The biggest trial so far of Rwandan genocide suspects, has completed its first phase at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in Tanzania.
Known as ‘The Butare Trial’, it involves six suspects from Butare province, including a former government minister and her son.
The Prosecution finished presenting its case against the six defendants, who have all have pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of Geneva Conventions.
One of those in the dock is former minister of family and women affairs, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko. Her case is something of a landmark for three reasons: she is the only woman in detention at the ICTR, the first woman to be indicted by the tribunal and the first woman to be accused of rape as a crime against humanity.
Mivumbi Faustin is serving a 12 year sentence at Karubanda prison. He claims he saw both Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and the former prefect of Butare, Sylvain Nsabimana, giving orders to kill Tutsis. “Sibomana Antoine told us to keep security because Maraba Hutus were set to kill Tutsis. We were against this act. When I was going back home, I found Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, Sylvain Nsabimana , Gerald Hategekimana and Francois Sinzabakwira attending a meeting at Mutunda stadium. Nyiramasuhuko demanded explanation from the Mayor as to why he stopped people from killing the Tutsis in Maraba. She then ordered him to allow the massacres to continue”, alleges Mivumbi.
58 years old Pauline Nyiramasuhuko grew up in Ndora sector, in the commune of Save. Her relatives declined to be interviewed. But a former neighbor has fond memories. “She socialized with all the people. There is no wrongdoing that I know about her unless she was changed by circumstances surrounding the genocide”, said Vedaste
Pauline’s son, 34-year-old Shalom Ntahobali, a student at Butare University during the genocide, is charged on ten counts, including Genocide and rape.
Innocent NKUYUBWATSI confessed to his role in the genocide and is now at Karubanda prison. He believes the former student is guilty. “Shalom regularly visited the residence of captain Nizeyimana lldefonse. He drove a 504 Peugeot which he had looted from an old man called Rwamukwaya. He used this vehicle to transport people who he wanted to kill. I say this because I saw him several times going with people in the car and coming back alone”, alleges Innocent.
Therese Mukamanzi still grieves for members of her family, whom she says died on the night of 17th April, 1994. “Nyiramasuhuko and her son Shalom are the ones who killed six members of this family. They were leading a gang of militias and took away seven of us. I am the only one who survived”, says Therese sadly. “Shalom slapped me hard in the face and I started bleeding from the eyes. Sometimes my head and eyes pain as a result of that”, she adds.
During the Butare Trial, a witness known only as ‘TA’, to protect her identity, claimed she was raped and infected with HIV by Shalom Ntahobali.
But his lead counsel, Duncan Mwanyumba, is skeptical of her testimony. “She talked about of having been raped by about sixteen men prior to her arrival at the prefecture office where she claimed to have been raped by several other men which in my view would intend to show that by the time she was arriving at the offices, having been raped by 16 or so men, she would have been in a highly precarious situation from a health point of view and the indication she gave to the court was that she ‘walked’ to the prefecture office and this in my view sounded highly improbable”, says Duncan Mwanyumba.
The genocide survivors’ association IBUKA blames Shalom’s defense team for intimidating the witness ‘TA’, and other alleged rape victims, during cross examination. “In the case of witness TA, the intimidation from the defense counsel was overwhelming. It’s in this regard that all the participants that attended the 2001 international conference on genocide, signed a petition denouncing the intimidation of witness TA. She gave testimony on how she was raped during the genocide. She became traumatized and we have to keep checking on her every now and then”, says Benoit Kaboyi, Executive Secretary for IBUKA.
Butare national university lost about three hundred of its students and staff during the genocide. Most of the students present at the university today have never seen Shalom but have heard about him. They have different views about the former student who is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. “Genocide happened the way it happened because it was organized and executed by intellectuals. It is sad and that’s why now people should receive education that helps them to promote the culture of peace and patriotism so that genocide will never happen again”, says Byiringiro Jean Claude, a student in the health faculty.
“I heard that Shalom visibly participated in the genocide in Butare province and at the national university in particular. It is such a shame to see that a student attacks his fellow students because of their ethnicity”, says Ntwaza Allen, student in the faculty of science technology.
“There is nothing I know about Shalom. I don’t know whether he killed people or not. But if he really killed his fellow students, I think he deserves the maximum punishment”, says Candari Floriene, a student in the faculty of science, pharmacy department.
Vice Rector Silas Mureramanzi, says Shalom was a bright student. “Shalom joined this university from Group Scolaire de Butare with high score. Seventy three percent in physics is very good”, remembers the Vice Rector.
“I did not know Shalom but I knew his parents especially, Moris Ntahobali who was our rector. He held several high government positions at different times. He was calm, unlike his wife who even at home showed power over her husband”, he adds.
Also accused in the Butare trial are two former Governors of Butare: Sylvain Nsabimana, and Alphonse Nteziryayo, and two former mayors, Joseph Kanyabashi of Ngoma, and Elie Ndayambaje of Muganza.
Joseph Nzabirinda is one of nine thousand genocide suspects held at Karubanda jail, in Butare. He has admitted his own part in the slaughter of 1994, but claims the real responsibility lies with the four men now facing the ICTR, in the Butare Trial. “They mobilized us to kill Tutsis and facilitated our participation in the massacres”, said Joseph. “On 20 April 2004, many Tutsis came here from the sectors of Gishamvu, Nyakizu and Runyinya. When they arrived in our sectors of Nkubi and Sahera trying to cross into Burundi,, the news reached burgomaster kanyabashi who came immediately. Other provinces had started the killings at the time. Brigadier Gahamanyi was then given instructions to list all the Tutsis’ names and their respective communes. They spent a night at a school and later moved to Kabakobwa where they were killed following the orders of Colonel Muvunyi”, he added.
Now that the prosecution has made its case against the six defendants, the Defence team will have its turn at the end of January 2005.
When the Butare trial ends, both perpetrators and survivors hope to see that justice has been done.
Joseph Nzabirinda hopes the verdict will send a clear signal to Rwanda, and the world. “Their punishment can be a lesson to Rwandans because they are the reasons why we are here in the prison. If they had not mobilized us to kill, Rwandans would be living in peace today and that’s why these people should receive exemplary punishment”.
The ICTR was set up by the UN Security Council to prosecute the ring leaders of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. It has so far condemned 20 people and acquitted three. Twenty five suspects are currently on trial, while another 18 are waiting to face the tribunal.