DLA Piper

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In many cases, the women can identify their attackers by name and face, the lawyers say. "They didn't fear the repercussions at all," Andrews says of the attackers.

The affidavits DLA and AFW are drafting are designed in part to bring those repercussions. The lawyers already are researching whether organizations in Africa, such as the Southern African Development Community and African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, have the right and capabilities to take the cases, says Apple. (Already established tribunals, such as the International Criminal Court, are not likely to hear the cases, because they mostly require referrals from the United Nations, Apple says.) There is also the possibility that other nations could extradite perpetrators using jurisdictional powers granted under the statute that set up the International Criminal Court for acts deemed "crimes against humanity," Apple says.

Lawyers say they have had a hard time containing their emotions during the interviews. The women often ask for HIV drugs, food, and other necessities. The lawyers must stay focused on their jobs and refer the victims to nonprofits who might be able to help them.

"Their primary concern is just their next meal," Mirza says. "[Then] it's their health and their family."

Mirza remembers one refugee victim who stayed relatively calm through the interview--until Mirza asked her whether she had spoken with her siblings since fleeing Zimbabwe. "She just broke down," Mirza says. The victims, though, understand the need to share their stories. Margaret, the woman who couldn't bear to face Conwell during parts of her interview, smiled and thanked the lawyers at the end of the meeting, Conwell says.

Mirza is one of several DLA lawyers now going through about three dozen affidavits to flush out names, dates, locations, common patterns, and other variables. (Mirza was chosen to work on the project partly because of her experience interviewing asylum applicants while she was a student at Georgetown law school.) Down the line, the work may pay off.

"Our goal is to hold the people who committed these rapes accountable one way or another," Apple says.

—Zach Lowe | July 1, 2009

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