Minister of Women Told Killers to Rape Tutsis
SHE once claimed she was too sensitive to even kill a chicken. But
she is the first woman ever to face genocide charges before an international
Moreover, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a former Rwandan Minister for Women
and Family Affairs, is also the first woman ever charged with encouraging
rape as an instrument of genocide.
She is accused of being one of the most zealous organisers of the
1994 genocide. Her trial at the International Tribunal for Rwanda resumes
this month in the Tanzanian city of Arusha.
She had been a minister for two years when the killings started.
Given the charges against her, and the ferocity with which she allegedly
urged the Interahamwe militia to slaughter Tutsi "cockroaches" - old
women and unborn babies included - she stands accused of working to eliminate part of the very section of society she was duty-bound to protect and help.
Nkusi was a 15-year-old schoolboy at the time of the genocide. He
sought refuge at the office of the prefecture in Butare. Talking of
Nyiramasuhuko, he said: "I can't say she killed with her own two hands, but during the genocide there were so many ways of killing, including, for example, ordering the criminals about like she did."
The 1994 genocide in Rwanda, in which one million Tutsis and
moderate Hutus were slaughtered, was no spontaneous orgy of bloodletting; it was a carefully orchestrated plan to rid the country of members of the Tutsi ethnic group, down to the last infant.
The shooting down of the plane of the late Rwandan President Juvenal
Habyarimana over Kigali on April 6 1994 was the catalyst that caused
the extermination plan to be put into action. But it had been minutely
planned ahead of time - militia groups had been trained and armed, lists of priority victims had been drawn up and the infamous Radio Mille Collines had started broadcasting hate propaganda.
In the southern university town of Butare, Hutus and Tutsis were
well integrated and the extremist message took some time to take hold.
The interim government, enraged by the reluctance of the Hutus of
Butare to kill their Tutsi neighbours, sent Nyiramasuhuko to Butare, where she had grown up, to make the people see the "error" of their ways.
Prisca Mukagashugi of the family planning department at the
University Centre for Public Health ranks Nyiramasuhuko as one of those most responsible for the genocide in Butare, claiming: "Apart from indoctrinating the people, Pauline took care of the logistics for the militiamen who came in from Kigali to set Butare on fire.
"She distributed grenades and supplied the petrol for the burning
down of houses in the rural areas and distributed machetes and other useful
equipment to the assassins."
Numerous survivors testify to having seen Nyiramasuhuko encouraging
Interahamwe militia to kill Tutsis. She moved around in a van driven by
her son Shalom, a university student alleged to have been among the leaders of
the Interahamwe militia in Butare. Some say they saw her clad in military
fatigues and boots with a rifle over her shoulder.
Others remember her travelling around Runyinya district in a van
with a megaphone exhorting local people to kill the Tutsi "cockroaches", and
to spare not even "old people and foetuses".
Liberee Mukarugwiza, who sought refuge at the Episcopalian primary
school in Butare and then at the prefecture office, recalled seeing
Nyiramasuhuko, whom she described as "evil", coming to both places to supervise the abduction of Tutsis, who were taken away to be killed.
"I saw Nyiramasuhuko there," she says. "She came at night when the
abductions took place. She came with a lot of Interahamwe in her Peugeot van . . .
She gave out orders from where she was near the van. She made a lot of rounds, at least four per night from 8pm."
Marguerite Musabyimana, a teacher at the Butare Groupe Scolaire,
says she remembers Nyiramasuhuko exhorting the militia to be more brutal as
victims begged for their lives.
"Mbasha's wife was saying: 'Have pity, have pity on my children,'
and I clearly remember Nyiramasuhuko saying, 'Kill her quickly.' "
On her visits to the office of the prefecture, where more than 1 500
Tutsi had taken refuge, Nyiramasuhuko made references to "getting rid of the
dirt in the place".
Her vocabulary is similar to that of Sister Gertrude Mukangango, the
Mother Superior of Sovu Convent, a few kilometres outside Butare, who spoke of clearing "the dirt" out of the convent, where at least 7 000 Tutsis were burned to death.
Sister Gertrude was condemned by a Belgian court last year to 15 years
in prison for violating international law.
Nuns, mothers, schoolgirls and even grandmothers all took part in
the slaughter in Rwanda. Where Nyiramasuhuko is alleged to stand out from
other female killers is in having encouraged militia to rape Tutsi women
before killing them.
Women in Butare, like women in the rest of the country, were raped
and sexually assaulted with instruments ranging from bananas to machete
Those unfortunate enough to survive this treatment live today with
the social stigma of rape, HIV and other venereal diseases. Worst of all, some
have children born of the rapes as a daily reminder of what they underwent.
Nyiramasuhuko is being tried with her son Shalom and four other
officials from Butare. The trial started last year and is the largest joint trial
ever to take place before the Arusha Tribunal. It has been delayed several
Nyiramasuhuko has pleaded not guilty. She is even on record as
having described herself as too squeamish to kill poultry. After fleeing to
Zaire in July 1994, she was employed in a refugee camp, run by the Catholic
In an interview with the BBC in 1995 she was described as a matronly
figure responsible for tracing children among the refugees who had become
separated from their families.
She told the BBC reporter: "If there is a person who says that a
woman, a mother, killed, then I'll confront that person . . ."
Potentially damning for Nyiramasuhuko is the confession of former
Prime Minister Jean Kambanda, who pleaded guilty to genocide charges beforethe Arusha Tribunal in 1998, and is now serving a life term in Mali.
Kambanda names just four ministers with whom he worked closely to
plan the genocide. Nyiramasuhuko is one of them.
Copyright 2002 Africa News Service, Inc.
October 6, 2002 Sunday