February 18-28, 2001
In 1994 Rwanda distinguished itself in the annals of world history by concluding a one hundred-day genocide during which militia groups worked in methodical concert with the ruling Hutu government's Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR) to hack, rape, burn, and otherwise brutalize to death an estimated 750,000 Rwandan Tutsi and Hutu moderates. The searingly efficient success of the genocide was in part the result of an unresponsive international community; it was also the realization of a well-orchestrated, government-supported fomentation of ethnic hatred between the Rwandan Hutu majority and their minority Tutsi colleagues, neighbors, and relatives.1
Whether or not the Hutu-Tutsi divide that precipitated the genocide can be legitimately expressed in terms of ethnic difference - an issue of debate among historians - it does seem clear that the colonization of Rwanda exacerbated class distinctions among the Tutsi elite and the Hutu populace. The Belgians, for example, issued ID cards for Tutsi and Hutu based on the numbers of cows they had, thus solidifying a previously porous social structure. During Rwanda's post-World War II transition from colonial rule to independence, the Hutu launched a rebellion against the Tutsi monarchy. The related 1959 massacre of Tutsi was for the Hutu a socialist victory; for the Tutsi it was the "beginning of ethnic fratricide" that resulted in the first mass exodus of Tutsi refugees to neighboring countries. 2
Hutu rule, including discriminatory practices against Tutsi, remained largely uncontested for the next thirty years. In the early 1990s the increasingly empowered and aggressive rebel army Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), comprised mostly of exiled Tutsi advocating for Tutsi repatriation and democratic government, laid claim through a series of armed offenses to territories in northern Rwanda, displacing some one million Hutu. Although Hutu President Habyarimana formally acceded to opposition requests for democracy by signing the Arusha Accords in 1993, his government continued to foster ethnic hatred and instill fears of a return to Tutsi hegemony. Habyarimana's assassination in April 1994 (allegedly by Hutu government radicals) was seemingly the call to action required by Hutu extremists to launch their Tutsi and moderate Hutu extermination campaign.3
The RPF advanced on Rwanda's capital city of Kigali in July 1994, definitively defeating the FAR and the militias, and clearing the way for an RPF-dominated "Government of National Unity." Fearing retribution, Hutu genocide leaders, as well as hundreds of thousands of other Hutu, fled to neighboring countries, crossing borders in advance of a tide of exiled Tutsi making their return to Rwanda. In 1996 many Hutu refugees, who had managed for several years to survive disease, militia control, and host government hostility in highly unstable refugee camps, opted or were forced to repatriate, so that by the late 1990s post-genocide Rwanda had evolved into a society of collective traumas.4
The genocide exacted a heavy toll on families and communities and also destroyed the country's economic, social, and political infrastructure. Thousands of genocide suspects have been summarily arrested, even absent a formal charge; some of the more than 100,000 currently awaiting trial have been detained since 1994.5 In spite of the relatively high level of international aid per capita following the genocide, the numbers of returnees and shifting population movements, as well as repeated Hutu-based insurgen-cies in Rwanda's northwest region, considerably slowed the country's ability to move from emergency to development.6 Although social and economic initiatives are gaining ground, an estimated 70 percent of the population lives in poverty, and 90 percent are engaged in subsistence agriculture.7
Status of Women
Surviving women and children remain among the most affected; in some communities widows make up 60 percent of heads of households.8 Despite recent notable gains in the numbers of women in key government positions, women are still underrepresented in the ranks of power, both within the government and in civil society posts.9 A post-genocide proliferation of local NGOs providing education, social, and financial assistance to women have in some measure redressed this void.10 Their work has been strengthened and reinforced by the advocacy efforts and support of the relatively new Ministry for Gender and Women in Development (MIGEPROFE). The international community has also had a key role in supporting women and their organizations, most notably through the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Trust Fund for Women; the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Women in Development Program; and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) Rwanda Women's Initiative (RWI). In terms of genocide-related violence, the RWI in particular provided direct funding to local women's programs providing psychosocial assistance. Several of these local NGOs, as well as MIGEPROFE and a few international NGOs, have led efforts to address the effects of GBV perpetrated during the genocide.
During the Genocide
In a glaring conflation of gender and ethnic biases, the first three of the Hutu "Ten Commandments," which reportedly circulated widely before the genocide, exhort Hutu men to avoid the seduction of Tutsi women, and accord favor to Hutu women, who are "more dignified and more conscientious in their roles as woman, wife, and mother" than their Tutsi counterparts, and "pretty, good secretaries, and more honest."11 Such propaganda illustrates and reinforces some of the gender issues at play in the atrocities committed by both male and female genocidaires: by specifically raising the specter of Tutsi women's enticing sexuality, the commandments simultaneously promote and devalue the Tutsi woman in terms of her sexuality, laying the groundwork for violence that targeted that image. Although exact numbers of victims are unknown, it is estimated that a quarter-to a half-million women and girls of all ages survived rape. (The figures, loosely extrapolated from the estimates of the two to five thousand babies reportedly born of genocide sexual violence, assume a 1 to 4 percent chance of pregnancy with every sexual encounter.12) It is impossible to account for the numbers of women who were raped and then murdered. In a 1999 research initiative undertaken by the local Rwandan NGO Association of Widows of the Genocide (Avega), 39 percent of women interviewed acknowledged being raped, and 74 percent stated they knew women who were raped. Given the cultural stigma associated with rape and the subsequent isolation of victims - a stunningly low 6 percent of women interviewed had sought medical care since the genocide - it is likely that the actual number of rape survivors lies somewhere between these percentages. Avega's findings of types of genocidal sexual violence reinforce earlier findings of human rights investigators: atrocities included sexual slavery, gang rape, forced incest, purposeful HIV transmission and impregnation, and genital mutilation.13
Beyond the Genocide
According to the Avega report, GBV is not a new phenomenon in Rwanda. "Violence in everyday life is deeply rooted in the memory and habits" of the Rwandese, finding its expression in traditions such as the dowry, polygamy (illegal but condoned), forced marriage (illegal but prosecutable only by the victim's family, who may often be complicit), and forced sex in marriage.14 The genocide, directly and indirectly, further engendered violence against women and girls. For example, Hutu refugees were exposed to sexual violence in their camps in Tanzania and Zaire.15
Domestic violence - claimed in a Rwandan proverb to be a necessary precursor to achieving womanhood - was estimated at 20 percent in the 1995 Rwandan National Report to the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women.16 Women's representatives believe that this number is low and that, in any case, domestic violence increased in the genocide's trail of tension and despair. Prostitution, though officially illegal, has reportedly risen dramatically. Even more alarmingly, in a nationwide government survey of prostitutes, 76 percent of those interviewed who had undergone HIV testing were seropositive.17 A spate of rapes of young children by adult males was also a post-genocide phenomenon, attributed on the one hand to misperceptions that having sex with young children cured HIV/AIDS, and on the other hand to the "near impunity enjoyed by those people responsible for violence during the genocide."18
Impunity has been a feature of rape-related genocide crimes, in part because the judicial response has been extremely slow. The success of international and Rwandan women's advocates in obtaining a "category 1" classification (punishable by death) for genocidal rapes involving "sexual torture" has heightened public awareness of the severity of rape, which was previously categorized as a misdemeanor, traditionally requiring reparations provided by the perpetrator to the victim's family. Yet few convictions have been levied by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and women's organizations have complained that lack of security and confidentiality for survivors has discouraged them from speaking with tribunal investigators about their assaults.19 The traditional gacaca system of community-based courts, reformulated by the Rwandan government as a way to expedite the thousands of accused awaiting trial for genocide crimes, will when implemented exclude category 1 offenses and thus further limit the prosecution of genocidal rapists.
However, several post-genocide rape cases have received judicial attention - due in large part to the advocacy of MIGEPROFE and local human rights and women's organizations. Some recent cases are reportedly being prosecuted to the full extent of existing laws, with punishments ranging from five to twenty years.20 The Ministry of Justice (MINIJUST) has also facilitated short sensitization trainings on violence against women to the newly installed and overwhelmingly male national police force, but women's representatives suggest that police response to rape victims is still inconsistent and reflective of long-standing gender discriminatory practices. Response to most other non-genocide crimes against women, such as domestic violence, generally remains the domain of the family and the community; they have not yet achieved the same nationwide attention as rape.
Current GBV-related Programming
Compared to resources that flooded Rwanda after the genocide, the contributions of the international community to address genocide-related sexual assault were limited and belated. In her report following a visit to Rwanda in 1998, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women expressed concern "at the incomprehensible absence of any programs supporting women victims of violence by any United Nations agencies and operations present in Rwanda."21 A notable exception to this absence was the World Health Organization's (WHO) project to address the health needs of women and girls who survived violence. WHO's initiative began in 1997 with national education campaigns and continued until 1999 to provide medical supplies and basic psychosocial training to health care and social service providers.22 Even so, WHO's brief trainings were admittedly introductory, and funding is not yet secured to implement the evaluation phase of their project. RWI also has GBV as one component of its mandate, yet only a few of the RWI-funded women's organizations have targeted issues related to violence against women. Plagued by dramatic shifts in funding, RWI has not been sufficiently consistent and/or strategic in its outreach to rural women affected by the genocide, thus limiting its overall "empowerment" objective.23 In fact, all of RWI implementing partners are Kigali-based.24
More recently, several United Nations agencies, including UNDP, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), have undertaken efforts to address GBV. With support from UNIFEM, for example, the Minister for Gender participated in a 1999 global videoconference on violence against women, and on International Women's Day in March 2000 MIGEPROFE initiated a year-long media campaign to Stop Violence Against Women and the Girl Child. The Minister for Gender continues to be a staunch proponent of the importance of addressing GBV, and has worked together with the Ministry of Health (MINISANTE) on HIV/AIDS and prostitution, with MINIJUST on GBV prosecution issues, and with the Ministry of Social Affairs on providing social assistance to victims of genocide-related sexual violence. MINISANTE has included sexual violence as a component of its national reproductive health policy, but protocols for response have not been standardized or implemented.
MIGEPROFE's Secretariat for Women's Organizations has been charged with coordinating the large numbers of women's NGOs and emerging government-supported local women's councils in order to enlarge the capacity to prevent and respond systematically to GBV countrywide. The Secretariat's effort will be considerably enhanced by UNIFEM's current national mapping project of all women's NGOs. At the moment, however, no consolidated umbrella project exists for GBV. Most direct services to GBV victims are the purview of a small number of Kigali-based women's NGOs, whose financial and technical support comes from a similarly small number of international donors and NGOs, and whose field outreach is limited by their lack of funding and administrative capacity.
Pro-Femmes/Twese Hamwe is the Kigali-based umbrella organization for local women's NGOs; it has grown from thirteen to thirty-eight organizations since its 1994 inception. In spite of its size, the umbrella does not yet serve a coordinating function, particularly with regard to GBV programming. Of participating NGOs, six have developed the capacity to provide services to survivors of GBV. Among them is Haguruka, a legal advocacy NGO whose 330 paralegals, working nationwide, accompany rape victims to doctors and police, provide legal counsel, and attempt to facilitate the prosecutory process. Last year Haguruka also received over 1,500 domestic violence complaints, though women rarely sought prosecution of their husbands because of economic constraints, social stigma, and fear of family and partner retribution. A model former employee of Haguruka now works as a consultant to several women's organizations to conduct field-based advocacy efforts, most notably convincing the police and judiciary to attend to GBV cases. Another Pro-Femmes member active in GBV response is Avega. In addition to their research initiative on genocide violence mentioned above, Avega provides rape survivor counseling to widows of the genocide.
Avega and three other women's organizations providing GBV counseling and case management services - Barakabaho, Icyuzuzo, and Clinique de L'espoir - are currently receiving assistance from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to further improve their clinical capacities to respond to survivors and to develop an inter-agency clinical supervisory and support network. MSF's capacity-building project will enhance the earlier efforts of the Irish NGO Trocaire. Although Trocaire's commitment to long-term counselor training of select members of these NGOs was a positive departure from the more usual short-term trauma training models that overwhelmed Rwanda following the genocide, Trocaire's objectives did not include, as do MSF's, oversight and assistance with administration and coordination of counseling services among local women's NGOs.
Another reputable and long-standing Kigali organization working with female survivors of the genocide is the Polyclinic of Hope. Started by Church World Service in 1995, the Polyclinic is now operating under the umbrella of the local Rwanda Women's Network. Polyclinic services to over five hundred registered members include free medical care, psychosocial counseling and support activities, income generation support, and shelter assistance. The Rwanda Women's Network's overall orientation toward women's empowerment informs the strategies of Polyclinic, so that women are encouraged to develop community networks of mutual assistance and support. Like most local NGOs, Polyclinic is continually confronted with challenges of obtaining ongoing funding. In order to ensure that their model program continues, they are considering joining with MINISANTE to replicate their services within hospitals nationwide.
As yet, MINISANTE has no national program to address GBV. Select hospitals have social workers and health care providers trained in trauma counseling by WHO and the Trocaire-supported organization Association Rwandaise des Conseillers en Traumatisme (ARCT). With rare exceptions rape victims continue to be required to pay for forensic exams, for which there are no special protocols or specially trained doctors available. Association Rwandaise Pour le Bien-Etre Familial (ARBEF), the long-standing local arm of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, also has no specific services targeting victims. When a survivor requests rape treatment, ARBEF will provide reduced-fee medical treatment for sexually transmitted infections as well as general emotional support. ARBEF workers acknowledge they are not trained to provide counseling for GBV. They have instead tried to adapt their methods of HIV/AIDS counseling, "telling her to avoid such conditions so as not to be raped again." Although formal records of domestic violence reports are not kept, the clinical director of ARBEF reported that large numbers of clients reveal histories of domestic violence.
Byumba Refugee Camp
This camp in northern Rwanda is one of three in Rwanda serving Congolese and Burundian refugees. The American Refugee Committee (ARC), alarmed by reports of domestic violence, forced marriage, and sexual violence against Congolese women within the Byumba camp, facilitated a community education series on violence prevention and response. Although the sensitization was short term, representatives of the camp committee feel that the trainings significantly reduced incidents of violence, particularly the high rates of forced marriage. Even without methods for measuring the impact of the program, the camp representatives credited the sensitization's "success" to the involvement of MIGEPROFE, the local government, and UNHCR in educating the camp population that rape and forced marriage are illegal and ensuring that reported cases were brought to trial. Representatives of the camp committee also attributed the sensitization's success to the broad-based community education approach: teachers instructed children; representatives of each of the seventy-two camp sections educated their section leaders; and health care providers educated patients.
In spite of the reported achievements of the project, several Byumba camp representatives alluded to ongoing problems, such as coerced sex and prostitution of young girls outside the camp, and ongoing though less frequent incidents of domestic violence within the camps. A UNHCR protection representative paints a much more sober picture; she feels that non-reporting of many types of violence remains commonplace. In an example of the perils of reporting, one camp community ostracized a sixteen-year-old impregnated by a well-liked camp leader after she identified her rapist to UNHRC. At the behest of the community, UNHCR released the leader back to his camp after a brief detention. It is impossible to determine the current rates of refugee violence, as there are no ongoing prevention or response programs specifically addressing GBV within the camps.
More than seven years have passed since Rwanda's genocide, and yet most existing GBV programs have not advanced beyond addressing the victimizations perpetrated during the genocide. This lack of progress reflects the profound destruction brought about by those few months in 1994. It also reflects the failure of the international community to respond to the issue of genocide-related GBV efficiently and effectively. Until the last two years, almost all GBV initiatives were delivered at the local level, primarily in Kigali, with the assistance of international NGOs operating largely independent of one another. Furthermore, all of the NGOs providing services have GBV as only one component of usually extensive programming, a probable response to the donor-driven necessity to diversify services in order to obtain sufficient operational funds. The need to generalize organizational mandates has undermined NGOs' abilities to evolve specialized, comprehensive, or in-depth skills in the area of GBV.
Certainly the environmental challenges to the international and local organizations cannot be underestimated. In the early post-genocide period, national government was overwhelmed, civil sector organizations were extremely weak, and ongoing conflict and population movements complicated efforts to coordinate and strengthen community-based initiatives. Even so, early post-genocide GBV programming in Rwanda may provide a case study for the outcomes of humanitarian projects that are primarily curative with limited or no preventive components, that are small in scale, and that do not place conflict-related violence in the broader context of gender inequities. The results appear to be that post-conflict violence has escalated, and that few women are seeking and few organizations are offering assistance for GBV outside the realm of sexual assault.
Nevertheless, promising shifts have taken place in Rwanda within the last two years that may change the landscape of future efforts to address GBV. Most importantly, MIGEPROFE and the Secretariat for Women's Organizations are vocal advocates for confronting violence against women. All Ministries - notably Gender, Justice, Social Affairs and Health - appear to be committed to coordinating with each other regarding GBV, as well as to coordinating the activities of NGOs. MINIJUST has shown a commitment to expediting judicial response to rape cases. MINISANTE has similarly embraced the importance of addressing GBV by including it within their national reproductive health policy, though implementation of the policy has not been initiated. The relatively new locally based and nationally supported women's councils may, with technical assistance, be a resource for facilitating coordination of GBV prevention and response activities, especially if they are not viewed competitively by local women's NGOs as attempting to usurp precarious NGO funding. The success of local NGOs in providing services, even in the face of challenges such as short-term funding, limited technical assistance, and administrative inexperience, is a testament to the capacity and commitment of Rwandan women, and it speaks to the potential that women's organizations offer in the reconstruction of the country's social infrastructure.
1. International donors must consider prevention of GBV an integral activity of long-term development and fund accordingly. Models of short-term, curative services funded during the emergency phase are no longer suitable to the society's needs. Priority should be given to supporting the government's institutionalization of GBV prevention and response activities through the design and implementation of GBV-related policy, as well as through support to government and civil sector actors at the national and local levels. In order to facilitate this, local NGOs with experience in GBV must be financially and technically assisted to provide training and consultation.
2. An interagency working group should be established, led by MIGEPROFE, including representatives of relevant ministries, U.N. bodies, and international and local NGOS. The interagency working group should monitor the progressive efforts by the national and local governments to institute prevention and response activities.
3. MIGEPROFE should be fully supported with technical assistance and funding by international donors and the Rwandan government to continue its ongoing efforts to address GBV. The Ministry must receive particular assistance in developing the skills and mandate of locally based women's councils, so that the councils can serve their communities by enhancing existing NGO accessibility and coordination. The Ministry should also receive assistance necessary to coordinate the activities of the NGOs so that they may work cooperatively toward common goals rather than exclusively and competitively. The Ministry's proven success in changing discriminatory inheritance laws against women should be utilized in addressing laws related to violence against women and girls. MIGEPROFE should also ensure that all other ministries have policies relevant to GBV.
4. MINSANTE should require that their implementing partners institute supportive protocols to respond to women seeking medical exams for sexual and physical assault. Women should be encouraged to pursue treatment through broad-based media campaigns and through the provision of free services for providers. Model NGOs already experienced in the provision of health services to survivors, such as the Polyclinic of Hope, should be consulted for program design, and accessed for trainers and service providers. MINISANTE should endorse Polyclinic's proposal to create centers within hospitals where women can access services similar to those currently provided by the Polyclinic's Kigali-based center. Data should be collected at all health centers and submitted to MINISANTE for regular monitoring and evaluation of health response mechanisms.
5. MINIJUST should provide important advocacy regarding the necessity for police forces and judiciary to respond appropriately to cases of GBV. MINIJUST should continue to facilitate trainings for police officers and create specialized units in the police forces to monitor cases and maintain data systems on case reports, with the requirement that data be regularly submitted for review by MINIJUST. Efforts should be made to recruit more women into the police forces. MINIJUST should also ensure that the judiciary receives ongoing education about laws affecting GBV survivors, so that cases are tried according to statutory rather than customary law.
6. International NGOs should create GBV programs in close collaboration with local initiatives, with the goal of strengthening established programs through capacity building and technical assistance. Such collaboration will require a respect for NGOs' existing management structures and commitment to long-term yet flexible support.
7. Local NGOs addressing GBV should incorporate preventive activities in all areas of programming, with particular attention to empowering women and girls through community organizing and self-help programming. Increased specialization in GBV prevention and response will surely lead to expanded services addressing a spectrum of survivor needs, such as psychosocial centers, women's resource centers, safe houses, and increased community outreach and involvement. Local NGOs should also recognize the benefits of collaboration with other NGOs through their Pro-Femmes umbrella, women's councils, and MIGEPROFE. The successful advocacy activities of Pro-Femmes members illustrate the potential impact of cooperation among NGOs, especially if Pro-Femmes can further develop its coordination, networking, and fundraising strategies.
8. Men, who are notably absent from GBV initiatives, should be encouraged to offer their support and expertise in addressing gender violence, and should also be considered as potential service recipients.
1 P. Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (New York, 1998).
2 United Nations, Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Report of the Mission to Rwanda on the Issues of Violence Against Women in Situations of Armed Conflict (Geneva, 1998), Addendum 1, 4.
3 C. Newbury and H. Baldwin, Aftermath: Women in Post-genocide Rwanda, US Agency for International Development Working Paper 303 (Washington, D.C., 2000), 2.
4 Newbury and Baldwin, Aftermath, 2.
5 U. S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2000: Rwanda, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor(Washington, D.C., 2001), 5.
6 U.N., Profile of United Nations Programs 1998-2000, U.N. Rwanda Issues Paper (Geneva, 2000), 6.
7 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2000: Rwanda, 1.
8 Newbury and Baldwin, Aftermath, 7.
9 Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, Rebuilding Rwanda: A Struggle Men Cannot Do Alone (New York, 2000), 3.
10 Newbury and Baldwin, Aftermath, 2.
11 H. Hamilton, "Rwanda's Women: The Key to Reconstruction," Journal of Humanitarian Assistance (January 2000): 2.
12 S. Swiss, "Rape as a Crime of War," Journal of the American Medical Association 270, No. 5 (August 1993): 613.
13 Association of Widows of the Genocide (Avega), Survey on Violence Against Women in Rwanda, Avega Agahozo (Kigali, 1999), 23-24.
14 Human Rights Watch, Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and Its Aftermath (New York, 1996), 20.
15 Hamilton, "Rwanda's Women," 4.
16 Human Rights Watch, Shattered Lives, 20.
17 Rwanda Ministry of Gender, Family, and Social Affairs, Study on Prostitution and AIDS in Rwanda (Kigali, 1998), 3.
18 Avega, "Survey on Violence Against Women in Rwanda," 37.
19 Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 2001 (New York, 2001), 457.
20 U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2000: Rwanda, 9.
21 U.N., Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Report of the Mission to Rwanda, 19.
22 World Health Organization, Amagara Yacu: Our Health (Geneva, 2000), 3.
23 Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, You Cannot Dance If You Cannot Stand: A Review of the Rwanda Women's Initiative and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' Commitment to Gender Equality in Post-Conflict Settings (New York, 2001), 1-2.
24 Women's Commission, You Cannot Dance If You Cannot Stand, 18.