Trying Trauma and Memory in Post-Genocide Rwanda Public Deposited

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  • February 26, 2019
  • Brunner, Georgia
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • Studies of memory, genocide, sexual violence in war, and women’s history are all relatively new fields within the past century. The former two can be traced to the advent of Holocaust studies. As the memories of survivors became important to the construction of a deep understanding of the Holocaust, scholars looked to collective memory as a way to understand the trauma of survivors. Collective memory, further explored in chapter three, serves as an aggregate of different understanding of the same event- here, the collective memory of sexual violence in the Rwandan genocide. Further, Holocaust studies sparked the study of genocides more widely, giving language to earlier mass killings of the Armenians by the Ottomans and Herero by the Germans. Work in these fields has increasingly turned to including survivor testimony within its work, a trend I aim to uphold. The work on the subject primarily focuses on the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, as “rape camps” during the genocide constitute an easily studied measure of gendered violence. The voices of women during this crisis exist in the historiography in a way that is not true of survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Rwandan women’s voices were largely ignored at the time by everyone from the prosecutors of the ICTR, as the ICTR claimed to be unable to find people willing to speak to their experiences, to the post-genocide Rwandan government. Only the judges of the ICTR and NGOs seemed invested in their stories. Today, their stories do come out in scholarly work that focuses on the memory of survivors, such as Nicola Henry’s War and Rape: Law, Memory and Justice. Still, most of these narratives are left untold, particularly since the current administration in Rwanda has increased its control over the voices of Rwandans. Because these fields of study are relatively new, the language scholars use holds particular weight. For example, throughout this thesis, I will be referring to acts of gendered violence primarily as “sexual assault” or “sexual violence” as opposed to “rape.” While notably the ICTR did create the first international definition of rape and it is nongendered, “rape” as a term often comes with heavy legal requirements, as seen by the few rape convictions in the ICTY. Further, acts that are not explicitly rape but fall under the mantel of sexual violence as a whole still can cause equal amounts of trauma and do not deserve to be treated differently than specific acts of rape. The court’s decision, however, does explicitly use the word rape. As such, I will note when “rape” is the most appropriate term, but I will simply use the phrase “sexual violence” when considering trauma and the historical context of gendered violence. Indeed, Henry’s work on the subject uses similar understandings of the language surrounding sexual violence. From these examples of deliberate uses of language and incorporation of the voices of survivors themselves, I hope to align myself within the current work on memory, sexual assault, and conflict. This thesis, however, does focus primarily on the international sphere and the post-genocide landscape and, as such, will largely look towards the mechanisms and actions within the court itself. Because the court heard from so few survivors of sexual assault, the voices of few survivors fill the pages of this thesis. Still, thanks to the work of the ICTR judges and NGOs, as much testimony as possible is included in the second chapter. Most of those narratives come from the ground-breaking work, “Shattered Lives,” published by the Human Rights Watch (the HRW) during the ICTR proceedings. Now, because the Kagame administration has tightened control in Rwanda, survivors cannot freely tell their narratives as they could just after the genocide ended. As such, these stories are even more important. While the testimonies themselves might not directly contradict the national narrative of the genocide (though they might, as RPF soldiers are guilty of using sexual assault as a weapon as well), any changes or additions to the narrative without government intervention are not allowed. Through the retelling of these stories and the application to an historical understanding of the ICTR rather than a contemporary, one their narratives do come to light in the context of the post-genocide justice.
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Funding: John Lewis Award, SURF
  • Funding: Gump Family Undergraduate Research Fund
  • Jarvis, Lauren
  • Bachelor of Arts
Academic concentration
  • History
Honors level
  • Honors
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2017
  • English

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