By Faustine Kapama
ARUSHA, Tanzania, Jun 24 (IPS) - Rwanda’s former minister of family and women affairs and the only woman to be indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide and rape, among other crimes.
The court handed the sentence down on Jun. 24.
Nyiramasuhuko (65); her son, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali; and former mayor, Elie Ndayambaje, were all given life sentences. They were convicted of extermination, rape and persecution as crimes against humanity for Rwanda’s 1994 genocide where over 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were murdered.
In a one-hour session, the presiding judge said Nyiramasuhuko was guilty of conspiracy to commit genocide for entering into an agreement with members of Rwanda’s interim government on or after April 9, 1994 to kill Tutsis in the Butare prefecture.
Nyiramahusuko was additionally found guilty of genocide and other offences including having ordered the killing of Tutsis at Butare prefecture, South Rwanda. Her son was found criminally responsible for killing Tutsis and aiding and abetting the commission of the crime.
Ndayambaje was convicted of direct and public incitement to commit genocide. Ndayambaje, according to the judge, was convicted of aiding and abetting the killing of Tutsis at Mugombwa Church and at Kabuye Hill and for instigating the killings of Tutsis after a swearing-in ceremony on Jun. 22, 1994.
"In considering sentencing, the Chamber has taken into account the individual, aggravating and mitigating circumstances of each. Considering all relevant circumstances, the Chamber sentences you to life imprisonment," presiding Judge William Sekule declared.
Standing between two United Nation security officers, the accused appeared despondent as the sentence was pronounced before a packed courtroom. Ntahobali was a university student at the time the offences were committed while Ndayambaje was mayor of Muganza Commune in Butare prefecture.
The three were convicted alongside three other accused, two former governors of Butare prefecture, Sylvain Nsabimana and Alphonse Nteziryayo and the ex-Mayor of Ngoma Commune in Butare prefecture, Joseph Kanyabashi.
During the proceedings and closing arguments of the 10-year case the prosecution claimed that the six accused supported the mass killings of mostly ethnic Tutsis in Butare from April to July 1994. The case has been called the "Butare Trial", the name of the native prefecture of all six convicts.
"The Butare six heeded the call of the then interim President (Theodore Sindikubwabo) to exterminate ethnic Tutsis (in Butare)," prosecutor Holo Makwaia, told the three judges during argument. Sindikubwabo’s call was made on Apr. 19, 1994.
"Pauline was in charge of pacification campaigns which meant killing the Tutsis," Makwaia charged, adding: "Shalom (Ntahobali) was not very far from following his mother's footsteps as he was a killer and rapist."
Another prosecuting counsel, Canadian Madeleine Schwarz, who dealt specifically on Nyiramasuhuko's alleged participation, said that the defendant was instrumental in giving orders to her son, the Interahamwe militia (a Hutu paramilitary organisation) and soldiers to abduct, rape and ultimately kill Tutsi girls, women and men.
"Instead of protecting the desperate families (as designated to her ministry), Pauline decided to exterminate the families,'' Schwarz argued.
The defence called for the acquittal of their clients.
"To argue that Pauline Nyiramasuhuko distributed condoms is an insult to her and to the victims. And to argue that she even ordered her own son to rape young Tutsi women is an abomination," lamented the Canadian lead defence counsel, Nicole Bergevin in her closing arguments.
Canadian Normand Marquis, lead counsel for Ntahobali claimed during closing arguments that his client should be set free because "several prosecution witnesses failed to identify the accused in the court room and others lied."
Nsabimana was sentenced to 25 years and was found criminally responsible for failing to discharge his legal duty and thereby aiding and abetting the killing of Tutsis taking refuge in the Butare prefecture office.
Nteziryayo was sentenced to 30 years for direct and public incitement to commit genocide for speeches he delivered at two commune meetings in the prefecture June 1994.
Kanyabashi was sentenced to 35 years for genocide. The judge found Kanyabashi criminally responsible for killing Tutsis at Kabakobwa Hill and Matyazo Clinic in the prefecture.
The judge said that all the convicts would receive credit for the time served since their arrest, where applicable. They will be kept in detention under their present conditions until transfer to their final places of imprisonment.
Delivery of judgment of the case comes 10 years since the start of the trial on Jun. 12, 2001 and 16 years after the arrest of some of the accused. Kanyabashi and Ndayambaje were arrested on Jun. 28, 1995 in Belgium.
Nyiramasuhuko and Nsabimana were arrested on Jul. 18, 1997, while Ntahobali was arrested six days later. Nteziryayo was apprehended on Apr. 24, 1998 in Bukina Faso.
The case is considered the longest, largest and probably the most expensive of all the international justice trials so far.
The prosecution and the six accused presented a total of 189 witnesses and almost 13,000 pages of documents were submitted into evidence, resulting in 913 exhibits. The proceedings have produced more than 125,000 pages of transcript.
The trial was also particularly long because of the difficulties with the witnesses and the extreme slowness of the questioning.
Originally appeared on Inter Press Service.