The power of bearing witness: how rape became an act of genocide

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Film Director Michele Mitchell (centre) at the UN screening of "The Uncondemned"; with the women who testified before the International Criminal Tribunal for 
Rwanda and Godeliève Mukasarasi of the SEVOTA support group for widows and orphans. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

During the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, "rape was as much a tool of genocide as the machete," the UN special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Bangura has said.

Women from the ethnic minority Tutsi group in the African country were "systematically targeted and raped" during that period, investigations by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda or ICTR uncovered.

The courageous testimonies of the rape survivors later provided the evidence required for the ICTR to prosecute rape as a war crime and act of genocide.

The so-called "Akayesu trial," named after Jean Paul Akayesu, a former mayor of Taba town in Rwanda, has been touted as one of the most successful UN-backed transitional processes.

It's also been featured in a documentary film called "The Uncondemned" by Michele Mitchell and the late Nick Louvel.

As the Rwandan women sat behind a curtain in the courtroom in Arusha, Tanzania, recounting in painful detail the brutal and violent sexual assaults they endured during the genocide, they had no idea they would make history and that by doing so, they would give hope to other rape survivors in war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and more.

Jocelyne Sambira presents this latest edition of our podcast series, The Lid is On.

Duration: 21’41″

The Lid is On is also available on Sound Cloud.

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