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"Dirt" makes itself heard

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Copyright 2002 AllAfrica, Inc.
                                  Africa News
                           November 19, 2002 Tuesday
 
'Dirt' Makes Itself Heard in Rwandan Genocide Trial
Business Day

   WOMEN would always play a pivotal role in the life of Pauline
Nyiramasahuko. Nor would you expect anything less from the minister of family and women's affairs.
   The job for this exceptionally energetic and driven Rwandan minister
entailed implementing of all sorts of unorthodox policies regarding women's "welfare".
   Policies like having them executed, or selecting the younger ones to
be raped. Take May 28 1994, for instance. For the minister, it was just
another routine, genocidal, day at the office. It wasn't arduous work, just the selection of those Tutsi men who should be taken away from outside the prefecture in Butare, Rwanda's second city, and then "dealt with".
   Young women were picked to be raped. Women with babies, twins for
that matter, were not excused. Resistance would be met with force.
   The former social worker who in the 1980s, in an earlier incarnation,
had charged around the small central African nation armed with leaflets
urging her fellow sex to take control of their destiny, to in the phrase
fashionable then empower themselves, had now embarked on an altogether more radical and righteous kind of social engineering.
   "Who are these things I see here?" she asked as stood on the steps
of the prefecture, staring at the mass of starving, ragged, wounded,
defenceless refugees, who had come to the administrative HQ in Butare, Pauline's political base, in the hope of getting shelter, food, warmth, pity and protection from the massacres that had been taking place in Rwanda since President Habyarimana's plane was shot down in April, the event that had kickstarted the genocide.
 
   Some hope.
 
   "It is only dirt that is here," she shouted at them, waving her
arms. "Elsewhere the dirt has been removed."
   "Dirt" was a peculiarly Hutu euphemism for the minority Tutsi
population during the genocide; "removal of dirt" meant execution.
Now, eight years later, the dirt is having its day.
   In a courtroom in Arusha in neighbouring Tanzania inside the
concrete palace constructed in the 1970s by Julius Nyerere as a metaphor for Africa's unrealised dreams of unity and peace a theatre of unspeakable cruelty
is being played out at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the
United Nations special proceedings set up to try the architects of the genocide.
   Pauline Nyiramasuhuko is alleged to be one of those architects.
Along with her son, who is accused of genocide and rape and is inappropriately named Shalom, and four other defendants, she sits in chamber two, as Witness SU she cannot be named or photographed for fear the release of her identity would sign her death warrant is telling, in a strong, resolute voice, racked occasionally by sobs and fits of coughing, what is a nightmarishly cruel story, even by Rwandan standards.
   Witness SU, protected around the clock, and whose place in court is
curtained off from the public gallery, was one of those 600 wretched refugees who saw and heard Pauline orchestrate the killings in Butare during what the court diplomatically terms "the events of 1994".
   "I went to the prefecture," she tells the court, "because my family
had been killed. I had five wounds."
   "Where were your injuries?" asks US prosecutor Gregory Townsend.
   "I had four wounds in my head and shoulders."
   She pauses and her voice falters. "I was also wounded in my left
side and back on my shoulders they used a knife which killed the child I had on my back."
   By now Witness SU is crying. But she continues her testimony. "On
the head I was wounded with a nail studded club."
   Witness SU cannot continue. It is too much for her. The witness
protection man sitting next to me in the press gallery which is separated from the neat rectangular box of a court by a bullet proof glass screen gets up to
look after his charge.
   All through this, 56-year-old Pauline is sitting not more than 3m
away from the witness, at the end of an Ikea-style wooden bench that houses her defence team. She is listening intently through her earphones.
   She wears a cream coloured jacket with Dynasty shoulders, a black
dress with a neat creamy white ribbed collar. Today she has left off her gold
cross that hangs from a gold chain.
   Her hair is teased back into a severe bun tied ever so daintily with
a little yellow bow. She could be a lay sister having a day out at a social
workers' seminar, certainly not the first woman to be charged with genocide, nor the very first woman to be charged with rape as a crime against humanity.
   Outwardly she appears unmoved, inwardly engrossed, making notes with
all the thoroughness and care that was put into the planning and execution of
the genocide. Now and then she passes a note to her counsel, French
Canadian lawyers funded by legal aid in terms of the tribunal rules.
 
   Now Witness SU is back in the curtained off box.

   Q: How old was the baby that was killed on your back?
   A: The child was three years and two months old.
   Q: What happened to your other children?
   A: They were also killed.
   Q: How many children in total were killed?
   She pauses. I think of the words "in total".
   A: Five were killed.
   Q: What happened to you at that time?
   A: I was wounded and taken for dead and they proceeded to bury me.
   Q: What do you mean they proceeded to bury me'?
   A: I was buried under the earth, she says
   There is more horror. Witness SU tells of how Pauline orders the
young women to be separated and then taken away to be raped. She tells of one particular woman, the mother of twins, and how that woman begged not to have her babies taken from her.
   She was pushed into the vehicle and hit on the side of the neck with
a machete and her throat was cut. As she died, Pauline said, according to
the testimony of Witness SU, "Please breast feed the babies."
   I look across the room at Pauline. She appears unmoved, obscenely
impassive, bored by the occasion, even though, throughout the testimony, the
witness time and again, compellingly so, uses the phrases "I saw her with my own eyes... I heard her with my own ears."
   Pauline has been held in custody in Arusha since she was picked up
in Kenya in 1997. During that time she has refused to give a statement. She
asked for a female lawyer. And that's about it.
   Even her own people, the Hutus, have disowned her.
   Convicted genocidaire and former prime minister Jean Kambanda
described her as one of "the most virulent anti-Tutsi zealots" he knew.
 One theory going the rounds claims that Pauline's racial inferiority stems from the smidgeon of Tutsi blood that may have contaminated her genes. Just as Hitler was supposed to have had Jewish ancestry and spent his life denying it, so Pauline's unstoppable and remorseless enthusiasm for exterminating Tutsis draws its origins in racial impurity.
   However, moving beyond this speculation, there is the chilling fact
to consider that the subplot unwinding in Arusha is stripping to the bare
bone the mindset of a woman whose morals, ethics and standards were seduced and perverted by the sudden acquisition of power.
   Whatever the truth, what drove the woman from social worker to
sociopath is a question that will keep the criminal psychologists up late for years.
   Meanwhile, Pauline's trial (and two other major cases being heard
simultaneously) proceed. Since this one began in June last year, there
have been problems getting witnesses out of Rwanda and this has caused five
adjournments and a serious loss of momentum. Witness SU was the 15th and her testimony and cross examination lasted two weeks.
   There are perhaps another 40 witnesses to come. According to some
estimates the trial will not be completed for two more years.
   Already $500m has been expended on securing only eight convictions
and one acquittal, and the same question is being asked on the dusty meagre
streets of Arusha as in the political salons of Washington and London:
is Africa's Nuremberg worth all the time and the trouble to a threadbare-poor
continent destroyed by war, famine and corruption?
   The answer is simple. Spend one day in this court and listen to the
testimony of the despised African untermenschen and you will agree that every
cent that has been spent is well spent.
   If Pauline is found guilty the court will sentence her to spend the
rest of her days in a prison in Mali, Swaziland, or Benin.
   As for Witness SU, once her evidence has been given, she will return
to Rwanda, to an empty family home.
   She may bear the scars of her ordeal on the outside as well as
internally, but at least this piece of dirt has had her day.
   In court she has stood up robustly to the defence's cross
examination. Let her speak for herself when she said:
   "I came here to testify as to the misdeeds of Rwanda others will
come after me, honest people. She (Pauline) used those words ("it is only dirt
that is here") and she (Pauline) achieved her purpose. I wasn't the only one to
hear her words and those who cooperated with her in evil deeds know it too."
   Ironically, it is the dirt that has now been empowered.
 
   Gordon is an author and journalist specialising in Africa.