RWANDA: Profile: Female Rwandan killer Pauline Nyiramasuhuko

Friday, June 24, 2011
Central Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Sixty-five-year-old Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, who has been sentenced to life in prison, has been described as a tyrant and one of the key players in instigating the Rwandan genocide in the south-western border town of Butare.

This once powerful politician came from humble beginnings - she was a social worker and obtained a university law degree at the age of 44.

At senior school she became friends with Agathe Habyarimana, the future wife of President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose assassination triggered the genocide, the New York Times reports.

She rose to become family affairs and women's development minister in Mr Habyarimana's government.

Nyiramasuhuko was the complete opposite of the man she married, Maurice Ntahobari, a quiet and humble former speaker of parliament who was chancellor of Rwanda's National University based in Butare at the time of the genocide.

Before the massacres, the district of Butare, on the border with Burundi, was a happy mix of ethnic Tutsis and Hutus.

The 100-day mass slaughter in the country started on 7 April but did not begin in Butare until 21 April.

Nyiramasuhuko had ordered the then-governor to help organise the killings.

But when he refused, he was sacked and then killed.

Afterwards, Nyiramasuhuko called for militias from the capital, Kigali, to come to her home region to carry out the mission to kill the Tutsi population.

'Unfathomable depravity'

Looking younger than her 65 years, she stood trial at the court in Tanzania along with her son, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, in a case that lasted 10 years.

During the case, the court heard how she asked her son to organise militias to take part in the kidnap and rape of women and girls in Butare.

She would also force people to undress before loading them on to trucks taking them to their death.

Her son, who was in his early 20s at the time of the genocide, was also found guilty and sentenced to life.

Presiding Judge William Sekule said scores of ethnic Tutsis were killed after taking 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," he said.

Nyiramasuhuko herself is the first and only woman to be tried and found guilty by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

When the then-rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, seized power in July 1994 ending the genocide, she fled across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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."

Three years later, she was arrested in Kenya and later transferred to the ICTR.