Rwanda: Seven in ten genocide rape survivors living with HIV/Aids

It is estimated that between a quarter and half a million Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights were subject to rape, including gang rape, sexual torture and mutilation, during the Rwandan genocide, and that of those who survived seven in ten are now living with HIV/AIDS, says Amnesty International in a new report published today (6 April 2004).

Marked for Death: Rape survivors living with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda reports that there have been only around one hundred prosecutions for these crimes, while the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights who suffered them remain scarred and traumatised, often with scant access to healthcare and facing stigmatisation and discrimination as a result.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

“Sexual violence against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights was a huge component of the 1994 genocide. Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights’s bodies and minds were mutilated, humiliated and scarred on a scale that defies belief. It is an outrage that most of these Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are not receiving adequate healthcare.”

In 1994 the Rwandese people suffered some of the most horrific violence of the twentieth century as up to a million people were killed during the genocide committed by the interahamwe militia, and reprisal killings by the Rwandan Patriotic Army.

The UN estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 rapes were committed. Gang rape was common, especially at check points set up by the interahamwe, and there were many incidences of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights being abducted and held for long periods as sex slaves.

Of the Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights who survived these attacks 70% are estimated to have been infected with HIV. Most reportedly still suffer from severe trauma and have little hope of receiving adequate medical care or compensation.

Issues covered in the 35-page report include:

  • No justice for survivors of sexual violence
    According to a Rwandan Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights’s rights organisation, less than 100 Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights have seen rape cases from 1994 through the courts system. Of the 20 or so defendants who were found guilty most appealed against their sentences. Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights’s groups have pointed out that survivors are generally very reluctant to bring cases in the first place because testifying is traumatic and increases the chance that her local community will find out about the rape.
  • Discrimination against rape survivors and people living with HIV/AIDS
    Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights who were raped during the genocide are often stigmatised in their local communities and many report that their husbands have abandoned them because of the assault. Children's rights born as a result of the rapes also face severe discrimination and are commonly referred to as the ‘enfants mauvais souvenir’ (Children's rights of bad memories).

    Because of the lack of affordable healthcare and the discrimination against them as both victims of rape and people living with HIV/AIDS, the vast majority of survivors are living in extreme poverty. Many Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights have sold their family’s land and all their possessions to pay for antibiotics and there is an increasing phenomenon of child-headed households.

    In the context of intense prejudice and discrimination against rape survivors, there is growing concern about the conduct of the local associations that have been set up for people living with HIV/AIDS. It has been alleged that some of these associations are corrupt and that they discriminate in deciding who should receive anti-retroviral drugs. Rape survivors are often among those discriminated against. It is also reported that the government has used ARV treatment as a bargaining chip and threatened local authorities with revoking treatment if they did not support government policies.

  • Sexual violence and international law
    International law clearly states that perpetrators of sexual violence can be held accountable for crimes against humanity. There have been prosecutions for rape as a crime against humanity in the former Yugoslavia. The mechanisms exist for these crimes to be prosecuted if the Rwandan government and the international community have the political will.

Amnesty International recommends that the Rwandan government:

  • urgently investigate and prosecute all reported cases of sexual violence;
  • encourage Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights to bring cases of sexual violence to the police;
  • provide compensation to survivors;
  • improve the provision of medical care to survivors of sexual violence;

and that the international community:

  • urge and support the Rwandan government in bringing perpetrators of sexual violence to justice;
  • provide funding and technical support measures to help the Rwandan government uphold the rights to food and adequate healthcare.

Lesley Warner concluded:

“These crimes are a scar on the conscience of the entire international community. Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and girls in Rwanda will not be safe until justice is done.”

Background

It is reported that between eight and 13% of Rwandan people are living with HIV/AIDS. Around 50,000 people die each year from AIDS-related illnesses but only 2,000 people are receiving the life-prolonging ARVs needed to keep the disease under control.

Personal testimony from a rape survivor as told to Amnesty International

Floride (not her real name) is in her thirties, and is taking care of four of her own Children's rights and six orphans by herself. In 1992, her husband left her, at a time when Hutu men were urged to leave their Tutsi wives.

During the 1994 genocide, Floride’s infant was killed with a machete while strapped to her back. Floride herself was raped repeatedly during the genocide and became pregnant, and also suffered machete wounds.

The child of her rape is now a nine-year-old boy in first grade. Floride states that she is still traumatised as a result of what happened, and says she can’t bear to have her boy tested for HIV to avoid further sadness.

She learned of her own infection in 2002. Now she is a member of an association of people living with HIV/AIDS, and her neighbours suspect she has HIV because she is seen going to those meetings.

She manifests a variety of symptoms of AIDS-related illnesses. She does receive some free medical care (though not ARVs) through a genocide widows association, though she is not technically a widow.

She does some housework for her neighbours, but is increasingly incapable of doing these odd jobs as she feels herself getting weaker. She receives one sack of food per month, but it is not enough for her and her family to survive.

She and her family occupy a ramshackle house only because a landlord has permitted them to live there until he gets money to fix it up. Some of the orphans for whom she cares get free schooling and uniforms, paid for by the Genocide Survivors’ Fund (FARG), but her own Children's rights are unable to attend school for lack of funds. This state of affairs makes her Children's rights feel inferior.

Her husband is alive, but she has no contact with him. Floride says she feels discrimination from other widows because her husband was Hutu, and because she is still very traumatised and sad.

She feels the other genocide survivors belittle her, even though she lost her baby during the genocide and sustained machete wounds. She says she only talks to the trauma counsellor, not to the other Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights, and it does help her.

She is very concerned what will happen to her Children's rights once she dies. If she knew that her Children's rights were older and would have a roof over their head when she died, she could die in peace.

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