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UN to issue verdict on first female to be charged with genocide

Judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda are set to hand down their verdict Friday in a case involving the first woman to be charged with genocide. She has been charged with atrocities committed in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

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AFP - Judges at the UN court for Rwanda will on Friday hand down their verdict for the first woman to be charged with genocide before an international court, 14 years after her arrest.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a former minister for the family and women's empowerment, has been charged with genocide and incitement to rape committed in Rwanda's southern Butare region during the 1994 genocide.

Nyiramasuhuko, 65, is the only female detainee at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

She has been appearing in court since 2001 along with her five co-accused: her son Arsene Shalom Ntahobali and four former local officials.

The verdict comes 16 years after the first of the co-accused were arrested.

In April 2009 prosecutors called on the court to impose a life sentence on Nyiramasuhuko.

They also requested the maximum sentence for Nyiramasuhuko's son -- the Tanzania-based court's youngest detainee -- and the four other co-accused, former Butare prefects Alphonse Nteziryayo and Sylvain Nsabimana and former mayors Joseph Kanyabashi and Elie Ndayambaje.

All six are facing several genocide counts.

"The prosecutor respectfully submits that the appropriate sentence in this case is imprisonment for the remainder of their lives," prosecutor Holo Makwaia said in her closing arguments.

Makwaia argued that the accused had "the intent to destroy in whole or in part the Tutsi ethnic group in Butare."

But Nyiramasuhuko's defence lawyer, Nicole Bergevin, said the prosecution had failed to prove her client was guilty.

"It is an abomination to claim that Pauline Nyiramasuhuko could have gone as far as ordering her son to rape young Tutsi women," the lead defence counsel said in her closing arguments, adding: "Nyiramasuhuko is not guilty of the abominable allegations brought against her" and calling for the acquittal of the former minister.

Nyiramasuhuko's second counsel, Guy Poupart, denounced what he said was a campaign to "demonise" all the members of the government that was in place during the genocide.

Ntahobali's lawyer Norman Marquis for his part noted serious contradictions in the testimony of the prosecution witnesses and said several witnesses making accusations against his client had not even been able to recognise Ntahobali in court.

Lawyers for the other co-accused also asked for their clients to be acquitted.

Nyiramasuhuko, who looks younger than her 65 years, was born into a modest family in southern Rwanda. At the age of 40 she enrolled at university and gained a law degree four years later.

In April 1992 she was appointed minister for family and she still held that position two years later at the time of the genocide. After the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front she fled into neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. She was arrested in Kenya in July 1997 and transferred to the ICTR.

Several other women have have been found guilty of genocide and sentenced, some of them in high-profile trials, but none before an international court.

Two Rwandan Catholic nuns were sentenced by a Brussels court in June 2001 for their role in the genocide.

Sister Gertrude, alias Consolata Mukangango, was handed a 15-year sentence while Sister Kizito, alias Julienne Mukabutera, got 12 years.

The ICTR was formed in late 1994 and has been tasked with trying the masterminds of Rwanda's genocide in which some 800,000 people, essentially minority Tutsis, were killed in the space of 100 days.

 

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