Arusha, April 12, 2015 (FH) – The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) will on Tuesday start hearing appeals in its last case, involving six personalities from the southern former province of Butare. The six include former Family Affairs Minister Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the only woman to be tried by the Tribunal.

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Defence and prosecution will take the stand in court until April 24, according to the calendar of the ICTR Appeals Chamber.

On April 24 Nyiramasuhuko and her co-defendants may, if they choose, address their appeals judges in person, before the judges retire to deliberate.

Nyiramasuhuko is not just only the only woman indicted by the ICTR but also by an international criminal court, and the allegations against her include ordering rape. The trial court sentenced her to life in prison on June 24, 2011 for conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, extermination, rape, persecution, violence to life, other inhumane acts and outrages to human dignity.

According to the trial court judges, the former minister “conspired with other members of the interim government to commit genocide in Butare (southern Rwanda)”.  They said she exercised command authority over Interahamwe militia who committed rape in the offices of the Butare prefect.

The trial court also handed down life sentences on her son, Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, and on former mayor of Muganza Elie Ndayambaje.

Former mayor of Ngoma Joseph Kanyabashi was sentenced to 35 years in jail, while former prefects of Butare Sylvain Nsabimana and Alphonse Nteziryayo got 25 and 30 years respectively.

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and her Canadian lawyer Nicole Bergevin have always claimed she was victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by the current Rwandan regime of Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

“It’s an abomination to claim that Pauline Nyiramasuhuko went so far as to order her son to rape young Tutsi women,” said Bergevin in her final arguments in April 2009.

Nyiramasuhuko expressed the same sentiment when she addressed the court in her own defence in September 2005. “How can you imagine that a woman like me would do such things?” she said. Started in June 2001, this trial will also go down in history as the longest and no doubt the costliest in the history of international justice. Whereas the ICTR was due to close its doors at the end of last year, the UN Security Council had in December to prolong the mandate of the judges handling this case. According to the ICTR, the Appeals Court judgment, which will mark the end of the ICTR’s work, is not expected before August this year. The trial will have lasted 14 years and Pauline Nyiramasuhuko will have spent 16 years in preventive detention.

The ICTR was set up by a November 1994 Resolution of the UN Security Council with a mandate to track and bring to justice those suspected of being “most responsible” for acts of genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda or by Rwandan citizens in neighbouring countries between January 1 and December 31, 1994.

As the Nyiramasuhuko case nears its end, nine top ICTR suspects are still on the run, including rich businessman Félicien Kabuga, said to be the financier of the genocide; former Defence Minister Augustin Bizimana; and Protais Mpiranya, who headed the presidential guard of ex-president Juvénal Habyarimana. The killing of Habyarimana as his plane was downed over Kigali on the evening of April 6, 1994 was the spark that triggered the genocide.

If these three “big fish” are one day arrested, they will be tried by the Mechanism for International Criminal Courts (MICT), which is charged with handling residual functions of the ICTR and is already in place. As for the other six ICTR fugitives, their case files have been handed over to Rwanda, as part of the ICTR’s closure strategy.