, lack of training for authorities on sexual violence crimes, and poor representation of women among police and judicial authorities. Genocide survivors, including women and girls who were raped in 1994, have not been able to obtain reparations such as monetary compensation or other assistance for the human rights abuses they suffered.
A woman who suffered serious physical injury and trauma after being gang-raped during the genocide told Human Rights Watch, "It makes me sad to hear them call me a ‘genocide survivor.' I am not a survivor. I am still struggling."
The Rwandan Penal Code and the laws governing prosecution of genocide suspects criminalize "rape" and "sexual torture" without expressly defining the legal elements of either crime, such as force or coercion. The resulting ambiguity over what forms of conduct are legally prohibited leads to inconsistent court verdicts, confusion among law enforcement and government officials, and inattention to sexual violence against women. Denied adequate procedural protections, including confidentiality and access to female police officers and judicial officials trained in dealing with cases of sexual violence, rape victims risk being stigmatized and retraumatized.
"We who have suffered rape, we are afraid that the person we tell will reveal our story to others," one rape victim told Human Rights Watch. "If I go before the court, who will I speak to?"
The gacaca system, a traditional community-level justice mechanism reinstituted to prosecute the tens of thousands of perpetrators of genocide offenses, initially lacked sufficient procedural safeguards for rape victims. New safeguards established in June must be properly implemented to redress this inadequacy.
The report recommends that the Rwandan government enact pending legislation to provide reparations in the form of monetary compensation or other assistance, which would allow rape victims to seek the care they require. The government should also better train doctors and other medical personnel to collect medico-legal evidence, and it should regularly train prosecutors and judges on how to prosecute and try cases of sexual violence.
"Given its failure to intervene during the genocide, the international community must do more to help its survivors," said Jefferson. "Rwanda's international donors need to provide more medical and other assistance for rape victims and other genocide survivors."