Arusha, April 22, 2015 (FH) – Ex-Family Affairs Minister Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the only woman tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), on Wednesday asked her appeals judges to acquit her, saying she could never have committed the “abominable crimes” for which the lower court convicted her.

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“Throughout my life, ever since I was young, I have always worked for the development of other women,” she told the court, breaking down in tears as her appeals hearings ended. “I swear to you, I am not the type to commit the abominable crimes for which I was convicted (by the trial court).”

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, 69, was on June 24, 2011 sentenced to life in jail for conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, extermination, incitement to rape, persecution, violence to life, other inhumane acts and outrages to human dignity.

Five other people were also convicted in the same trial, including her son Arsène Shalom Ntabobali, who was found guilty of crimes including committing rape on his mother’s orders.

“I am a mother, like the others (…),” said Nyiramasuhuko, speaking in the Rwandan language. “I was hurt to discover that women were among those behind the imprisonment of myself and my son. But I forgive them.

“I ask you to restore my rights (…). Maybe I was prosecuted because I was a minister, because I was a member of the party of the President  (Juvénal Habyarimana) who had just been killed.”

According to her, “people wanted to prove at all costs that a woman, a mother, was involved in the unspeakable”.

Bowing to all the victims of the Rwandan “tragedy”, she criticized the Tribunal for prosecuting only former members of the Hutu regime, without investigating crimes allegedly committed at the same time by rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), now in power.

“Part of the Rwandan population is demonized, while others are victimized,” she continued. “I don’t think that can solve my country’s problems.”

She concluded with a special thought for her aging mother. “I hope that I and my son will be acquitted while my mother is still alive,” she said. “She is near death, and that is all she wants.”

Arsène Shalom Ntahobali, although less emotional than his mother, also pleaded for his acquittal. “I am not this murderer and rapist that people have described to you,” he told the appeals judges. “I am not that horrible person that prosecution witnesses have described. It is not because the crimes are serious that I am guilty.”

The four other people tried in the same case – two former mayors and two former prefects – also took the stand asking the Appeals Chamber to set them free.

The six were found guilty of numerous crimes committed in 1994 in the prefecture of Butare in southern Rwanda.

After hearing the declarations of the accused, the judges retired to deliberate on their decision, which will mark the end of the ICTR’s work. The appeals judgment will be handed down “in due course”, according to presiding judge Fausto Pocar.

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 is not expected before August this year.