news analysis advocacy
tips on searching

Search AfricaFocus and 9 Partner Sites



Visit the AfricaFocus
Country Pages

Burkina Faso
Cape Verde
Central Afr. Rep.
Congo (Brazzaville)
Congo (Kinshasa)
Côte d'Ivoire
Equatorial Guinea
São Tomé
Sierra Leone
South Africa
South Sudan
Western Sahara

Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!

Print this page

Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Rwanda: HR Abuses against Women
Any links to other sites in this file from 1996 are not clickable,
given the difficulty in maintaining up-to-date links in old files.
However, we hope they may still provide leads for your research.
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

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

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 Pe$a (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://
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).

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational
affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary
objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States
around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by
concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant
information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and


URL for this file: