Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, Rwanda’s former minister for family and women affairs, and her son, Arsene Ntahobali, a former militia leader, were both found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape.
The court found that the mother and son helped to abduct hundreds of ethnic Tutsis who were assaulted, raped and killed in the southern region of Butare.
Nyiramasuhuko is the only woman to be charged before the special genocide court. Hanna Brollowski, an international law researcher at the T.M.C. Asser Instuut in The Hague, said she is the first woman convicted anywhere in the world of genocide.
At least 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered during Rwanda’s 100-day genocide.
Butare was among the last strongholds to have fallen to the killings. The court established that between April and June 1994 the mother and son, with assistance of the extremist Hutu militia known as the Interahamwe, went to Butare and abducted hundreds of ethnic Tutsis.
“Many were physically assaulted, raped and taken away to various places in Butare, where they were killed. During the course of these repeated attacks on vulnerable civilians, both Nyiramasuhuko and Ntahobali ordered killings. They also ordered rapes. Ntahobali further committed rapes and Nyiramasuhuko aided and abetted rapes,” said the judgment read out by presiding Judge William Sekule.
The court on Friday also sentenced to life in prison a former mayor, Elie Ndayambaje. Three others in the joint trial were given sentences ranging between 25 and 35 years. The court said all six would be credited with time served.
The judgments come 10 years after trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda began on June 12, 2001, and 16 years after some of the accused were arrested. The court is based in Tanzania, which borders Rwanda.
The proceedings lasted more than 700 days and the court heard from nearly 180 witnesses.
Though Nyiramasukuko is the first woman to be convicted of genocide, she is not the only woman to be charged with genocide.
Former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic was indicted in 2000 for charges including genocide for her role in Serb atrocities in the 1992-95 Bosnian war. The genocide charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain that saw her convicted by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in 2002 of persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds, a crime against humanity.
Associated Press reporter Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.