Clip from “The Uncondemned:” I’ve interviewed in my lifetime hundreds of rape victims. The Rwandan testimonies were really some of the most brutal.
“The Uncondemned” opens in theaters this week, a documentary that details a historic prosecution of rape as a war crime. It is the too-real story of the horrors of Rwanda, the courtroom drama and survivors who found the courage to testify.
Victoire Mukambanda was one of the victims who came forward.
Victoire Mukambanda (through translator): "They killed our family, they destroyed our houses, they took away our cows and then they ate them, and after that, after finishing my family, killing all of them, they abused me. They raped me over and over."
Clip from "The Uncondemned:” It was so much to ask them to come to the tribunal and to basically relive the worst moments of their lives began to tell her about what happened in Bosnia, what happened in Japan and elsewhere. And how none of these cases had been prosecuted and no one had ever been prosecuted for rape in times of war. Ever.
Convincing women to testify about sexual crimes was, and is, a difficult task.
Sara Darehshori has investigated war crimes around the world and prosecuted the Rwanda case.
Sara Darehshori: “I think it took time for people to feel comfortable coming forward. The whole idea of international justice was so new. For years there was not really any thought that crimes would ever be prosecuted. And in Rwanda in particular, you had the additional problems with lack of security for witnesses. When we started, we didn't have a witness protection program at all, which”
Lisa Fletcher: “Did you need one?”
Darehshori: “And as it turns out, we did need one.”
In fact, the husband and daughter of one of the victims who testified were murdered.
Lisa Pruitt is a law professor at the University of California Davis. She put together a study for the tribunal that cracked the code of getting the Rwandan victims to come forward and has implications for pursuing rape cases elsewhere.
Fletcher: “Why do you think women who are victims of sexual abuse, sexual violence, might be reluctant to come forward?”
Lisa Pruitt: “Well, they're embarrassed. Sometimes they're blaming themselves again as part of sort of a patriarchal culture, a rape culture that tells them that you must have made a bad decision by putting yourself in a situation where you were sexually assaulted.”
Darehshori: “Very often people who've been assaulted take a while to come forward for for a number of reasons, including the trauma itself, but also many people feel, fear that they won't be believed.”
Pruitt adds that misunderstandings about the nature of sexual violence transcend all cultures and not only kept Rwandan women from testifying, but also hold back women in the United States from coming forward.
Pruitt: “Women are also discouraged in this culture from telling their stories. There's all the, the victim blaming and the stereotypes that you know that rape or sexual assault is about, um, is about uh you know sexual attractiveness. It's really just a, a power play.”
For the women of Rwanda, power and domination was the undeniable aim of their attackers.
Fletcher: “Based on what you saw and what you argued in court, do you see rape as a part of war or a weapon of war?”
Darehshori: “Oh it is definitely a weapon of war. I mean I think it's a part of war as well, but it's wielded as a form of terror.”
But their ultimate courtroom victory brought Victoire and three other Rwandan victims profiled in the film to the United Nations for the movie's premiere this week. They used the occasion to deliver a message that no woman, anywhere, should fear coming forward.
Mukambanda (through translator): “It was for all those women that have been raped in Rwanda during genocide but also for all women around the world; so that's something we're so proud of as women and every woman in the world should be proud of that.”