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Aid plea for genocide rape survivors

African Rights, a human rights organisation, has appealed to the international community to provide medical aid for women who were raped, widowed and infected with HIV/AIDS during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

"Providing effective and appropriate support systems for these survivors is an essential gesture of respect to people stripped of all else," African Rights reported on Thursday.

Urging the international community to recognise the "unbearable suffering" endured by women who were widowed and raped, it said aid should especially target the rape victims who were infected with HIV/AIDS.

In the report, entitled "Broken bodies, torn spirits, living with genocide, rape and HIV/AIDS", African Rights details the appalling humanitarian situation the women are living under, with the majority lacking basic needs such as shelter, adequate food and medication, while others have been traumatised.

"While recognising the scale of human suffering across the region, we find that genocide rape victims in Rwanda lead a uniquely troubled existence, and many feel their survival is another form of martyrdom," it reported.

The report, based on a survey of 201 widows, said that during the genocide militiamen did not spare girls as young as seven years or women up to 71 years old. While some were pregnant when raped, others became pregnant as a result, and many of the women were gang-raped, it said.

"I was raped by a lot of people and at different times," one of the widows was quoted as saying. "I can’t think how many times. Each time the killers found me in the sorghum field or in the house, they did nothing but rape me."

A decade after the genocide, African Rights said, numerous women still live under a constant shadow of pain or discomfort which reduces their capacity to work and provide for their families.

"They are either not receiving treatment or have not been diagnosed and treated properly. Medical care for genocide rape victims in Rwanda can be summarised as too little too late," it said.

African Rights reported that whether HIV positive, negative or unsure of their HIV status, the majority of the Rwandan genocide widows described similar symptoms: stomach pains, discharge, repeated infections, urinary and gynaecological complications and skin eruptions.

"Even those who had tested negative for HIV saw the rape as the cause of their ill health, and struggled on from day to day with little expectation of recovery," it said.

Africa Rights said often women were aware that they may have become infected with HIV/AIDS, but hesitated to get tested because of a sense of powerlessness they felt and the stigma associated with the disease.

African rights said rape victims included Tutsi and Hutu widows, who were persecuted along with their Tutsi husbands.

"The comments and experiences of most genocide rape victims suggest that they will never feel comfortable in groups where there is a possibility of meeting relatives of the men who raped them, or simply of exposing themselves to a community they believe betrayed them," African Rights said.

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