Systematic Sexual Violence Against
Rwandan Women

Box 12


Women were subjected to widespread, deliberate sexual violence during the 1994 genocidal campaign against Tutsis in Rwanda. Hutu soldiers and militia members carried out thousands of rapes, gang rapes, and rapes with objects such as sharpened sticks and gun barrels. Many Tutsi women were sexually mutilated or forced into sexual slavery, often after witnessing the torture and killings of their relatives and the destruction of their homes.

The rape survivors suffer from severe physical and psychological injuries, aggravated by social stigmatization; many have sought treatment for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, and for complications resulting from unsafe abortions. Estimates of rape-related pregnancies range from 2,000 to 5,000. Many survivors are also destitute; discriminatory inheritance practices have left thousands of Tutsi widows and daughters without a legal claim to their families' homes, land or bank accounts.

To date, the perpetrators of sexual violence have not been brought to justice for these crimes. Both the Rwandan judicial system and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda are overwhelmed by the volume of cases against those accused of genocidal killings—some 80,000 prisoners are being held without trial. Neither police inspectors nor Tribunal investigators documenting the genocide have collected information on rapes. In July 1996, however, the Tribunal established a Sexual Assault Committee to coordinate the investigation of gender-based violence. Human rights NGOs are calling on national and international authorities to recognize rape, sexual slavery and sexual mutilation as crimes against humanity, genocide or war crimes; to investigate such crimes fully; and to prosecute those responsible.

Source: Human Rights Watch. 1996. Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence During the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath. New York: Human Rights Watch.