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War crime

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 01 May 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:0405202
  1. Chibuzo Odigwe, Clegg scholar1
  1. 1BMJ

Sexual violence is used as a weapon to humilate and degrade in conflict situations. Chibuzo Odigwe takes a look at this crime against humanity

“I was leaving for boarding school in Gisenyi. Just before reaching the town… we were ambushed by the abacengezi [insurgents]… The taxi rolled over, and, as the passengers fled the vehicle, the abacengezi chopped them with machetes. I managed to hide under the corpses but heard the rebels saying they would get fuel to burn the bodies. I cried out, and they stabbed me… and carried me into the forest… There were other women and girls there too, from different parts of the country, who had been kidnapped under similar circumstances. Members of the militia came each night to rape me, until one night a militia member announced that I was his, that he was my “husband.” I only thought of escaping to my family…”1

This is the story of Angèle, from Kigali, Rwanda, who was repeatedly raped during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Sexual violence was one of the many crimes committed in the attempt to exterminate the Tutsi minority ethnic group. During this conflict, women were repeatedly sexually assaulted and subjected to degrading forms of treatment. Tutsi women were made to feel humiliated by being forced to parade nude in front of soldiers and the public. Although Angèle survived the genocide, she was infected with HIV.

Weapon of hate

Sexual violence is a powerful weapon against individuals, families, and communities, motivated by the desire to dominate and degrade. Although men can be victims of sexual violence, most of the victims in conflict situations are women. Sexual violence is used as physical and emotional torture for its victims, mostly …

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