Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations applauds UN move to replace Del Ponte in Rwanda

MONTREAL – The Coalition for Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations, led by Rights & Democracy, is celebrating the decision by United Nations’ Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to replace Rwanda war crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte.

Annan decided today to appoint a separate prosecutor for the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, or ICTR. Del Ponte is currently in charge of prosecutions at both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), which is trying those charged with war crimes committed during the civil war there.

“This is not a prosecutor committed to delivering justice to rape victims of the Rwandan genocide,” said Ariane Brunet of the Coalition on Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations. “We need an ICTR prosecutor that will prosecute the crimes against women victims with the same seriousness as other genocide crimes.”

In a letter sent to Annan last week, the Coalition noted that sexual violence investigations and prosecutions visibly faltered under the stewardship of Del Ponte, despite the overwhelming proof of sexual violence during the 1994 genocide.

During Del Ponte’s four-year tenure, there was a decline in the number of new indictments that contain rape charges, as well as a lack of commitment to effectively developing the evidence in cases with rape charges. Some cases are moving forward without rape charges despite evidence in the possession of the prosecutor.

During the Rwandan genocide, tens of thousands of women were individually raped, gang-raped, raped with objects such as sharpened sticks or gun barrels, held in sexual slavery or sexually mutilated. Military and political leaders at the national and local levels, as well as heads of militias, encouraged or permitted killings and sexual violence to further their genocidal goals. They therefore bear responsibility for these abuses as genocide crimes, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Coalition on Women’s Human Rights in Conflict Situations is comprised of lawyers, legal scholars, women’s rights activists and nongovernmental organizations concerned with international justice, whose mandate is to ensure that crimes against women are adequately examined and prosecuted. The Coalition seeks solutions to the invisibility of women’s human rights abuses in conflict situations, to condemn the practice of sexual violence and other inhumane treatment of women as deliberate instruments of war, and to ensure that these are prosecuted as war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity, and crimes of genocide, where appropriate.