Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version


Between Punitive and Reconstructive Justice: The Gacaca Courts in Rwanda


Daly, Erin. 2002. “Between Punitive and Reconstructive Justice: The Gacaca Courts in Rwanda.” New York University Journal of International Law and Politics 34 (2): 355-96.

Author: Erin Daly


In the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which almost a million people were killed by their fellow citizens within 3 months, the country was faced with the colossal task of bringing to justice hundreds of thousands of perpetrators while at the same time trying to rebuild the communities in which both the victims and the perpetrators had lived. This article argues that the regime of gacaca courts, though flawed in many ways, particularly from a western perspective, does nonetheless offer the potential for helping the communities within Rwanda to transform themselves. The form and structure of gacaca are analyzed in this article, and their transformative potential is evaluated.

Keywords: restorative justice, Rwanda, human rights, gacaca courts, genocide

Topics: Genocide, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Transitional Justice, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2002

The Rape of the Nation: Women Narrativising Genocide


Lentin, Ronit. 1999. “The Rape of the Nation: Women Narrativising Genocide.” Sociological Research Online 4 (2): online.

Author: Ronit Lentin


In this article I will firstly argue that genocide and wars are gendered but also often feminised via the positioning of women not only as sexual trophies exchangeable between male enemies, not only as markers of collective boundaries, but also as the symbolic representations of national and ethnic collectivities. I will then interrogate the centrality of rape as a component of ethno-sexual identities and an instrument of war, focusing on the difficulties we have as women but also as social scientists, to theorise wartime rape. Finally I will propose that creating a forum for women war victims to narrativise their traumatic experiences is a vital feminist strategy of beginning to close the gap between genocide and gender and between trauma and the discourses available to narrate it.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Ethnicity, Feminisms, Gender, Genocide, Health, Trauma, Sexual Violence, Rape

Year: 1999

A Woman Scorned for the "Least Condemned" War Crime: Precedent and Problems with Prosecuting Rape as a Serious War Crime in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda


Wood, Stephanie K. 2004. “A Woman Scorned for the ‘Least Condemned’ War Crime: Precedent and Problems with Prosecuting Rape as a Serious War Crime in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.” Columbia Journal of Gender and the Law 13: 274–327.

Author: Stephanie K. Wood


The woman scorned is Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, Rwanda's Former Minister for Women's Affairs, who is currently on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda ("ICTR") for allegedly using her official capacity to incite Hutus to rape thousands of female Tutsis during the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. (1) She is the first woman to be charged with rape as a crime against humanity by an international tribunal. (2) The 1994 Rwanda Genocide had devastating effects on the female population in the country due to the systematic gender-based violence endorsed and carried out by government officials. (3) Almost one million people were killed in one hundred days (4) and, according to some reports, nearly all female survivors--including many young girls (5)--were raped and sexually brutalized. (6) While these crimes are neither historically nor geographically unique to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, (7) the ICTR's efforts in prosecuting gender-based violence as crimes against humanity and tools of genocide have been unprecedented. (8) Rape warfare, although common throughout history, has traditionally been the least condemned war crime. Although not without criticism, (9) the ICTR shattered historical ambivalence toward gender-based violence by indicting and prosecuting Rwandan officials who countenanced rape as a method of warfare during the genocide. (10) The first step in shattering this ambivalence occurred with the prosecution of Jean Paul Akayesu, (11) a mayor in the Taba Commune, (12) who also sanctioned massive sexual violence against Tutsi women. With the Prosecutor v. Akayesu (13) decision, the ICTR became the first international war crimes tribunal to convict an official for genocide and to declare that rape could constitute genocide. (14) Pressure from women's groups, coupled with cooperation and support coming from within the ICTR, led to the watershed decision linking sexual violence to the genocide in Rwanda. (15) However, the ICTR's handling of the Akayesu and Nyiramasuhuko cases also reveal a failure to adequately investigate and indict the gender-based violence sanctioned by the government during the genocide before trial, deficiencies in handling witnesses during the investigation and trial stages, and delays affecting the delivery of justice to survivors. These deficiencies must be addressed and corrected in order to maintain the Tribunal's legitimacy, protect women's human rights, and build upon the jurisprudence condemning rape warfare as genocide. An assessment of the ICTR's deficiencies is especially timely given that the tenth anniversary of the genocide occurred in April 2004. Although the Akayesu conviction and the Nyiramasuhuko prosecution have significant precedential value, the problems encountered by the ICTR in indicting and prosecuting gender-based violence should be lessons for future prosecutions in the international community. (16) Recognition of rape as a serious war crime represents only the first step in creating the deterrent necessary to combat future impunity. Assessing the past in order to improve the effectiveness of future prosecutions for rape warfare is imperative as women of all ages, races, colors, creeds, and ethnicities continue to be raped during armed conflicts. (17) Effective prosecutions will lead to more convictions, which will in turn translate into a legal vindication of women's human rights in the international community. (18) This article argues that while the ICTR has established an important precedent in prosecuting gender-based violence as crimes against humanity and tools of genocide, its deficiencies illustrate the continued straggle to enforce international norms protecting women from violence during armed conflict. (19) Without improvements in three specific areas, the potency of the ICTR's groundbreaking decisions will become diluted and less likely to be applied by other legal bodies, to further the objective of enforcing women's human rights, and to lead to greater deterrence of gender-based violence. Part II of this article discusses the gender-based violence that occurred during the 1994 Rwanda Genocide and addresses the historic ambivalence toward prosecuting rape as a war crime or crime against humanity. This ambivalence demonstrates a lack of implementation and enforcement of the legal norms protecting women's human rights. (20) Part III emphasizes the significance of the first international conviction of rape as a condemnable war crime, while highlighting the need for improvements in order to ensure more effective prosecution of gender-based violence. The cases of two prominent Rwandan officials--Akayesu and Nyiramasuhuko--are discussed in this regard. Part III also explains how the ICTR's progressive precedent on sexual violence is being tarnished by the Tribunal's continuing failure to adequately indict perpetrators for commission of gender-based crimes, a widening divide between the need for legal justice and survivors' interests, and excessive delays that are diluting the credibility of legal justice as a deterrent. Part IV concludes with three major recommendations to the ICTR directed at improving the Tribunal's prosecution of gender-based violence and preserving its legitimacy as a source of international condemnation and deterrence. II. BACKGROUND While violence against women occurs every day worldwide, (21) women are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence (22) during armed conflict. (23) International norms (24) protect women from gender-based violence in theory, (25) but adequate norm development requires implementation and enforcement by the international community in order to transform theory into practice. (26)

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Genocide, International Law, International Criminal Law, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, War Crimes, Sexual Violence, Rape Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2004

An Element of Genocide: Rape, Total War, and International Law in the Twentieth Century


Schiessl, Christoph. 2002. “An Element of Genocide: Rape, Total War, and International Law in the Twentieth Century.” Journal of Genocide Research 4 (2): 197–210.

Author: Christoph Schiessl


The rape of women during wartime and genocide serves several functions. Beyond the purely sexual aspect, soldiers use rape not only to dominate and demoralize women, but also their male relatives, friends, and neighbors. In addition, a group power develops that has no comparison to civilian life, enlarging the power of men alone. Despite attempts to limit total war and genocide in the 20th c., until the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda were formed in the 1990s, rape did not play an overly important role in international law regarding warfare. The Hague Conventions and the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials did not even mention violence against women, until the Fourth Geneva Convention finally included rape into its regulations.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Gender-Based Violence, Genocide, International Law, Justice, International Tribunals & Special Courts, Sexual Violence, Male Perpetrators, Rape, SV against Women

Year: 2002

War Rape, Natality and Genocide


Schott, Robin May. 2011. “War Rape, Natality and Genocide.” Journal of Genocide Research 13 (1-2): 5-21.

Author: Robin May Schott


Feminist philosophy can make an important contribution to the field of genocide studies, and issues relating to gender and war are gaining new attention. In this article I trace legal and philosophical analyses of sexual violence against women in war. I analyze the strengths and limitations of the concept of social death—introduced into this field by Claudia Card—for understanding the genocidal features of war rape, and draw on the work of Hannah Arendt to understand the central harm of genocide as an assault on natality. The threat to natality posed by the harms of rape, forced pregnancy and forced maternity lie in the potential expulsion from the public world of certain groups—including women who are victims, members of the 'enemy' group, and children born of forced birth.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Gender-Based Violence, Genocide, Health, Reproductive Health, Sexual Violence, Rape, SV against Women

Year: 2011

Human Security and Reconstruction Efforts in Rwanda: Impact on the Lives of Women


Gervais, Myriam. 2004. “Human Security and Reconstruction Efforts in Rwanda: Impact on the Lives of Women.” Development in Practice 13 (5): 542-550.

Author: Myriam Gervais


This paper evaluates the pertinence of interventions sponsored by aid agencies that seek to meet the security needs of women in post-reconstruction Rwanda. Personal security, economic security, and socio-political security are used as the main methodological reference marks and indicators. The information and data used in the paper were gathered during several visits to Rwanda in 2001 and 2002. The study reveals that efforts have brought about positive impacts on the lives of women. However, findings also show that specific strategies aimed at increasing women's security would better benefit them if they were more consistently planned so as to take into consideration the ways in which issues of poverty, gender, and security intersect.

Keywords: women's land rights, women, economic security, socio-political security, reconstruction


  • The author examines a sample of initiatives and evaluates how pertinent the interventions sponsored by aid agencies that seek to meet the security needs of women have been. A look at the projects undertaken in Rwanda during the reconstruction period reveals that there were two types of initiatives aimed at supporting women's efforts to respond to the crisis caused by conflict and genocide: the formation of solidarity groups and production associations, and the establishment of advocacy groups and women's collectives. These associations have also taken on the task of providing legal and medical assistance services, forming groups to assist survivors, and providing business advice. The document describes how with the collaboration of local people, some non governmental organisations (NGOs) built houses in various parts of the country and tended to the most needy. By giving priority to the most vulnerable and by making this a condition for funding, NGO projects promoted the taking into account of women's needs in housing programmes. In many cases, women signed individual contracts recognised by communal authorities. The signing of a contract between a woman, the local authority, and the NGO brought about a major change: women and girls were recognised as owners of their homes. The document then considers other issues such as economic security and socio-political security.


“Promoting human security in post-conflict societies means taking specific actions that support a safe environment, social harmony, equal status, and equitable access to resources and to the decision-making process.” (542)

“Gender-based violence still remains high during reconstruction periods, proving that peace is not enough to ensure women’s security. In many cases, women are also confronted with radically changed realities: they have to assume new roles and new responsibilities at the family and community levels, and in so doing they are more susceptible to new forms of insecurity.” (543)

“Rwanda’s agriculture-based economy was completely destroyed by the war, forcing most of its population to live in a state of extreme precariousness. The food shortages caused by the destruction of crops and the severe reduction in cultivated land was aggravated by the inability of many households to obtain the labour they needed. In 1996, 34 per cent of families—with an average of six to seven young dependants— were headed by widows, unmarried women, and wives of prisoners suspected of genocide…64 per cent  of labour force in basic production is female.” (544)

“It is conventionally considered unacceptable for women to inherit from their families. Since girls who are heads of family enjoy no protection, they live in a climate of permanent insecurity and are vulnerable to attempts at intimidation and sexual assault, particularly at night.”(545)

“Following the genocide, one of the challenges for female heads of household was to secure a cultivable plot of land in order to ensure their family’s subsistence. One frequently observed way of doing this was to join an associative group.” (546)

Topics: Gender, Women, Girls, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, Gender Equity, Genocide, Households, Livelihoods, NGOs, Post-Conflict, Post-Conflict Reconstruction, Rights, Land Rights, Property Rights, Women's Rights, Security, Human Security Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2004

The Role of Women's Organizations in Post-Conflict Cambodia


Frieson, Kate G. 1998. The Role of Women's Organizations in Post-Conflict Cambodia. Washington: Center for Development Information and Evaluation, USAID.

Author: Kate G. Frieson

Keywords: post-conflict, women's organizations, intersectionality, socio-economics


"Two decades of conflict and genocide in Cambodia, in particular the rule of terror of the Khmer Rouge, have had devastating social, family, interpersonal, economic, and political effects on women. This report, one in a USAID-funded series on women in post-conflict societies, explores the role of the indigenous women's organizations (WOs) created and nurtured by the international community to improve the lot of Cambodian women. The WOs, though numbering only 18, are empowering women through vocational training and microcredit programs and by assisting victims of HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, and trafficking and forced prostitution. They are also beginning to influence the political landscape through voter education and advocacy programs. According to one trainee: "Men cannot abuse women if women know their rights. Now we understand how to work together for justice." Yet WOs continue to face many obstacles. The country has no tradition of civil society organizations, government support is unstable, and WOs' dependence on external assistance limits their autonomy and capacity to fashion new programs. WO leadership is dominated by one charismatic figure reluctant to delegate authority. Most of the WOs have yet to develop an open management system in which the staff can discuss issues and problems freely. WOs require continual international support to survive and play an important role in improving women's social and economic conditions.

"The Cambodian experience inculcates the following major lessons: (1) Comprehensive, targeted interventions based on a coherent policy framework are needed to help women and reconstruct gender relations in post-conflict societies. Gender-blind policies and programs are not sufficient. (2) The war undermined the traditional sexual division of labor, creating new economic and political opportunities for women. Women entered into occupations closed to them earlier and held important national and local offices during the conflict. After the war, donors developed programs to consolidate those gains. This course can be followed in other post-conflict societies. (3) Education and training of women in refugee camps can prepare them to assume leadership roles in post-conflict societies. (4) Newly founded WOs can be used by the international community to channel humanitarian and developmental assistance in post-conflict societies. But WOs are also a means to help women gain self-respect and participate in decisionmaking. (5) WOs in post-conflict societies can develop local roots and gain political legitimacy despite dependence on international resources. (6) Donors should consider multi-year funding to allow WOs to focus on social, economic, and political development activities. (7) WOs often follow the example of international NGOs in their working conditions, spending considerable resources on four-wheel-drive vehicles, spacious offices, and large support staff. Such operations are questionable under the conditions of post-conflict societies. (8) Cambodian WOs should be encouraged to specialize instead of competing for external resources for similar programs." (This annotation is from

Topics: Civil Society, Development, Displacement & Migration, Refugee/IDP Camps, Economies, Education, Gender, Women, Gendered Power Relations, Genocide, Indigenous, Justice, Political Participation, Post-Conflict, Rights, Women's Rights, Violence Regions: Asia, Southeast Asia Countries: Cambodia

Year: 1998

Improvement in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Post-Conflict Rwandan Women


Cohen, Mardge H., Qiuhu Shi, Mary Fabri, Henriette Mukanyonga, Xiaoto Cai, Donald R. Hoover, and Kathryn Anastos. 2011. "Improvement in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Post-Conflict Rwandan Women." Journal of Women's Health 20 (9): 1325-1332.

Authors: Mardge H. Cohen, Qiuhu Shi, Mary Fabri, Henriette Mukanyonga, Xiaoto Cai, Donald R. Hoover, Kathryn Anastos


BACKGROUND: Depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common in developing and postconflict countries. The purpose of this study is to examine longitudinal changes in PTSD in HIV-infected and uninfected Rwandan women who experienced the 1994 genocide.

METHODS: Five hundred thirty-five HIV-positive and 163 HIV-negative Rwandan women in an observational cohort study were followed for 18 months. Data on PTSD symptoms were collected longitudinally by the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire (HTQ) and analyzed in relationship to demographics, HIV status, antiretroviral treatment (ART), and depression. PTSD was defined as a score on the HTQ of >/=2.

RESULTS: There was a continuing reduction in HTQ scores at each follow-up visit. The prevalence of PTSD symptoms changed significantly, with 61% of the cohort having PTSD at baseline vs. 24% after 18 months. Women with higher HTQ score were most likely to have improvement in PTSD symptoms (p<0.0001). Higher rate of baseline depressive symptoms (p<0.0001) was associated with less improvement in PTSD symptoms. HIV infection and ART were not found to be consistently related to PTSD improvement.

CONCLUSIONS: HIV care settings can become an important venue for the identification and treatment of psychiatric problems affecting women with HIV in postconflict and developing countries. Providing opportunities for women with PTSD symptoms to share their history of trauma to trained counselors and addressing depression, poverty, and ongoing violence may contribute to reducing symptoms.

Keywords: posttraumatic stress disorder, mental health, HIV/AIDS, genocide, war rape

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Women, Genocide, Health, HIV/AIDS, Mental Health, PTSD, Trauma, Post-Conflict, Sexual Violence, Rape Regions: Africa, Central Africa, East Africa Countries: Rwanda

Year: 2011


© 2021 CONSORTIUM ON GENDER, SECURITY & HUMAN RIGHTSLEGAL STATEMENT All photographs used on this site, and any materials posted on it, are the property of their respective owners, and are used by permission. Photographs: The images used on the site may not be downloaded, used, or reproduced in any way without the permission of the owner of the image. Materials: Visitors to the site are welcome to peruse the materials posted for their own research or for educational purposes. These materials, whether the property of the Consortium or of another, may only be reproduced with the permission of the owner of the material. This website contains copyrighted materials. The Consortium believes that any use of copyrighted material on this site is both permissive and in accordance with the Fair Use doctrine of 17 U.S.C. § 107. If, however, you believe that your intellectual property rights have been violated, please contact the Consortium at

Subscribe to RSS - Genocide