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Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School - Green Background

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

  • Prosecutor v. Akayesu, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, 1998. Sexual violence and rape. Mr. Jean Paul Akayesu served as the mayor of the Taba commune and was responsible for maintaining law and public order in Taba during the tragic events which took place in Rwanda in 1994. The court held that Mr. Akayesu had knowledge of the killing of thousands of Tutsis in Taba, but did not attempt to prevent such acts even though he had the duty to do so. Moreover, Mr. Akayesu was involved and even took an active role in some instances. In addition, the court held that Mr. Akayesu had knowledge of sexual assaults of civilians who sought refuge at the bureau communal by armed local militia but did not attempt to prevent such acts even though he had the duty to do so. The court found that Mr. Akayesu was guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. On appeal, the Appeal Chambers dismissed Mr. Akayesu claims and upheld the judgment of the court a quo. This case is important because it established for the first time that sexual violence constitutes a crime against humanity and a tool of genocide by a government official. It is also worth noting that the court's broad definitions of rape and sexual violence were the first of their kind in international law.
  • Prosecutor v. Musema, Case No. ICTR-96-13-A , January 27, 2000; affirmed by Appeal Chamber on November 16, 2001.  Sexual Violence and Rape.  Musema, the accused, was the director of a tea factory during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and was accused of organizing and taking part in attacks on Tutsi communes.  The Trial Chamber found that Musema had taken part in at least four separate attacks, and that he personally participated in a rape and in so doing, had encouraged others to rape the victim.  Musema was sentenced to life imprisonment. The Chamber adopted the definition of rape and sexual violence set forth in the landmark Akayesu decision, and further stated that "variations on the acts of rape may include acts which involve the insertions of objects and/or the use of bodily orifices not considered to be intrinsically sexual."  Concurring with the approach set forth in Akayesu, the Chamber stated that the "essence of rape is not the particular details of the body parts and objects involved, but rather the aggression that is expressed in a sexual manner under conditions of coercion."  The Trial Chamber also recognized that due to the ongoing evolution and incorporation of the understanding of rape into principles of international law, "a conceptual definition is preferable to a mechanical definition of rape" because it will "better accommodate evolving norms of criminal justice."  The Judgment against this defendant is notable for defining rape as an element of genocide, as the Akayesu case had done, and also as a crime against humanity. 
  • Prosecutor v. Semanza, Case No. ICTR-97-20-T (Trial Chamber), May 15, 2003; affirmed by Appeal Chamber on November 16, 2005.  Sexual Violence and Rape.  Mr. Semanza was a former mayor of Bicumbi commune, and was accused of aiding and abetting genocide in connection with two massacres of Tutsis.  He was specifically alleged to have directly participated in murder and torture, and for inciting a crowd to rape Tutsi women prior to killing them, and to have personally participated in the same.  The Trial Chamber found that Mr. Semanza was guilty of a crime against humanity for his rape, torture, and murder of Tutsi women.  This case is notable for scaling back the definition of rape adopted by the Appeal Chamber of the ICTR in the Akayesu and Musema judgments.  Relying on the Kunarac decision of the Appeal Chamber of the ICTY, the Trial Chamber in this case adopted a more limited view of the definition of rape, relying on the mechanical definition requiring physical "non-consensual penetration" of the victim.  The Trail Chamber did acknowledge that other acts of sexual violence that do not satisfy this definition of rape may still be prosecuted as crimes against humanity "such as persecution, enslavement or other inhumane acts."
  • Prosecutor v. Gacumbitsi, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, 2004. Sexual violence and rape. Mr. Sylvestre Gacumbitsi served as the mayor of the Rusumo Commune during the tragic events which took place in Rwanda in 1994. The Trial Chamber found Mr. Gacumbitsi guilty of genocide and the crimes against humanity of extermination and rape. The Trial Chamber held that Mr. Gacumbitsi planned, instigated, ordered, committed, and aided and abetted the killing and raping of Tutsi civilians. Moreover, Mr. Gacumbitsi was directly involved in certain instances in such acts. This case is important, among others, since the Trial Chamber has used a broad definition of rape - recognizing various forms of sexual violence as constituting rape.