A South African judge who tried to bring perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide to justice and grassroots Rwandan women's groups that are aiding the victims of the massacres have been honored with a new women's rights prize. A ceremony was held for the winners today, Wednesday, to coincide with Human Rights Day.
"It is my pleasure to invite Judge Navanethem Pillay to receive the 2003 Women's Rights Prize," announced the Honorable Bernice Bouie Donald, a Federal judge from Tennessee.
Advisors for the private foundation that awarded the first Women's Rights Prize described Judge Pillay as "a hero for humanity and a special inspiration for women."
The first black woman attorney appointed acting judge of South Africa's Supreme Court, Judge Pillay has been recognized for her work as president of the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (UNCTR).
Judge Pillay served on the tribunal for eight years as it began prosecuting perpetrators of murder and sexual violence in the 1994 genocide. Last week, the International court (UNCTR) convicted three media executives for helping to incite the killings of 800,000 Tutsis.
She is credited for influencing what is called a precedent-setting decision that under certain conditions, rape can be considered genocide. Judge Pillay says the decision is a breakthrough in the international women's movement.
"The decision itself is the first which found that rape constitutes genocide and crimes against humanity because it was women of a particular ethnic group who were targeted clearly with the intention to destroy that whole group," said Judge Pillay. She will share a cash prize of $200,000 with an umbrella group of nearly 40 Rwandan women's organizations.
The group, called Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe, which means "For Women, All Together" runs rural development and health programs and assists widows and orphans.
One survivor of the 1994 massacres says she turns to Pro-Femmes for counseling as she tries to raise her orphaned relatives and cope with the HIV she contracted when she was raped. "Life is very difficult," she said. "Right now I am trying to look after young children, orphans, but I do not know for how long because I myself am ill."
Pro-Femmes president Jacqueline Rusilibya accepted the prize on International Human Rights Day at the United Nations. "In the twentieth century, after the genocide of the Jews, the world had said this would not happen again and it did happen," she said.
The private Peter Gruber foundation based in the U.S. Virgin Islands gives the annual prize to promote women's rights.