The First Family of Genocide

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko
Pauline Nyiramasuhuko
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The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda issued its judgment earlier this summer in the case of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko et al.

The Rwanda Tribunal has been working for 17 years and it has completed 50 genocide trials. Its judgments are now issued with comparatively little fanfare. But the Nyiramasuhuko judgment is extraordinary and merits a closer look.

Nyiramasuhuko, often referred to as simply “Pauline”, is first woman at the Rwanda Tribunal to be charged with genocide and the only women ever to be convicted. Pauline’s case concerned the town of Butare in Rwanda, a University town whose mayor bravely resisted the national government’s unfolding genocidal plans providing a safe harbor to thousands of desperate Tutsis. Nyiramasuhuko was instrumental in having the mayor sacked and later murdered to pave the way for the killing. She then proceeded to be a pivotal figure in the massacre of thousands of Tutsi refugees.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko
Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

Nyiramasuhuko was the first woman to be convicted of rape as an act of genocide. After the genocide but prior to her arrest, she was interviewed by the BBC in a Congolese refugee camp in 1995. She told the BBC she was not involved in the killings: “I couldn’t even kill a chicken. 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.” It turns out, this woman and mother not only had many Tutsis killed based on her direct orders but also ordered many women to be raped.

Nyiramasuhuko was the Minister of Women’s Development in Rwanda. Nyiramasuhuko held a Ministerial post in the extremist Rwandan government. It was cruel irony that the Minister of Women’s Development so brazenly ordered women to be raped and machete’d to death.

Nyiramasuhuko was convicted of conspiracy to commit genocide. The Nyiramasuhuko case was one of the rare cases where a Rwandan Trial Chamber issued a conviction on the conspiracy mode of liability. More often than not, Trial Chambers have not been persuaded by the evidence offered by the prosecution that an agreement to commit genocide existed. Only the Nazis wrote down their explicit genocidal plans, for the other genocides the evidence of conspiracy tends to be circumstantial. In Pauline’s case, however, the Trial Chamber found that the evidence clearly established Pauline audaciously conspired with her son and others to eliminate the Tutsi in Butare.

Nyiramasuhuko was the first person to be convicted for committing genocide with a son. The one thing you can say in Pauline’s favor is that she had a close-knit family. One of Pauline’s co-defendants was her son, Shalom Ntahobali. Evidence at trial established that Pauline ordered her son to abduct and rape Tutsi women. And being a good son, he complied.