Tracing women’s role in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

Women suffered a lot during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, particularly as victims of sexual violence from the interahamwe (male) militia. Rape was one of the weapons used by the perpetrators of the genocide.

Women suffered a lot during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, particularly as victims of sexual violence from the interahamwe (male) militia. Rape was one of the weapons used by the perpetrators of the genocide.

It is also surprising but true, that women tortured fellow women, more than they did to men. Women played different roles in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.

With different Genocide cases around the world, one would wonder why like men, women in Rwanda went an extra mile in the planning, mobilising and executing the Genocide.

Women’s participation in the Genocide and other crimes against humanity can be evidenced in courts of Rwanda, Arusha and other trials in different parts of the world, where they are charged with genocide crimes.

In Arusha, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) handled the trial of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former Minister of Women’s and Family Affairs in Rwanda.

The trials greatly show how women betrayed fellow women. One of the allegations against Nyiramasuhuko was that, she incited the rape of Tutsi women. The son was among some of those she encouraged to rape Tutsis and is also under trial.

Nyiramasuhuko was charged with various offences including genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and direct public incitement to commit genocide and rape. She was the first woman to be charged for rape as a crime against humanity.

The Rwanda’s former Minister of Justice Agnès Ntamabyariro has also been going under trial in the High Court at Nyamirambo for allegedly participating in the genocide and crimes against humanity in Rwanda.

Two nuns; Gertrude, Alias Consolata Mukangango and Julienne Mukabutare were convicted of war crimes by a court in Brussels “Comparing women to men’s role in the 1994 Genocide, you find out that the former played fewer roles. But this does not rule out women’s participation in the killing of Tutsi in the Genocide, says Benoit Kaboyi, the Executive Secretary of Ibuka, an umbrella organisation of Genocide Survivours.”

He added, “In most cases women encouraged, supported and pointed out, the people who were in hide outs for the killers. Their role is not as visible as men’s, but was not all that small, since there were some of them, who were part of the perpetrators of the genocide. These include; Ngelina, former Muhima councilor, and Karushara who was working in Kimisagara. Some women had also been trained as interahamwe and would move around with men hunting and killing Tutsis.”

Women would however, in most cases remain at home as men went to hunt down the Tutsis. This is what was popularly known as ‘working’. Women closely collaborated with Interahamwe to implement the planned killing of Tutsis.

Nothing else was given attention or worked on, apart from Genocide related crimes. In this case, women also looted and prepared meals for a group of Interahamwe. They (Interahamwe) could come together and settle in one place for food, which was prepared by women.

Women were thus, not only involved in killing, but also acted as  a strong backbone of all killers, as far as feeding was concerned.

Unfortunately, most women who are Genocide suspects today are not in most cases willing to confess what they did in the Genocide.

They are mostly favoured by the fact that, their roles in the genocide are not explicit and therefore not recognised by the law.

“Normally, looking at Genocide in a legal perspective, a person who plays any role in the Genocide, is liable to answering some questions. But for the sake of rebuilding the community, not all crimes were touched in Rwanda.”

“Some women killed their children and husbands. This makes the Rwandan Genocide, the only one of its kind, in the world. In other genocides that took place in the world, no woman could kill her own children and husband,” Kaboyi explains.

He added that, “under usual circumstances men can kill their wives, but it is always hard for a woman to kill a husband or own children. Where I come from in Bugesera for example, I know of a woman who killed her children and husband”. Such scenarios are imaginable but that was the true colours of the genocide.

The Director of Prison Services, Steven Barinda says that, “like other Rwandans, women were involved in the killing of Tutsis in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Their role was mainly to kill the weak people, like the sick and their fellow women. They could also hide people and later call the killers to come and end their lives.  Generally though, women participated in the killing using machetes and rifles”.

Some women, who were in leadership, planned, mobilized and executed Genocide. What is so special about them again, is that they have shown little or no interest at all in confessing. They have refused to cooperate in Gacaca courts in telling the truth as opposed to their men counter parts.

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