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Smart Library on Globalization > Genocide > Topic 3: Rape and Genocide > Rape and Genocide > Overview: Rape and Genocide
Rape May Be an Act of Genocide in International Law
It was not until 1998 that it became clear that rape could constitute genocide in international law. Even though rape was not mentioned in the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found that widespread and systematic rape could be used to destroy an ethnic group.
Rape was not specifically mentioned in the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention. Genocide involved a number of acts carried out with the intent to destroy a national, racial, ethnic or religious group “in whole or in part.” While such acts as imposing measures intended to prevent births were listed in the Convention, rape, as such, was not.
However, things changed in 1998 when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda handed down its decision in Prosecutor v. Akayesu.
How Rape Became an Act of Genocide
What became the most important case for prosecuting rape as an international crime did not initially include rape in the indictment. The ICTR was set up to try crimes associated with the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Jean-Paul Akayesu, a mayor of Taba, Rwanda was indicted on a number of counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the Geneva Convention. During the trial, a witness's testimony prompted the prosecutor to ask for a leave of court in order to further investigate the crimes being described and, if need be, amend the indictment. The court granted the request and further evidence came to light.
Witness after witness testified and a brutal picture emerged of widespread and systematic rape and sexual violence. While rape was not a stand-alone crime under the ICTR statute, it could be defined to constitute genocide. In other words, rape could be prosecuted because it was used to carry out genocide so long as the intent was to destroy the target ethnic group.
Rape and Acts of Genocide
There are several acts that can constitute genocide listed in the Genocide Convention. The ICTR explicitly linked rape to these acts to make clear how genocide could be accomplished through rape.
The mass rapes of Tutsi women resulted not only in the physical and psychological destruction of the women, but, according to the court, their families and communities as well. The sexual violence was “an integral part of the process of destruction.”
The first case in international law to explicitly tie rape to genocide was decided in 1998 by the ICTR. Because of the judgment in the Akayesu case, rape and sexual assault could be prosecuted as genocide so long as the intent of the perpetrators was to destroy the target group in whole or in part. The Tribunal made it clear for the first time that genocide could be accomplished through rape.
Data and Methods:
Analysis of legal doctrine and jurisprudence.
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Ellis, Mark. 2007. "Breaking the Silence: Rape as an International Crime." Case W. Res. J. Int'l L. 38:225-247.
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