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Durham University

Gender and Law at Durham

Rethinking Rape Law

Rethinking Rape Law: Akayesu 10 Years On, 2nd and 3rd July 2008

The conference Rethinking Rape Law: Akayesu 10 years on took place on 2-3 July 2008 at Durham University and marked the 10th anniversary of the ground-breaking Akayesu judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. This case saw the first convictions for genocide and war crimes based on rape, as well as advancing a controversial and challenging definition of rape based on coercive circumstances, as opposed to non-consent. The conference took this 10th anniversary as a spring-board to rethink rape law, from national, international and European perspectives; to review current strategies and to debate ways forward; and to consider the role of women and feminists in bringing about change.

The conference brought together an impressive range of scholars, activists, lawyers and policy-makers from all over the world, including Australia, Canada, Finland, India, Ireland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden and the United States. In addition, delegates included many who work with survivors of rape and sexual violence, campaigners in the field and representatives from local and national government. The practical and experiential insight they brought to discussions was extremely valuable, enabling an in-depth and practice discussion of the operation of the law in practice. It was this combination of scholars, policy-makers, activists, students, politicians and lawyers which made the conference challenging, dynamic and a force for change.

The conference was opened by Judge Pillay of the International Criminal Court who, when judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, played a central role in securing the Akayesu convictions. Judge Pillay reflected on the central role that this case has played in ensuring greater justice for rape victims in international criminal law. Other key speakers included Catharine MacKinnon (Michigan University), Karen Engle (Texas University at Austin), Liz Kelly (Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University) and Jessica Neuwirth (Equality Now).  

Following the conference, an edited collection of essays is being published, developing the conference themes, with the provisional title Rethinking Rape Law: national, international and European perspectives. This book is being edited by Clare McGlynn (Durham University and conference organiser) and Vanessa Munro (Professor of Law, Nottingham University).

The conference raised £380 for North East Rape Crisis centres and hosted a pre-conference event discussing the work of the rape crisis movement.

The conference was generously sponsored by the British Academy, the Government Office for the North East (GONE) and Durham University's Institute of Advanced Study, Centre for Criminal Law and Criminal Justice and Gender & Law at Durham (GLAD).