“Don’t ever ask again
what a Tutsi woman tastes like.”
- Mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu of Taba commune, speaking to militia who raped Tutsi women during the Rwandan genocide
In the 100 days of genocide that ravaged the small Central African nation of Rwanda from April until July 1994, about one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were killed and an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 women and girls were raped. According to a UN report, rape was the rule and its absence the exception. No one was spared. Grandmothers were raped in front of their grandchildren; girls witnessed their families massacred before being taken as sex slaves; fathers were forced to have sex with their daughters. Almost all women who survived the genocide were victims of sexual violence or were profoundly affected by it. Fifteen years after the genocide, the monumental impact of the sexual violence endured by survivors continues to threaten their daily survival, as an astounding 70% are HIV-positive. Yet, despite numerous accounts of the genocide, including coverage about perpetrators standing trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the voices of rape survivors have been notably absent.
As colleagues at an international women’s rights organization in The Hague, Anne-Marie and Sandra worked closely on a variety of issues related to sexual violence in war. Rwanda was a frequent topic of conversation, for Anne-Marie had visited and worked in Rwanda over the years, and had developed a deep friendship with a young Rwandan woman who had survived traumatic sexual violence during the genocide. Their friend Samer, a Canadian lawyer and a freelance photographer, had also worked in Rwanda and shared their interest in the country. Over many conversations about the plight of Rwandan survivors of sexual violence, the idea of this book was born.
In 2007 and 2008, we visited Solace Ministries, a survivor-run grassroots organization in Kigali that works with widows and orphans of the genocide, offering food, housing, HIV medication, counselling, income-generating projects and spiritual care, to meet with survivors and work on their testimonials. Throughout the process, the awe-inspiring staff of Solace Ministries were on hand to assist with translation and, if necessary, with counselling. Once the interviews were complete, Samer travelled across Rwanda photographing survivors in their homes and areas where they experienced the genocide. With financial assistance from Cordaid, this work has culminated in “The Men Who Killed Me”, a book featuring testimonials and portraits of sixteen women and one man who survived sexual violence during the Rwandan genocide. Our proceeds from this book will go to Mukomeze (Kinyarwanda for “empower her”), a non-profit organization established to raise awareness of and funds for women and girls who suffered sexual violence during the genocide in Rwanda.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Stephen Lewis
1. The Roots of Sexual Violence in Rwanda
2. Testimonials (excerpts from 3 of 17 testimonials)
“When I reflect on my lost childhood, I have a feeling of such extreme sadness. I lament whenever I remember all the dreams that I once cherished and are now forever lost. I lament when I remember all those men who repeatedly raped me during the genocide, those same men who broke and destroyed me and every single aspect of my life. Those same men who killed me, slowly but very effectively.”
“I was only twelve years old when I was brutally raped during the genocide, at different times by different men. Because of the events that occurred in those months, I never got the chance to live my life as I had wished …. I became a woman without even having a chance to be a girl. I did not know anything about sex; my parents never explained anything to me. I was not prepared to become a mother and take care of a baby.”
“I want you to know that the horrors people inflicted during the genocide are more than any human being can endure. For a long time after, I despised myself for what had happened to me. I hated everything that surrounded me, because it reminded me of what I had lost. I used to think that I would rather be dead than living with HIV, but I have received comfort from a charity that also provides me with antiretroviral treatment and food. I know now that I can continue to live with HIV.”
To see the full testimonial of Marie Louise Niyobuhungiro, click here.
3. Life after “Death”
Afterword by Eve Ensler
What You Can Do
About the Authors
Anne-Marie de Brouwer
Anne-Marie de Brouwer is Associate Professor of international criminal law at Tilburg University, the Netherlands. She has visited and worked in Rwanda in various capacities for over 5 years. Anne-Marie is the author of the 2005 award-winning book Supranational Criminal Prosecution of Sexual Violence: The ICC and the Practice of the ICTY and the ICTR. Anne-Marie is also the founder and chair of Mukomeze.
Sandra Ka Hon Chu
Sandra Ka Hon Chu has worked in the areas of human rights and development in Hong Kong, Timor-Leste, Libya, the Netherlands and Canada. She is currently a senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network based in Toronto, where she is the Canadian Courts editor for the HIV/AIDS Policy and Law Review. There, she works to promote the human rights of people living with, and vulnerable to, HIV and continues to advocate for the rights of women in the context of HIV/AIDS.
After years of working abroad in the United States, Timor-Leste, Iraq and Rwanda, Samer Muscati returned to Canada, where he continued his twin pursuits of human rights law and photography. His photography has appeared in a number of publications, including Time magazine. He currently works as the women’s rights emergency researcher for Human Rights Watch and is based in Toronto.