The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda wishes to reaffirm the importance it attaches to the issue of women victims and witnesses of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and to provide public information on the steps the Tribunal has taken in order to enhance its effectiveness in this area of its work.
To further support female victims of the genocide, the ICTR created in July 1997 a new Unit for Gender Issues and Assistance to Victims of the Genocide. The objective of this unit is to facilitate the work of the Tribunal in rendering justice by providing legal and psychological counseling and limited rehabilitation assistance to the victims and survivors of the genocide, many of whom are women. This programme is expected to foster restitutive justice and national reconciliation in Rwanda.
The volatile situation in Rwanda also poses a serious challenge to victims, actual and potential witnesses before the Tribunal, and whoever is involved in their preparation, movement and protection. Nevertheless, the ICTR has successfully brought to and returned from the seat of the Tribunal at Arusha, Tanzania over 85 witnesses since trials commenced at the Tribunal. This accomplishment has involved the use of unique, innovative methods and solutions.
Several of these witnesses have been women. Contrary to a Press Release by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development in Montreal, Canada dated 29 October 1997, in which it referred to alleged killings of female witnesses in a report by the NGO Coalition for Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations titled Witness Protection, Gender and the ICTR, the Tribunal wishes to state that no female witness who has testified before the Tribunal has ever been killed in Rwanda.
Since the inception of the ICTR's Witness and Victims Support Section (a separate unit which handles more general issues of witness support and protection) the Tribunal has received reports on the killings of two potential and actual witnesses. One potential witness was killed prior to his testimony in December 1996, and the other after testifying in Arusha in March 1997. Both victims were males. Investigations conducted by the Rwandan authorities, the UN Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda and the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICTR did not reveal conclusive evidence linking these deaths to the status of the deceased persons as potential or actual witnesses. Nevertheless; the Tribunal, in cooperation with the Rwandan authorities, monitors the circumstances of witnesses upon their return to their area of origin, in addition to ensuring their protection at all stages of the investigation and trial process. The Tribunal continues to improve on existing mechanisms for the protection and support of witnesses.
The ICTR has taken several steps to strengthen its capacity to investigate crimes committed against women during the genocide. These steps include the reinforcement of the Sexual Assault Team that already exists in the Office of the Prosecutor by the recent recruitment of a Rwandan female investigator and another international staff member as a legal officer in the team. The indictment against Mr. Jean-Paul Akayesu was amended last year to include additional counts of sexual violence against women.