Sociolinguistic Challenges of Prosecuting Rape as Genocide at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda: the Trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu

Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, 2021, pp. 1-18
Issue Date:
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The trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu is by far the most well known and widely discussed case at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), a distinction that can be attributed to the fact that it was groundbreaking for several reasons. However, with regard to the importance of this trial both as a precedent for subsequent ICTR cases and within the broader context of international jurisprudence, its most significant contribution has undoubtedly been the recognition and prosecution of rape as a means of perpetrating genocide. The task of collecting admissible evidence to that end was heavily impacted by the necessity of interpreting and translating witness testimonies from their original language of expression, Kinyarwanda, into the working languages of the Tribunal, French and English. The multiple challenges associated with this translation process concerned not only questions of semantic equivalence of specific lexical terms. They also highlighted the considerable ‘cultural collision’ that occurred in the courtroom between the Rwandan witnesses and the international judiciary. This article elucidates the complex task faced by the courtroom interpreters in navigating these linguistic and sociocultural considerations underpinning the evocations of rape within the evidentiary framework of the Akayesu trial.
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