ARUSHA 20 May 2002 (Internews) Genocide suspects Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and her son Arsene Ntahobali made three trips to transport ethnic Tutsi refugees from the Butare governor’s office to an unknown destination to be killed during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, a witness today claimed before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
The witness — identified only as “TK” — claimed that Nyiramasuhuko rode in the vehicle carrying refugees, driven by Ntahobali, allegedly escorted by militiamen.
TK is the 11th prosecution witness in the so-called “Butare Trial,” which began in June 2001. The trial resumed today after it was adjourned on 4 April to facilitate the hearing of an alternate trial.
The Butare Trial is the largest in progress before the tribunal. All six accused are from Butare Province, southern Rwanda, one of the last areas to succumb to the April-June 1994 violence in Rwanda. An estimated 26,000 ethnic Tutsi were killed in Butare alone.
Nyiramasuhuko, who was a minister for family and women’s affairs during the genocide, is the only woman indicted by the ICTR. She is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, including rape.
The other defendants are: Nyiramasuhuko’s son Arsene Ntahobali, a former militia leader, Elie Ndayambaje, a former mayor of Muganza commune; Alphonse Nteziryayo, a former governor of Butare; Joseph Kanyabashi, a former mayor of Ngoma commune and Sylvain Nsabimana, a former Butare governor. Nsabimana took over from Ndayambaje as governor during the genocide. All six have denied charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
When asked for how long she was at the governor’s office when she saw the refugees driven away, TK replied: “I can’t remember exactly …I was there at the end of May or early June 1994.”
Led by prosecution attorney Adesola Adeboyejo of Nigeria, TK testified that ‘Interahamwe’ militiamen slit the throat of a woman named Trifina who resisted boarding the vehicle. “Her throat was slit and she was thrown into the waiting vehicle,” the witness told the court. The Interahamwe was the youth wing of the Movement of the Republic for National Development (MRND), the party that led a coalition government during the genocide.
The witness alleged that the militiamen attacked Trifina on the orders of Nyiramasuhuko, who told the Interahamwe “to shut them [the screaming women] up.”
TK said that she fled her native Gikongoro commune after she heard of the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash on 6 April 1994. She sought refuge at the Butare convent “but we [refugees] were led away to the governor’s office by soldiers and Interahamwe.”
TK continues to testify before Trial Chamber II of the ICTR, comprising Judges William Sekule of Tanzania (presiding), Winston Matanzima Maqutu of Lesotho and Arlette Ramarason of Madagascar.