Conflict & Justice

Bringing justice to Rwanda's rape victims

This law professor at the National University of Rwanda says rape can be as destructive as killing. During the genocide, Hutu rape of Tutsi women and girls was also intended to stop the production of Tutsi babies. Many of the victims were mutilated so they would never bear children again. The realization of rape was a key weapon of genocide and led the Rwandan government to put it in the highest category of genocide. Similar to in Bosnia, it's difficult to come forward. The professor says to speak about rape for the victims can be like being raped again. One challenge for Rwanda post-genocide was how to bring the thousands of perpetrators to justice. One method was setting up community courts but rape victims didn't feel comfortable testifying there so they kept rape cases in the regular courts. Rape victims don't feel like justice has been served and most cases have languished, so there's a proposal to transfer them to the community courts. The overseer of the community courts says rape victims are ready speak out. But a powerful organization of genocide survivors have come out against the plan. The president says rape is an extraordinary sin and women have kept it secret and that these crimes be tried in secret and not in public. The community courts are in public and are non-professionals. The law professor downplays the weaknesses of the community courts and think they can be adapted to protect rape victims. Rape cases could be held indoors in closed courts, she says. That's unlikely to sway critics including legal experts outside of Rwanda who are worried that the community courts don't hold up to international law. The overseer is proud of the community courts though. She thinks seeing justice done will encourage rape victims who have kept quiet to speak out. The law professor thinks ultimately the community courts could be good for rape cases. If the Rwandan government approves the move, thousands of rape cases will make their way to the community courts. It's not clear how rape victims feel about the situation yet.

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