<<previous  |  index  |  next>>

I. Summary

“It makes me sad to hear them call me a ‘genocide survivor.’ I am not a survivor. I am still struggling [to survive].” -–S.K., Kanzenzi district, February 20, 2004.

“When gacaca begins, it will seriously disturb the survivors. They don’t have hope, or security. Now that people have begun to talk about gacaca, the security situation has changed.” -–V.B., Ntongwe district, February 23, 2004.

Ten years after the 1994 genocide, many of the tens of thousands of Rwandan women who were victims of sexual violence have remained without legal redress or reparation. Perpetrators of the genocide employed sexual violence against women and girls as a brutally effective tool to humiliate and subjugate Tutsi and politically moderate Hutu. Grieving for lost family members and suffering physical and psychological consequences of the violence, women and girls who were victims of sexual violence are among the most devastated and disadvantaged of genocide survivors.

This report documents the inadequacy of Rwandan government efforts to ensure legal redress and medical assistance and counseling to these victims, including those suffering from HIV/AIDS. The report also examines the continuing problem of sexual violence in Rwanda and shows that victims of these crimes face obstacles to accountability and health care similar to those faced by women and girls who suffered sexual violence during the genocide.

Mechanisms for legal redress have disappointed women who were raped during the genocide.  Domestically this includes the regular court system (commonly referred to in Rwanda as the “classic” court system), which has it origins in the colonial period, and the recently instituted gacaca system, an adaptation of participatory, community-level truth-telling and accountability intended to handle the overwhelming caseload from the genocide period.  Given the massive number of rapes during the genocide, an extraordinarily small number of cases have been prosecuted at the domestic level.

Rape survivors intent on seeing those responsible prosecuted face a two-tiered system, which normally begins with pre-trial gacaca proceedings and is expected to end with trial and judgment in the classic courts. Although the laws governing genocide trials and the gacaca process give serious attention to sexual violence, deficiencies in the law and in its implementation greatly discourage reporting and proper investigation and prosecution of these crimes.

Weaknesses in the legal system include gaps in statutory law, insufficient protections for victims and witnesses who wish to report or testify about sexual violence, lack of training for authorities with respect to sexual violence crimes, and poor representation of women among police and judicial authorities. At the time that the research for this report was conducted, the lack of procedural protections in gacaca proceedings seriously impeded legal redress for rape victims.

A new law adopted on June 19, 2004 restructures the gacaca system and appears to provide important safeguards, but at this writing the law was only beginning to be implemented and significant challenges lay ahead.  While the testimonies in this report address deficiencies in the gacaca system as it existed prior to the new law, they highlight the depth of the problems still to be overcome and the imperative of effective implementation of the June 19 reforms, something that will require serious and persistent effort.   

The deficiencies identified above also continue to hinder redress for women and girls who have suffered sexual violence in Rwanda since the genocide. Recent rape victims, like genocide rape survivors identified in the gacaca system, must seek accountability in the classic courts. Seven years after the genocide, the Rwandan government adopted a child protection law and launched a nationwide campaign against sexual violence.  While this law improves protections for child victims of sexual violence, the Rwandan Penal Code is critically flawed with respect to sexual violence: it does not define rape and as a result fails to fully protect adult rape victims. This statutory gap, as well as weaknesses in witness protection, training of medical personnel and judicial authorities, and access to women police officers and judicial personnel, hinder widespread reporting and effective investigation and prosecution of sexual violence crimes, particularly against adult women.

Many rape victims face urgent material needs: food, shelter, health care, and education for their children. Preoccupation with these needs robs them of the time and energy needed to seek legal redress. For rape victims, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS, medical care and counseling are essential, but they—like most Rwandans—face formidable obstacles to obtaining these services. They lack information about access to care. Fearing stigmatization should they be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, they do not seek HIV testing or treatment. They lack funds to pay for health care and for transport to treatment facilities. They frequently do not have family members to assume nursing, child-care, and household responsibilities. Many do not have enough to eat, which further impairs their health.

Disappointed with the failure to effectively prosecute and punish perpetrators of sexual violence, Rwandan women raped during the genocide urgently seek and require reparations for past abuse in the form of assistance that would enable them to meet their basic survival needs.  The Rwandan government has not met its international obligation to provide adequate remedies for human rights violations during the genocide.  Pleading scarce resources, it has not honored its repeated pledges to provide compensation for genocide survivors, including victims of sexual violence.  

Rwanda is party to international treaties that oblige it to ensure that victims of human rights violations, including rape survivors, have access to an effective remedy, including compensation, and to the highest attainable standard of health. These treaties include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

International donors must address the consequences of their failure to intervene to prevent the genocide. Building on and tailoring their post-genocide foreign aid to the Rwandan government and civil society, they should fund projects to enhance medical care and other assistance to genocide survivors, including victims of sexual violence, whose persistent and worsening economic and health difficulties place them among the most disadvantaged of genocide victims.

This report is based on a five-week research mission to Rwanda by Human Rights Watch in February and March 2004 and on prior and subsequent research. Our team conducted research in the capital, Kigali, and five provinces: Kigali-rural (central Rwanda), Gitarama (central Rwanda), Kibungo (southeastern Rwanda), Butare (southern Rwanda), and Gisenyi (northwestern Rwanda). Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed more than fifty women between the ages of eighteen and fifty, including both victims of sexual violence and others familiar with such crimes perpetrated upon members of their families or their friends. Twenty of these women had been raped during the genocide, and ten were assaulted following the genocide. Seven women were under eighteen at the time of the rape. The women we interviewed resided in towns and rural areas and were located through contacts with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and service providers.

We also spoke to government ministers, local and national police, prosecutors, and other government officials; representatives of local and international NGOs with such mandates as women’s rights, human rights, and health; health providers; and United Nations (U.N.) officials. Further, we reviewed over 1,000 judgments in genocide trials and eighteen judgments in post-1994 rape cases. We also relied on the accumulated research and experience of local and expatriate staff in the Human Rights Watch field office in Kigali, established in 1995.

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>September 2004