‘Unspeakable Suffering’: Sexualized Violence, Survivor Testimony, and International Justice

Wednesday, 31 January 2018 - 4:30pm to 5:50pm

The Rwandan genocide of 1994, wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and armed conflict in the Central African Republic were characterized by sexualized violence, atrocities international observers often describe as “unspeakable.” Yet international criminal tribunals rely on the testimonies of survivors to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. To show how the unspeakable becomes legal testimony, this talk examines encounters between court investigators and survivors of atrocity, witness testimony in international trial chambers, and the often-unseen work of interpreters in international justice. Tribunal workers’ formal routines, informal practices, and the day-to-day tasks of international justice reveal storytelling both as border-crossing and as gendered labor. I argue that unequal power relations between tribunal staff, their intermediaries, and survivors both animate and confound the work of gender justice at international courts.


photo of jonneke Koomen


Jonneke Koomen is Associate Professor of Politics and International Studies at Willamette University, a small liberal arts college in Oregon. She is co-chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies program. Her teaching and research interests center on international justice, human rights advocacy, transnational feminism, and race and racism in international relations. Jonneke received her doctorate in Political Science from the University of Minnesota (2009). She is committed to expanding access to higher education, serving (prospective) first-generation college students, and decolonizing the teaching of international politics.