Seventeen years after the horrific Rwandan genocide, convictions were handed down by a United Nations tribunal for the people who coordinated and executed the atrocities. The results, unsurprisingly, were lengthy sentences or life imprisonment for those convicted, including the former minister for women and family affairs, who used political influence to abduct and murder in one district of Rwanda. What is more unusual is that the minister is a woman named Pauline Nyiramasuhuko. She is the first woman to be convicted of genocide by an international tribunal, disproving the myth that only men can shape horrible atrocities like the Rwandan genocide.
Her son was also convicted of organizing the massacres and serving as a militia leader, where he raped women. Both claimed that they were innocent of all charges. But the court found that the son, Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, staffed a roadblock which was ”the site of numerous beatings, rapes, and killings.”
According to the tribunal, Nyiramasuhuko, who was known simply as “Pauline,” ordered and assisted massacres in her home district of Butare. She ordered women and girls to be raped and killed after they had taken refuge in a local government office.
“Hoping to find safety and security, they instead found themselves subject to abductions, rapes, and murder. The evidence…paints a clear picture of unfathomable depravity and sadism,” said the presiding judge, according to the BBC.
In 1995, Pauline told the BBC that she was incapable of committing the atrocities of which she was accused. ”I couldn’t even kill a chicken,” she said. ”If there is a person who says that a woman, a mother, could have killed, I’ll tell you truly then I am ready to confront that person.”
Her attempts to use her gender to escape punishment have, however, failed. And although other women, including two nuns who were recently found guilty in Belgium for participating in the genocide, have been convicted for committing crimes against humanity and human rights abuses, the case of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko shows that just as women are capable of being firm, fearless leaders, they are also capable of terrible crimes.
Photo from Julian Hameis’ Flickr photostream.