Government and International Relations Honors Papers

Document Type

Honors Paper


Tristan Borer

Publication Date



In one hundred days between April 6 and July 15, 1994, the Rwandan genocide took away the lives of approximately 800,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. The United Nations estimated that between 250,000 and 500,000 individuals were raped or sexually assaulted during the genocide, and rape was used as a tool of war with a clear genocidal intent to destroy the enemy. Both men and women subjected to rape, gang rape, sexual torture, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, and various other types of abuse and humiliation. As the genocide ended with the victory of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), Rwanda was confronted with a multitude of challenges, including holding perpetrators accountable, helping survivors reconcile with the past, and moving the country towards reconstruction. As an attempt to reckon with this painful past and the emerging challenges at present, Rwanda and the international community turned to transitional justice and hoped to deliver justice and reconciliation. Internationally, the United Nations Security Council established International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to investigate and prosecute high-level perpetrators, and various countries held trials based on the principle of universal jurisdiction to try perpetrators who fled Rwanda after the genocide. Domestically, Rwanda sought justice and reconciliation in the national courts, the local gacaca courts, and various reparation programs.

At the most preliminary level, this thesis provides a systematic comparative analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of international and domestic transitional justice mechanisms in bringing comprehensive justice – both retributive and restorative – to victims of rape and sexual violence during the genocide. This thesis argues that no mechanisms were perfect; each mechanism had different strengths and weaknesses. Internationally, the ICTR and universal jurisdiction trials in other states were particularly successful in creating jurisprudential norms of prosecuting rape and sexual violence as serious crimes under international law. Domestically, the national courts and gacaca functioned as concurrent justice mechanisms, and were together able to uncover some truth about the genocide and prosecuted approximately 9,000 individuals for rape or sexual torture. Additionally, assistance programs, especially in terms of housing and healthcare, were delivered to some sexual violence survivors. Despite these achievements, both international and domestic transitional justice faced several shortcomings in bringing comprehensive justice for victims of rape and sexual violence. Compared to the estimated 250,000 to 500,000 rape cases during the genocide, retributive justice delivery in all levels was inadequate. Additionally, all mechanisms were not very successful at investigating and prosecuting sexual violence against male and Hutu victims. No mechanism was successful at uncovering truth about and prosecuting crimes committed by the RPF, and this appearance of “victor’s justice” was detrimental to national reconciliation between the two ethnic groups in Rwanda. Moreover, the operation of reparation programs within Rwanda also marginalized a large number of survivors of rape and sexual violence.

Because of these shortcomings, this thesis argues that to many Rwandan victims of sexual crimes, truth, justice, and reconciliation were impossible. The thesis points out that different survivors had different conceptions of justice and reconciliation, and that social stigmas surrounding sexual crimes were a constant independent variable that inhibited the justice process. The thesis ends with a summary of research findings and provides recommendations for future research and future transitional justice projects.



The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.