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Rape-An Act of Genocide

Rape is more often than not a byproduct of war, and it is frequently used as a systematic weapon as well, as demonstrated by Ngwarsungu Chiwengo in her article titled, “When Wounds and Corpses Fail to Speak: Narratives of Violence and Rape in Congo.” Rape is a dehumanizing act, and in the case of the Rwandan genocide, rape was used as a weapon against a specific ethnic group. Tutsi women were targets of this violence—mutilations were ethnic specific and the raping of these women was “also equated with the ‘tasting’ and ‘knowing’ of inaccessible objects of desire” (88). While rape in and of itself wouldn’t necessarily be considered an act of genocide, Human Rights Watch released a report encouraging the International Tribunal to redefine “acts of rape as crimes against humanity, genocide crimes, or war crimes.” In order to classify something as genocide, the intent of a crime (whether it be rape, murder, etc.) must be to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. In an effort to redefine rape in Rwanda, the Human Rights Watch report stated,

the pattern of sexual violence in Rwanda shows that acts of rape and sexual mutilation were not accessory to the killings, nor, for the most part, opportunistic assaults. Rather, according to the actions and statements of the perpetrators, as recalled by survivors, these acts were carried out with the aim of eradicating the Tutsi. Taken as a whole, the evidence indicates that many rapists expected, consequent to their attacks, that the psychological and physical assault on each Tutsi woman would advance the cause of the destruction of the Tutsi people” (Human Rights Watch).


(National Portrait Gallery)

The sexual violence that occurred during the Rwandan genocide was clearly devastating. The trauma experienced by these women often prevented them from accomplishing normal tasks and motherly obligations (88). Yet, the international response was less than adequate. Many reports about the genocide included various ethnological dialogue, seemingly stereotyping the Congolese people, rather than focusing on the individuals affected by sexual violence. In many ways rape was normalized, as cultural explanations were given for these acts of violence and the Congolese female condition was homogenized and oversimplified (90). The response to the conflict is frustrating, and my hope is that we would take a greater stand against these acts of violence, especially because they are a present problem in many countries including Sudan and the DRC.


Chiwengo, N. “When Wounds and Corpses Fail to Speak: Narratives of Violence and Rape in Congo (DRC).” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 28.1 (2008): 78-92. Print.

“Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and Its Aftermath.”Human Rights Watch (1996). Print.


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