Looking Back At The Trial That Made Rape A War Crime
After the Rwandan genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered over a hundred days in 1994, the U.N. created the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with the goal of bringing the organizers of the bloodshed to justice.
The tribunal’s inaugural case would set a number of precedents — but perhaps none more significant than classifying rape as a war crime.
American attorneys Pierre-Richard Prosper and Sara Darehshori prosecuted the first genocide trial. They won their case in 1998 and made history as sexual violence was judged part of genocide for the first time.
“When people think about war crimes tribunals today, they have a vision because it’s been going on for 20 years. But back then, the last time someone had attempted to do anything like that was Nuremberg.”
Among the unsettled matters of law was the connection between rape and genocide, despite their long historical association.
According to a 1996 U.N. report on the Rwandan genocide, perpetrators of the killings used rape systematically as a weapon. “Rape was the rule and its absence the exception,” the report noted, estimating that between 250,000 and 500,000 women and girls were raped during the course of the three-month genocide.
The rape crisis that accompanied the mass killings was so widespread that Prosper and Darehshori saw the need to argue that rape should be classified as a war crime and was itself a major component of the genocide.
“Before [the tribunal], rape and sexual violence were seen as spoils of war,” Prosper said. “For the first time in history, rape was put on equal footing with all other crimes committed during the time of war.”
— excerpted from an article by Melissa Jeltsen writing for The World Post