"Without These Women, the Tribunal Cannot Do Anything”: The Politics of Witness Testimony on Sexual Violence at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda


Koomen, Jonneke. 2013. “‘Without These Women, the Tribunal Cannot Do Anything’: The Politics of Witness Testimony on Sexual Violence at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.” Signs 38 (2): 253–77. 

Author: Jonneke Koomen


The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established by the UN Security Council to prosecute high-profile organizers of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, including those responsible for systematic sexual violence against Rwandan women. Focusing on tribunal cases involving mass rape, I examine how global justice for Rwandan women is produced through the politics of translation and negotiation. Through in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork, I investigate how unspeakable suffering is articulated through witness testimony, translated into the language of international law, and mediated through the tribunal bureaucracy. I examine encounters between international tribunal workers and Rwandan witnesses, specifically how ICTR staff investigate sexual violence, gather witness statements, and render individuals’ stories fit for public appearance at the tribunal. I also explore the conditions under which witnesses tell their stories in ICTR courtrooms. I argue that international justice at the ICTR depends on Rwandan victims and witnesses. At the same time, however, the project of international justice for women depends on routine social practices that at times marginalize Rwandan women as objects of justice. I contend that these practices may, counterintuitively, reinforce the distance between “local victims” and the expansive ambitions of international justice.

Topics: Gender, Genocide, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, War Crimes, Post-Conflict, Security, Sexual Violence Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2013

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