-- [Roman Catholic] Nuns Gertrude Mukangano and Justine Kizito, now sheltered by the Benedictine order in Belgium, called Tutsis who sought refuge "dirt" and allegedly supplied gasoline to burn some alive, including the immediate families of Tutsi nuns.

SEPTEMBER 26, 1995

Associated Press

Rwanda's Genocide Emerges

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) -- Amid the 10,000 inmates packed into the hellhole of Kigali's sweltering central prison are 342 women who pass their days washing clothes and nursing babies. Like the men, each awaits judgment for genocide.

The women represent a largely overlooked aspect of Rwanda's plunge into savagery last year: female participation in butchering at least 500,000 people over three months.

Women were implicated at almost every level, according to Rwandan officials and a report by the London-based group Africa Rights -- from Cabinet ministers and regional administrators to professionals, teachers, nurses and housewives. Even [Roman Catholic] nuns.

The officials say the role of women as killers and "cheerleaders" for murder was unprecedented in any other genocide this century.

"The difference between our genocide and the German one was that theirs was carried out by the government against the people," said former Justice Minister Alphonse-Marie Nkubito. "Here, it was the government that mobilized the people to kill each other."

Instigated by extremists in the former Hutu-dominated regime, the slaughter of minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus was carried out by soldiers, police, militias and ordinary people swept along by hatred, fear and opportunism.

Some women were actively involved, killing with machetes and guns, said Rakiya Omaar, an Africa Rights investigator. Others acted in support roles -- allowing murder squads access to hospitals and homes, cheering on male killers, stripping the dead and looting their houses.

Africa Rights has provided accounts by witnesses and survivors who point accusing fingers at women -- especially the educated Hutu elite. For the latter, the motive was often to secure a coveted job or property, Omaar said.

"I think one can safely say that educated women who took a leadership role did so voluntarily," Omaar said in an interview. "They bear a greater responsiblity than the peasantry. They were role models."

Among the prominent Hutu women who stand accused:

-- Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the former minister for Family and Women's Affairs, is alleged to have taken part in nightly massacres in the company of her grown sons. She fled Rwanda in July 1994 and cares for unaccompanied children at a refugee camp in Zaire.

-- Valerie Bemeriki, a radio broadcaster, called upon Hutus to "fill up" Tutsi graves and urged listeners to phone in the locations of Tutsi hideouts.

-- [Roman Catholic] Nuns Gertrude Mukangano and Justine Kizito, now sheltered by the Benedictine order in Belgium, called Tutsis who sought refuge "dirt" and allegedly supplied gasoline to burn some alive, including the immediate families of Tutsi nuns.

No accurate numbers tell how many women took part in the slaughter.

One gauge may be Kigali prison. Of 10,000 inmates, all are men and boys except for the 342 women and their 116 children too young to be sent away.

Africa Rights says women's traditional image as peace-loving nurturers has helped female killers escape the scrutiny of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, which won last year's civil war and now runs the country.

Like everyone in the prison, the women have been accused of genocide but none has had a formal court hearing due to the shambles that mass murder and war left of Rwanda's justice system.

The women spend their days bare-breasted in suffocating heat. They share open latrines, change the diapers of wailing babies weak with diarrhea and prepare meals of beans and crackers.

All say they are falsely accused.

Euphanasie Mukaremera, 36, is head trusty of one prison section, a former food storage area where 87 women and 16 children have barely enough room to lie down. She gave birth in prison 10 months ago to her fifth child, a boy she named Innocent.

Mukaremera, a Hutu, claims she was arbitrarily arrested on the accusations of a vengeful Tutsi neighbor when she returned from a refugee camp last year.

"You can see it's not true," she said. "I'm the mother of a family. I have children. I couldn't do such things to people."

She said that as far as she knew, none of the other women with whom she has spent the last year committed any crimes.

"I find it difficult to believe that a woman took a machete and killed a child," she said. "In my opinion, we were sent here when someone wanted our house, our property, our car, whatever."

Mukaremera asked a reporter if he really believed that a genocide of Tutsis took place. When he replied that he had seen the bodies to prove it, another inmate chimed in.

"There were massacres by the RPF in our neighborhood," said Christine Niyigena, 30. "Three people were killed." She meant Hutus.

And before that? Did the Hutu militias kill anyone?

The reporter meant Tutsis.


How many?

"I don't know. Should I count?"