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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 18:35 GMT 19:35 UK

World: Africa

Rwandan woman ex-minister on rape charge

The first female to be charged with rape as a humanitarian crime - UN (ICTR photo)

A woman who served as a minister of the family in Rwanda has appeared before a United Nations war crimes tribunal, charged with rape.

UN's Kingsley Moghalu: "She was charged under the concept of command responsibility"
According to the UN, it is the first time a woman has been charged with rape as a crime against humanity, and the first time a woman has been indicted by a UN tribunal.

Former Women's Development and Family Welfare Minister Pauline Nyiramasuhuko pleaded not guilty at her initial appearance before the tribunal.

Ms Nyiramasuhuko is alleged to have done nothing to stop her subordinates raping women during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

The UN say that under international law she was responsible for her subordinates and can be charged with offences committed by them - hence the rape charge.

Son also charged

[ image: More than 800,000 were estimated to have been killed in Rwanda's 1994 genocide]
More than 800,000 were estimated to have been killed in Rwanda's 1994 genocide
Ms Nyiramasuhuko and her son, Arsene Shalom Ntahobali, are charged jointly with:

  • genocide
  • conspiracy to commit genocide
  • complicity in genocide
  • crimes against humanity
  • rape
  • other violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Both are in custody at the tribunal's detention facility in Arusha, Tanzania.

Along with four other officials, they are accused of planning and implementing attacks on ethnic Tutsis in the Butare region of southern Rwanda during the genocide.

The UN court began work in 1995 and has indicted 48 suspects, of whom five have been convicted so far.

A further 38 suspects are in prison awaiting trial for participating in the Hutu-dominated army's slaughter of hundreds of thousands of minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The maximum sentence the tribunal can hand down is life imprisonment.

Rwandan courts conducting separate trials into the genocide can impose the death penalty.

The tribunal created a legal precedent last September when it found a former Rwandan mayor guilty of inciting the sexual abuse of women.

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