"Rape was a reward the leaders gave those who killed. This is why I didn't love my daughter – her father was the one who killed my family. I wanted to kill her, too,” said Levine Mukasakufu about her daughter, Josiane Nizomfura.
Levine is one of the half a million women raped during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, when the country's ethnic Hutus tried to wipe out the minority Tutsis.
Two decades after the genocide, television journalist Lindsey Hilsum returned to hear the extraordinary testimony of women who were raped during the violence – and of the children born as a result. It is estimated that some 20,000 children were born of rape during the genocide.
Although rape occurs in all wars, it was especially widespread in Rwanda, and the consequences are felt to this day, Hilsum wrote in a moving, thought-provoking article in the Guardian. The International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda concluded that rape was an integral part of genocide. "Sexual violence was a step in the process of destruction of the Tutsi group … destruction of the spirit, of the will to live, and of life itself," said the verdict on the Hutu leaders who organised the genocide in the Butare region.
This week's Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, hosted by the British foreign secretary, William Hague, and actress Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, aims to put victims such as Levine and Josiane at the centre of war crimes investigations.
The summit, which opens tomorrow and runs until Friday (10- 13 June) at ExCel London will be the largest gathering ever brought together on this subject. Over 100 countries and over 900 experts, NGOs, survivors, faith leaders, five Nobel laureates and international organisations from across the world will participate. Governments are expected to sign a new protocol for documenting wartime sexual assaults and adopt programmes to educate their soldiers that rape is a war crime rather than an inevitable consequence of conflict. The summit also aims at taking practical steps to reduce the dangers women face in conflict zones and increasing support for survivors of sexual violence and for human rights defenders.
There will also be three days of free public events taking place in the Summit Fringe.
“For the first time in history, a world summit highlights and denounces a crime that is normally made invisible and is often silenced by the majority of States,” said journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima, a survivor of sexual violence in Colombia’s conflict.
Alongside journalists and human rights defenders from Egypt and Mexico, Jineth will speak at a fringe event on 12 June organised by ABColombia and Peace Brigades International (PBI) looking at the risks entailed for those who speak out on the issue.
“Female reporters and activists suffer sexual abuse ranging from virginity tests conducted by the state, to group attacks on women during protests, and to the sexual violence practiced on women (and men) who are detained for protesting or opposing the state, all of which are escalating in Egypt", said Rana Allam, Editor-in-Chief at Egypt’s Daily News.