Sexual Violence in Times of
Conflict: The Jurisprudence
of the International Criminal
Tribunal for Rwanda
In this chapter I consider the legal response to sexual violence in times of conflict. In particular, I focus on the definitions of rape and sexual violence in international law. The judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Akayesu was a landmark in this area for two reasons: it was the first time that an individual had been found guilty of rape as an act of genocide, and it marked a departure from “mechanical” definitions of the crime of rape toward one more in line with the experiences of victims. I will first outline the legal framework within which acts of sexual violence must be considered, before examining the jurisprudence of the ad hoc tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.
Rape has long existed as a lacuna in the legal framework of human rights and international humanitarian law.
International human rights instruments seek to enshrine a common standard of rights and freedoms for all people, reflecting recognition of the fundamental, inalienable, inherent, and equal dignity of all human beings. The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that such recognition is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world. Article 3 of the UDHR proclaims the right to life, liberty, and security of person. Article 5, repeated in Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), affirms the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. While the UDHR is a