Arusha, March 20, 2001(FH) - Former Rwandan mayor Laurent Semanza encouraged militia to rape Tutsi women during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, witnesses told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Tuesday. Four witnesses who testified on Monday and Tuesday said that soldiers and militia who raped women in Bicumbi area, central Rwanda, in April 1994 said they were authorised by Semanza and his successor Juvénal Rugambarara.

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The 19th prosecution witness "VAO" said she was among survivors whose houses were torched. According to her, the militia said that their bourgmestre (mayor) had ordered them to act in this manner. "What they did to me was beyond description," VAO told the court. "They undressed me and did everything they wanted with me. They were three men who took turns and they were armed". She said this was in April in Gikoro commune. VAO said that she was later raped again on two separate occasions. The witness said this all happened in April and that in May she fled the area. VAO said she was told by a survivor of massacres at Ruhanga church who later died that Semanza encouraged Interahamwe militia to rape her (the survivor). Semanza ordered the rape of Tutsi women and girls who survived the torching of Ruhanga church, the witness claimed. The defence objected that this was hearsay, but the chamber allowed VAO to proceed. VAO said she is Tutsi but had told investigators of the UN Tribunal that she was Hutu because during the war she had acquired a Hutu identity card. "The killers took my children and husband and killed them. I was only spared because my identity card said I was a Hutu", she said. The witness told the court that she did not show this card to the men who raped her, as those producing identity cards were inviting suspicion and possible death. The 18th witness, dubbed "VAV", said a villager was sheltering her when Interahamwe flushed her out of her hiding place. She told the court that militia urged the villager to kill her because "that was Semanza’s order", but he refused. VAV said that there were many attackers, but she recognized some from the Ruhengeri region. Another witness (the 17th), dubbed "VAW" to protect her identity, told the court that on April 13th, 1994, Interahamwe en route to kill Tutsis who had fled to the Mwulire Hills found some taking refuge in a local councillor’s house. VAW said most members of her family who were among this group were killed and she was attacked. The 16th prosecution witness, "VR" said that militia told her they would kill her children and her husband’s whole family and would "kill me by raping me". She said she was raped by three members of the militia in April, 1994. VR told the court that Interahamwe danced at the Bicumbi commune office and called for Tutsi girls to be brought out so that they could rape and kill them. The witness gave further testimony about her ordeal in a closed session. Former Bicumbi mayor Semanza is charged with 14 counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including rape. At the time of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, he was no longer mayor of Bicumbi, but the prosecution says he was an influential figure. The presidential party MRND had chosen Semanza to represent it in the parliament that was to be set up under the 1993 Arusha peace accord. The accused is appearing before Trial Chamber Three of the ICTR, composed of judges Yakov Ostrovsky of Russia (presiding), Lloyd George Williams of Jamaica and Pavel Dolenc of Slovenia. The chamber ruled that there will be a status conference "concerning organisation of future work" on Wednesday, as there are no witnesses scheduled. SW/JC/MBR/FH (SE_0320e)