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UN Sets Definition for Sex Violence

September 2, 1998

ARUSHA, Tanzania (AP) _ The women told their stories in voices that cracked with the pain of remembering: Gang rape of a pregnant victim. Being forced to parade naked. Mutilation.

Months ago, the U.N. tribunal’s judges listened to the harrowing testimony, and on Wednesday they rendered their precedent-setting verdict: In Rwanda’s 1994 bloodbath, rape and sexual violence were brutally wielded as tools of genocide.

Women’s groups hailed the decision as historic, saying it would pave the way for prosecuting crimes of sexual violence committed in the course of armed conflict.

Such acts ``constitute genocide, the same as any other act,″ Judge Laity Kama of Senegal said as he read the nine guilty judgments issued by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda against a former Rwandan village mayor, Jean-Paul Akayesu.

For the first time, the court also provided an international definition for sexual violence, which included rape but added that it ``is not limited to physical invasion of the human body and may include acts which do not involve penetration or even physical contact.″

Akayesu was found guilty of genocide, murder, rape in torture in presiding over the slaughter of 2,000 minority Tutsis who had sought his protection. Those killings came against the larger backdrop of the gruesome slayings of half a million Rwandans, mainly Tutsis.

While no one accused Akayesu of personally raping any women, the court ruled he was criminally responsible because he witnessed and encouraged the sexual violence of militiamen and police.

Acts of sexual violence were generally accompanied by explicit threats of death or bodily harm, and that meant Tutsi women lived in constant fear, the court said.

``The Hutus used sexual violence to degrade and destroy the Tutsi community ... They hurt not only the women they raped, but their families and their friends,″ said Alice Karekezi, a Rwandan Tutsi who monitors gender-related crimes.

During testimony in the trial, which began in January 1997, the women described horrific scenes played out against a backdrop of killing.

One witness, identified only as P.P., said she watched while several Hutu militiamen gang-raped three Tutsi women, one of them pregnant.

``They removed their clothes and they were told to walk so that they could display the thighs of Tutsi women,″ said the witness. ``After they had walked up and down ...they were raped.″

Afterward, the women were bludgeoned to death and heaved into shallow graves, she said.

Faiza Jama Mohamed, Africa director for Equality Now, a New York-based group organization focusing on violations of women’s rights, praised the tribunal’s decision.

``This is a historic moment ... It is the first time an international tribunal has looked at sexual violence against women and held someone responsible,″ she said.

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