Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Woman on Trial for Rwanda's Massacre ; Pauline Nyiramasuhuko Is the First Woman Charged with Genocide and Using Rape as a Crime against Humanity

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Woman on Trial for Rwanda's Massacre ; Pauline Nyiramasuhuko Is the First Woman Charged with Genocide and Using Rape as a Crime against Humanity

Article excerpt

With her hair pulled neatly back, her heavy glasses beside her on the table, she looks more like someone's dear greataunt than what she is alleged to be: a high-level organizer of Rwanda's 1994 genocide who authorized the rape and murder of countless men and women. Wearing a green flowery dress one day, a pressed cream- colored skirt and blouse set the next, the defendant listens stoically to the litany of accusations against her.

From behind a heavy blue curtain, the faint voice of a witness known only as "R.E." details the horror: Her father was clubbed to death; her mother died, sick, hiding in the forest. She saw young girls taken away to be raped and old men put on trucks which came back empty.

"Witness R.E., can you tell this trial chamber who said people should be killed, women and young girls should be raped?" the prosecuting attorney asks the voice during questioning.

"It was Pauline," comes the quiet reply.

"Pauline" is Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the first woman ever to be charged with genocide and using rape as a crime against humanity.

In 1994, in the hills of Rwanda, over the course of one hundred days, an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and their Hutu sympathizers were brutally murdered by Hutu extremists. Nine years later, here at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Ms. Nyiramasuhuko is one of many high-ranking Rwandan officials finally facing justice.

Once the pride of her hometown

Nyiramasuhuko was, once, the pride of Butare, a southern Rwanda town known for its top-notch university. She started as a social worker, made friends in high places, went off to law school, and eventually climbed the ranks to become one of the most powerful women in government.

When Hutu killing squads began turning on their Tutsi neighbors, Tutsis flooded Butare where relations between the two main ethnic groups had always been good. But the government dispatched Nyiramasuhuko to her old hometown to "make order."

Together with her only son Arsene Shalom Ntahobali and four other Butare prefecture officials, she is charged with forming and executing a plan to exterminate the Tutsis in Butare.

It is alleged that they organized, ordered, and participated in massacres against the population, trained and distributed weapons to militiamen, prepared lists of those to be eliminated, and manned roadblocks to identify Tutsis and ensure that none escaped.

Witnesses, one after another, tell harrowing stories of Nyiramasuhuko personally encouraging Hutu gangs known as Interahamwe to "select the nicest" women and rape these victims before killing them.

From morning until evening, Nyiramasuhuko sits there, earphones on, listening to the proceedings. Some 70 others wait to testify. The trial is expected to last for at least two more years and, if convicted, Nyiramasuhuko faces life in jail.

Her son sits a row ahead of her in the courtroom, cleaning his fingernails with the edge of a briefing paper. During the breaks in proceedings he sits still, avoiding eye contact with his mother. …

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