Claudette was thirteen when the Rwandan genocide began. A Tutsi, she was chased through the countryside for three weeks after she escaped the Nyamata massacre which killed nine of her siblings. She was found by a school friend who promised safety in their home; but was tricked and lured into being a sex slave for her father. Then he got tired of Claudette, and ordered a militant called Claude to kill Claudette with a machete.

He attacked the teenager with the weapon and left her for dead, but miraculously she survived. Even more amazing, is that the man with the machete is now the godfather of her child.

Three decades on, the two friends told their journey from brutality to forgiveness to Lorraine McIntosh of Deacon Blue, whose involvement with the charity SCIAF took her to Rwanda.

After the genocide was over, the man who was summoned to murder Claudette fled to the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), before coming back when Rwanda set up its Gacaca courts, promoted by the Rwandan government as a way to promote national healing. The Hutu had been involved in massacres of the Tutsis and could not put a number on how many people he had killed, but wanted to seek forgiveness from his victims, though few had survived other than Claudette.

“He had been a Hutu and she was a Tutsi. He spoke to me for an hour about how he had grown up believing that women were nothing, believing that Tutsis were subhuman. If ever you think reconciliation is impossible, these people should be held up and listened to,” says Lorraine.

The Herald: Lorraine McIntosh and her husband and fellow Deacon Blue bandmate, Ricky Ross (Simon Murphy/SCIAF)Lorraine McIntosh and her husband and fellow Deacon Blue bandmate, Ricky Ross (Simon Murphy/SCIAF) (Image: Simon Murphy/SCIAF)

Lorraine and her husband, fellow Deacon Blue star Ricky Ross, travelled to Rwanda and the DRC just before the pandemic began in 2020 just before the pandemic to see SCIAF’s work in the country on dealing with sexual violence.

This year’s Wee Box appeal by SCIAF during Lent focused on tackling sexual violence, specifically in Rwanda. Lorraine spoke to The Herald about the many women she met who had been raped and abused like Claudette, and SCIAF’s work providing medical care, trauma counselling and skills training for survivors to rebuild their lives.

“It was really one of the most incredible weeks of my life for good reasons and for bad reasons,” Lorraine says, reflecting on a visit to the Olame Centre helping women in Bukavu in the DRC. “What I liked about it is that it was run by local women. Women who had suffered the most horrific sexual violence would come in there and be listened to. And there was nowhere else where that happened.”

“The money was being raised in Scotland by the Wee Box appeal, but it was local people doing the work. It was Congolese doctors when we went out to the hospital, which basically specialises in sewing women back up who have been brutalised by rape, who have been infected with HIV, who have been impregnated, given sexually transmitted diseases,” Lorraine said.

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The DRC is one of the most dangerous places on Earth currently with a decades long conflict which began as a spillover of the ethnic wars across the border during the Rwandan genocide. Fighting between the Congolese armed forces and the M23 rebel group has escalated, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes since the beginning of 2024.

Around 6 million people have been killed since 1994 and there are more than six million internally displaced people (IDP) in the eastern DRC. With an escalation in conflict, as with most places around the world, comes an increase in violence against women. During the first three months of 2024, more than 31,000 cases of sexual violence were reported in the IDP camps of the DRC.

While Rwanda is now much more stable than the DRC, sexual violence is far from history. It became so widespread during the turmoil of the 90s and its aftermath that almost half of women between the ages of 15 and 49 in Rwanda have experienced physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Dealing with the past has been an ongoing process for Rwanda since the 90s. Many people who committed atrocities and went to prison after the conflict are being released soon, so SCIAF’s partners in the country are set to be involved in a whole new process of reconciliation and efforts to reintegrate them back into their communities.

The Herald: Deacon Blue back SCIAF's work: 'I think every human life deserves respect and dignity' (James Cave/SCIAF)Deacon Blue back SCIAF's work: 'I think every human life deserves respect and dignity' (James Cave/SCIAF) (Image: James Cave/SCIAF)

As well as the centres, a lot of the charity’s work in Rwanda is surrounding education, to change male attitudes towards women. “We have a lot of programmes which are done in schools,” says Rob Angove, SCIAF’s programme manager covering Rwanda. “It’s about sending out a message to young people that boys and girls are equal, that violence is wrong, that we have to work together and build a stable and equal country.”

Since the Rwandan genocide, rape has continued to be used as a weapon in conflicts across the world since, including in both major wars currently going on in Europe and the Middle East.

It was the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda which marked the first prosecution of rape as a war crime in 1998. But in most cases the perpetrators of rape in a war zone walk free - for some of the worst crimes, such as the rape of thousands of Rohinghya women in Myanmar, or the assault of Nigerian women and girls by Boko Haram, no one has faced trial in an international court. Only two people have ever been convicted by the International Criminal Court for sexual crimes. SCIAF’s appeal this Lent has aimed to shine a light on such atrocities committed in one part of the world.

“It can seem like you are throwing a pebble into an ocean. If that ocean is the world and we’re throwing a pebble into a place like the DRC or Rwanda, it’s very hard to feel like you’re making any difference when you’re hearing statistics, you can’t imagine the country, you can’t imagine the people. But I think it’s important that charities like SCIAF and charities like them continue to do this work, because without them, no one is doing anything. I think every human life deserves respect and dignity. Every woman deserves to be safe from sexual violence,” says Lorraine.