Montreal, September 1st, 1998 - Tomorrow, the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) will issue a historic judgment in the case of Jean-Paul Akayesu, who is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and crimes committed in an internal armed conflict.
The Coalition on Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations, which includes Rwandan and international women's rights groups, expects that the Akayesu case will set a milestone in the prosecution of crimes of sexual violence committed in armed conflict.
Akayesu, former mayor of the Taba commune, was accused of allowing police and others under his authority to rape and torture mostly Tutsi women who had sought his protection. With a guilty verdict, this would represent the first time anyone has been found liable by an international tribunal for genocide crimes which include sexual violence. As well, Akayesu would be the first non-military leader declared guilty for rape crimes committed in an internal armed conflict.
Initially, the ICTR had not charged Akayesu with sexual violence crimes despite overwhelming evidence of mass rapes in the Taba commune. In 1997, testimony emerged from his trial about Akayesu's prominent role in the rapes.
On the basis of this testimony, and on facts collected in Human Rights Watch's 1996 report "Shattered Lives", the Coalition submitted an "amicus curiae" brief to the ICTR, urging the Tribunal to bring charges of rape and other crimes of sexual violence against Akayesu. This brief is an official part of the Akayesu case file.
In June 1997, the Prosecutor amended the Akayesu indictment to include charges of sexual violence. Since the submission of the amicus brief, the Coalition has continued working to encourage the Office of the Prosecutor to adequately prosecute crimes of sexual violence at the ICTR by urging adequate witness protection, proper training for ICTR investigators, the addition of more women on investigating teams, and other measures.
The Rwanda Tribunal deserves credit for the strides it has made since its inception. Thirty-five defendants have been charged and sexual violence indictments have been brought in two of those cases. The Akayesu decision will hopefully lead to further prosecution for crimes of sexual violence by the ICTR.
The Coalition on Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations is coordinated by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD).
The Coalition on Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations includes the following organizations:
Beth Asher (Toronto, Canada),
Professor Cathy Blacklog, Huron College, University of Western Ontario (Canada),
Sapfo Constantatos (Montreal, Canada),
Elizabeth Cox, Women and Children's Health Project, (Papua, New Guinea),
Tina Dolgopol, Flinders University, (South Australia),
Wenona Giles, Atkinson College, York University, (Toronto, Canada)
Jennifer Hyndman (Canada),
Professor Audrey Macklin, Dalhousie Law School (Canada),
Obaid El Ahmed El Obaid, Ph.D, Senior Fellow, Faculty of Law, McGill University (Canada),
Roxana Ng, Ph.D., Sociology & Equity Studies, OISE/ University of Toronto (Canada),
Dorothy E. Smith (Canada),
Miho Tsujii (Japan) and
Dr. Hilmi M. Zawati, lawyer (Montreal, Canada).
Certainly, advances have been made in recognizing women’s rights. The legal framework is increasingly responsive to the experiences of women and girls in conflict, especially in cases of sexual violence, as we have seen in the important work being carried out by the international criminal tribunals. But there remains much to be done, particularly to improve prevention and to combat impunity.
-- Kofi Annan
October 28, 2002