Arusha, April 14, 2015 (FH) -  Lawyers for Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the only woman held by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), on Tuesday called for her to be acquitted on appeal.

2 min 12Approximate reading time

The plea came as appeals hearings started for Nyiramasuhuko, former Minister of Family Affairs, in the last case before the Tribunal.

The appeals judgment in this case will mark the end of the Tribunal’s work after 21 years of existence. The judgment is expected in August, according to the ICTR.

The trial court sentenced Nyiramasuhuko 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.

In the same case, it 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.

“The verdict (against Nyiramasuhuko) is unreasonable,” declared the ex-minister’s co-counsel Guy Poupart, saying that “reconsideration of the evidence by the Appeals Court is absolutely necessary”.

The Canadian lawyer claimed that the trial court convicted his client on the basis of “contradictory and incoherent testimonies” of witnesses who “whilst being in the same place in a confined area did not see or hear the same thing”.

“I am not a judge,” he continued, “but there is something disturbing in all that.”

Lead defence counsel Nicole Bergevin said the indictment was “fundamentally flawed” and prevented the accused from being able to prepare a proper defence. Bergevin, also Canadian, said that the trial judges had convicted her client for a “conspiracy to commit genocide ” which was not argued in the indictment.

According to the trial court judges, the former minister, now a 69-year-old grandmother, “conspired with other members of the interim government to commit genocide in Butare (southern Rwanda)”.  But, Bergevin argued, the indictment did not talk of conspiracy with other government members but with her five co-accused, none of whom was a minister.

“She had all the information she needed to defend herself,” replied British prosecutor Alison McFarlane. “She was one of the most powerful people in Rwanda” at the time of the genocide, continued McFarlane, who said the former minister “ordered soldiers and Interahamwe militia to rape and kill Tutsi women” in Butare in May and June 1994.

“They obeyed, killed and raped in her presence. The court was right to conclude that she had authority over the soldiers and Interahamwe,” said the prosecution lawyer, stressing that Nyiramasuhuko was a “key member of the genocidal government”.

The five other convicts in this case will take it in turns to argue their appeals case up to next Wednesday, the last day of this stage of the trial. The judges will then retire to deliberate their judgment, which will mark the end of the ICTR’s work.

Started in June 2001, this trial will 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 18 years in preventive detention.