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Rwandan Woman Charged With Rape and Genocide


Six plead not guilty for role in 1994 slaughter of 800,000

Toronto Star
June 13, 2001

A former Rwandan politician, the first woman to face rape and genocide charges in an international court, pleaded not guilty yesterday in front of a tribunal investigating Rwanda's 1994 genocide.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, minister of family and women's affairs in the former Hutu-led government, was among six defendants who appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as it began its largest-ever mass trial of genocide suspects. The others are Nyiramasuhuko's son and four local politicans from the town of Butare in southern Rwanda. The six are accused of involvement in three months of massacres in Butare when extremists from the Hutu majority slaughtered 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Nyiramasuhuko is accused of inciting ethnic Hutus to use rape as a systematic weapon against minority ethnic Tutsis during the genocide.

Her son, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, is charged with genocide, and with kidnapping and raping Tutsi women.

Last week, in a separate judicial proceeding in Brussels, four Rwandans, including two nuns, were sentenced by a Belgian jury to between 12 and 20 years in prison for their role in the killings. The eight-week trial made history because it was the first time a jury of citizens has been asked to sit in judgment of war crimes committed in another nation. Previously, that role has been assigned to military or civilian magistrates. The landmark trial was conducted in Brussels because the accused had fled to Belgium, the former colonial ruler of Rwanda.

Yesterday's proceedings are part of an ongoing investigation by the Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, set up in 1994 to prosecute the architects of the Tutsi slaughter. So far, it has convicted eight people, including former prime minister Jean Kambanda, who pleaded guilty in September, 1998, to genocide and conspiracy. He was sentenced to life in prison.

While the tribunal has made huge steps in addressing the tragedy, it has also been plagued with scandal and procedural problems. Last month, a U.N.-paid defence investigator was arrested and identified as Simeon Nshamihigo, a top Rwandan genocide suspect who had been living under an alias. The arrest alarmed many and raised doubts about whether the international body will be able to uncover the truth about the extermination. The tribunal has also faced criticism for its slow pace in trying suspects. The joint trial that began yesterday is an attempt to speed up proceedings.

In her opening remarks, lead prosecutor Sylvia Arbia of Italy said the genocide had been prepared for several years and was motivated by ethnic hatred.

The first prosecution witness is expected to take the stand today.

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