A previous version of this paper was read on March 7, 2012 before the Phi Alpha Theta Society of the Department of History, University of Northern Iowa, where the author is a Professor in the Department of History. The research for the paper was funded in part by the Graduate School of the University of Northern Iowa. From 2001 to the present the author spent several semesters of leave researching and observing the trials of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha Tanzania, and working as a consultant for the Office of the Prosecution of the ICTR, and reading and evaluating witness statements.
Donna J. Maier
The role of women as perpetrators in the Rwanda Genocide has been documented much more so than that of women in other genocides and crimes against humanity: more than in the holocaust of World War II, than in the massacres of Mayan Guatemala's Indians in 1982, and more even than in the widespread atrocities that accompanied the break-up of the former Yugoslavia which were virtually concurrent with the Rwanda Genocide. It is not entirely clear why this is the case. Testimonies of women perpetrators and victims were collected in the immediate aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide by various human rights groups, most completely by the United Kingdom based NGO African Rights which published its data within a year of the genocide. More evidence has emerged in the trials of genocidaires at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and in trials in the national courts of Rwanda,Belgium, and other countries. These trials include the evidence of female victims, but also have included prosecution of high level women perpetrators which have resulted in guilty verdicts.
Low-level violence and looting by women against one's neighbors is perhaps, sadly, unsurprising but the involvement of female leaders in the Rwanda genocide (cabinet officials, nuns, journalists, nurses, and teachers) is striking and factually well-established. Were women more likely to be perpetrators of genocide violence in Rwanda than in other cases of mass violence or does it appear this way only because we have more evidence? Regardless of the answer, this essay seeks to explore the evidence we do have of leading female perpetrators and their motivation.
Although the Rwanda Genocide began in Kigalion the night of April 6, 1994, it did not spread immediately to all parts of the country, and did not reach the province of Butare, home of 32-year old Genevieuve Mukarutesi, until two weeks later. Genevieuve recounted to human rights interviewers in July 1995 what happened to her beginning on April 22:
On this date the situation deteriorated sharply in our sector. Hutu wanted to exterminate the Tutsis. My husband was Tutsi and we had four children..... Like other Tutsi families, we went to Kabuye hill where there were a lot of us, about 50,000. At least 40,000 perished on this hill. The first attack was led by Hutus from our district directed by a pregnant Hutu woman who was armed with a gun and a lot of grenades. She is Felicitee Semakuba, a former gendarme....During this attack, I, myself, saw Mme. Semakuba with a gun and grenades. She was on her knees shooting into the crowd of refugees all the while giving out orders to her team. She would often get up to throw grenades.
Gorette Mukandamage, another Hutu survivor with a Tutsi husband, experienced the same scene:
I am Hutu. But as I had married into a Tutsi family, I followed them to Kabuye Hill where there were so many of us it is difficult to count how many. . . .Mme Semakuba came to kill almost everyday. I saw Mme Semakuba with a gun and a lot of grenades. She threw grenades as if she were sowing beans. I saw her on her knees shooting into us. I saw her with my own eyes more than five times.
Today in the U.S.we are accustomed to women's participation in our military and police, and are perhaps not overly shocked by the actions of Felicite Semakuba. Women in Rwandan society however, as in other traditional societies, have been expected to be submissive, subservient to men, compliant, and hard-working farmers and homemakers, not warriors. Doubtlessly in industrialized society there is also a popular notion that women are less violent and do not belong on the front lines of combat. But in Rwanda, women could not own land nor were they allowed to open a bank account or start a business without their husband's written permission until the 1990's. So the actions throughout the genocide of women like Felicite Semakuba, and ones even more chilling that are presented in this essay, give us pause, and the cognitive tensions they elicit in us merit inquiry.
The Rwanda Genocide occurred from 6 April to mid-July 1994, very quickly and very violently, although there were almost two years of warning signs and preparations that we can now document. But in the short intense period of killing of approximately 100 days, an estimated 800,000 persons, mostly Tutsi, were brutally killed by the Hutu soldiers and police, by Hutu paramilitary militia known as Interahamwe (meaning “those who fight/work/attack together”), by thugs and by ordinary citizens. The victims almost always knew their killers, either as neighbors or as community leaders. The killing was not accomplished by long-distance annihilation through bombing, or mortar attacks, drones or even AK-47s. On the contrary the killing was graphic, grotesque, and up-close. Most of the deaths were carried out by machetes or nail-studded clubs known as masu used to hack people to death, or by close range shooting, and grenades used to weaken large crowds. Mortally wounded people were left for days to die, or thrown into mass graves to suffocate. Men, women and children were all targeted. Massacres which frequently took place in churches and schools, where refugees fled in hope of safety, would take several days and killers would have to go home to sleep and eat in the evening, often cutting victims' Achilles' tendons so they could not escape overnight.
The ethnic bitterness between Hutu and Tutsi has historical roots. The nineteenth century royalty of Rwanda were Tutsi, and the peasant farming class were Hutu. There were perceived physical differences between the two groups as well: Tutsi were supposed to be tall, thin, lighter skinned, with long noses, while Hutu were supposed to be shorter, darker, flat-nosed. Belgian colonial officials ruled through the Tutsi royalty and introduced identity cards with one's ethnicity marked on them to bolster social control. In 1960, at the time of independence, Hutu were about 85% of the population and Tutsi the privileged 14%. People often vote ethnically and the majority Hutu did so, winning all the independence elections by sheer numbers. They took power, and reversed the ruling structure by imposing with a vengeance their authority on the minority Tutsi, driving hundreds of thousands into exile. Those Tutsi who remained were subject to ethnic quotas for jobs and schools and identity cards continued to be required. Thousands of mutilated cards in the mass graves after the genocide are a grim reminder that they became a death warrant for Tutsi in 1994.
Yet identity in Rwanda was much more complex. In most cases it is quite difficult to tell the groups apart: you cannot tell by language, they all speak the same language Kinyarwanda. You cannot tell by name: every Rwandan had his or her own unique name, given at birth, which does not reflect one’s mother’s or father’s name or clan or ethnicity. Furthermore, Hutu and Tutsi often intermarried, and although one's ethnicity was determined by the ethnicity of the father, gene mixture meant that mistaken physical identification occurred often: many a tall Hutu was killed and some short Tutsi survived the Genocide. The problem of mixed marriages created horrifying choices for families: a Hutu woman having to decide whether to accompany and die with her Tutsi husband and children, or a Hutu husband being forced to kill his Tutsi wife, or in-laws betraying their own grandchildren.
The crisis that led to the Genocide started in 1990. Like most African countries, Rwanda had experienced a military coup in the 1970s and by 1990 was still being ruled by an autocratic Hutu dominated government, headed by President Juvenal Habyarimana. But with the end of the Cold War in 1989, African governments were pressured to adopt multi-party political systems and to liberalize their economics. Most African governments, seeing that the international climate would no longer support un-democratic regimes buttressed by cold war aid, bit the bullet and undertook reform. Thus between 1990 and 2000, 42 of the 47 sub-Saharan African countries held multi-party democratic elections, most for the first time in decades. Note Rwanda, whose government chose instead to cling to power at all costs, even the cost of eliminating 15% of their population.
When talks to introduce multi-party democracy began in 1990 in Rwanda, Tutsi living in exile since the 1960s who had fled persecutions at the hands of the Hutu government, organized a political movement called the Rwanda Patriot Front, RPF, led by Paul Kagame. They began a guerrilla war in northern Rwanda. Their demands were a share of government and right of return for the now one million Tutsi exiles. Their success on the battlefield soon won them a seat at the negotiating table and in August 1993 a peace agreement known as the Arusha Accords was signed, confirming power sharing.
But members of the extreme wing of the Hutu government were outraged at this compromise and began to ramp up a climate of racial hatred and fear in order to abort the process. Increasingly after 1992 the “Hutu Power” factions as they were called of Rwanda's political and military institutions churned out inflammatory propaganda and speeches, carried out assassinations and pogroms, created a propaganda radio station called RTLM nicknamed “Hate Radio," imported over a half million machetes and weaponry from abroad, tripled the size of the army, and armed the youth wing of the ruling political party. Hutu power leaders also threatened and attacked moderate Hutu politicians who sought a peaceful transition to democracy, and harassed and defied the UN peace-keeping force that was established in Kigali to supervise the planned elections, which never occurred. As Alison Des Forges, the late great human rights advocate and documenter of the Rwanda genocide wrote:
“This genocide was not an uncontrollable outburst of rage by a people consumed by 'ancient tribal hatred'. Nor was it the preordained result of the impersonal forces of poverty and over-population. This genocide resulted from the deliberate choice of a modern elite to foster hatred and fear to keep itself in power.”
From 1990-1994 the Hutu-power politicians also deliberately fostered a climate of impunity which allowed anyone to attack Tutsi and to loot their property. Peter Uvin, in summarizing research of social scientists regarding the psychology preceding the Holocaust and other examples of mass murder, identifies authorization, routinization, and dehumanization by authorities as phases that overcome the moral inhibitions of populations. He noted that in Rwanda in the years leading up to the genocide “it was defined as acceptable to blame Tutsi as a group for all evils of society and to use violence to deal with this ‘problem’. . . Anti-Tutsi racism served as a deliberately maintained strategy of legitimization of the powers-that-be, and was kept alive in Rwanda through a systematic structure of discrimination and education. . .  As one lower ranking genocidaire later testified: “There was a feeling we could get away with anything. In my area from 1992 [on]..., killing a Tutsi was not a crime...there was no punishment.” This was true in the media of press and radio as well. Christopher Taylor has summarized what many researchers into the genocide recognize: “No measures to enforce journalistic responsibility existed in pre-genocide Rwanda. . . .In the political climate in the months before the genocide, pro-government journalists could say and print whatever they wished without fear of legal sanctions. On the other hand, opposition politicians and journalists who spoke out against the regime risked assassination. Many eventually paid for their remarks with their lives.” The genocide scholar Adam Jones has further posited that the existence in the late 1980s and early 1990s of large numbers of unemployed and landless men facilitated the success of the government’s anti-Tutsi scapegoating and ethnic hatred propaganda policy, or as Uvin tersely commented “the seeds planted from above fell on fertile ground.” In this atmosphere of hate and impunity, all that was needed was a spark to ignite full-scale genocide.
On the night of April 6, 1994, that event occurred. The private plane of President Habyarimana, returning with him from talks in Tanzania regarding implementation of the Arusha accords, was shot down over Kigali killing the president and all on board. Within an hour killings of Tutsi and moderate Hutu politicians began all over the capital of Kigali. No one has determined who shot the plane down, but a thorough and credible report by French judges published just in January 2012, has definitively determined that the rockets which struck the plane were fired from a military base controlled by Hutu Power presidential guards. There is some evidence that this was done because they had no intention of following through on the Peace Accords, and they wanted to precipitate “the apocalypse,” as General Bagosora, an architect of Hutu Power was alleged to have called it. For the next hundred days, it did indeed seem that the apocalypse had come toRwanda.
In the end, it was the RPF that stopped the slaughter. Already occupying an area of northern Rwanda, and with a contingent garrisoned in Kigali under the terms of the Arusha Accords, Kagame's forces took up arms again on April 7 and gradually pushed into the rest of the country, defeating the Hutu Power government and militias as it moved along, ultimately winning control of all of Rwanda. By mid-July the Hutu Power government had fled, with 2 million Hutu refugees, many implicated in the genocide, decamping to Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaireat that time) to the west.
Rebuilding Rwanda was a challenge for the RPF. Documenting the genocide is the challenge of historians; and bringing some sense of justice to the victims has been a challenge for everyone. The international community did little during the genocide to stop the killing but in the aftermath the United Nations set up, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), to prosecute the key organizers. These included Rwanda's Interim Prime Minister and his cabinet, military, church, and media leaders. The court was based in Arusha,Tanzania, because initially Rwanda's security climate was considered unsafe for trials. The tribunal’s motto and goal is to “end impunity,” that is, by prosecuting orchestrators of the genocide, to send a message of deterrence to those who might consider doing something like this again, and a message of at least some sort of justice to the victims and their families. From its 1996 inception to its 2012 closure, the tribunal arrested 83 high level perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide, while 9 remain indicted and at large. Of the 83, 65 were convicted (some remain on appeal) and 10 acquitted, and 8 either died before trial or had their cases transferred to Rwanda.
The Tribunal only focused on trying key ringleaders. Yet, by 1996, more than 120,000 Hutu perpetrators had been arrested in Rwanda and put in hugely overcrowded jails. The Rwandan courts were overwhelmed. Nevertheless, as of this writing close to 7000 higher level offenders have been tried in Rwanda's official justice system. A further 60,000 accused have been sent back into their communities to be tried by local village courts called Gacaca, set up in 2001 and closed in 2012. The Gacaca operated somewhat like truth and reconciliation hearings where low level genocidaires testified and confessed (or not) in front of the entire community and where survivors came to tell their stories and register accusations. Thousands (12,100) of these local courts eventually tried or reviewed more than one million cases, with a conviction rate of about 65%. Those found guilty of lesser offenses, of aiding and abetting but not committing multiple murders, were sentenced to community service.
In addition to the International Tribunal, the Rwandan national courts, and the Gacaca, some perpetrators have been tried in national courts in other countries whence they fled. Countries who have tried genocidaires, sometimes not for genocide but for immigration violation, include Canada, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States. Several of these accused have been women, including the nuns of the Sovu Monastery in Butare, Rwanda, tried and convicted in Belgium, and whose case is discussed below.
Some observers estimate that there were more than a million perpetrators and, not surprisingly, there has been a steady flow of research on what can motivate so many persons to kill in such violent ways. This research usually examines Rwanda in the context of world-wide atrocities such as the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, and even the Holocaust. It focuses on the conditioning of the populace in the years leading up to mass-killings in which a climate of racial hatred, fear, and impunity is deliberately fostered, usually manipulated by extremist members of a government and intelligentsia. The Rwanda Genocide is positioned in this analytical framework and the remainder of this paper will focus on analyzing the role of women leaders in this context.
Possible Motivations of Female Perpetrators
Research on women in the genocide is scarcer, than general analysis of the killings, though not non-existent, and what has been written has focused primarily on women victims whose survival stories are tragic and overwhelming. Their testimonies reinforce the shocking fact that killers and victims frequently were neighbors, but tell us little of the motivation of the killers. Scholars examining the general planning and propaganda climate preceding the genocide have documented a strong vein of gendered as well as ethnicized exhortation. Thus, while ethnic Tutsi were denounced both before and during the genocide as inyenzi – cockroaches – and filth, snakes and cannibals, Tutsi women were often especially singled out as vixens, temptresses and spies who had to be eliminated. The perception that Tutsi women were superior, more desirable, more beautiful than Hutu women, and also more haughty was a generalized cliché of pre-genocide Rwanda. For example, the propaganda newspaper Kangura, a major source of anti-Tutsi diatribes in pre-genocide Rwanda published the Hutu Ten Commandments in December 1990 which had as its first commandment:
1. Every Hutu should know that a Tutsi woman, whoever she is, works for the interest of her Tutsi ethnic group. As a result, we shall consider a traitor and Hutu who:
- Marries a Tutsi woman
- Befriends a Tutsi woman
- Employs a Tutsi woman as a secretary or a concubine
Commandment 3 read:
3. Hutu women, be vigilant and try to bring your husbands, brother and sons back to reason.
And Commandment 7 read:
7. The Rwandan Armed Forces should be exclusively Hutu. The experience of the October 1990 was has taught us a lesson. No member of the military shall marry a Tutsi 
Furthermore, Kangura and other extreme Hutu publications made quite frequent use of pornographic cartoons which regularly depicted Tutsi women as traitorous seducers, even of General Dallaire, the Canadian head of the UN peace-keepers in Kigali, as Figure 1 below demonstrates:
Figure 1: General Dallaire being seduced by Tutsi women:
Kinyarwanda: “General Dallaire n’ingaboze baguyemu mutego w’ibizungerezi.”
English: “General Dallaire and his army have fallen into the trap of the femmes fatales.”
Thus, in the lead up to the genocide, Hutu were already encouraged to think of Tutsi women as well as men as the enemy and as targets for murder, with the added twist that Hutu women were encouraged to fear and hate Tutsi women. While this explains some of the excessive male perpetrated sexual violence, sadism, and mutilation of Tutsi women that characterized the genocide, and the episodic participation of women in this sexual violence, I do not think it sufficient to explain the frequent enthusiastic wide-spread participation of Hutu women, and the leadership role some of them took, in the general killings.
Let us reiterate that in Rwandan society women were meant to be submissive to men and their place was in the home farming, cooking, house-keeping and child-rearing. Women were not even expected to be in the same room when men sat and talked about serious matters. Of course, as in all societies there were exceptions: In the 1890s, a famous Rwandan queen mother Kanjogera engineered a palace coup, organized the murder of the legitimate heir to the throne and his supporters, and then installed her own son as king in his place. In the 1990s, the Hutu wife of authoritarian President Habyarimana was widely considered to have more “backbone” than her husband, was sometimes known as ‘Kanjogera,' and, although she fled to France three days after the genocide began, is viewed to this day as a major force behind planning the genocide. Women’s roles were changing by the 1990s and many Rwandan women had received higher education and broken out of traditional occupational roles. There were nurses and teachers, nuns, even policewomen; some were medical doctors, several were parliamentarians, and the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Women and Family Affairs were both women. Most significant was the Prime Minister of the transitional government from 1993-1994, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a moderate Hutu woman who tried desperately to oversee a smooth peaceful transition to the power-sharing government agreed to in the Arusha Accords, and eventually elections. The genocide propaganda in those years never ceased to portray her in cartoons as a whore, literally naked in bed with other moderate politicians. She was savagely murdered and sexually mutilated within hours of the beginning of the genocide on the night of April 6, 1994. The genocide scholar Adam Jones even suggests that the growing changes and tensions in gender relations in the 1990s, as women availed themselves more choice and position in society “may help to account not only for the lifting of “taboos” against the mass murder of women, but for Hutu women's conscription and (frequently) ready participation in the slaughter – a reflection in its macabre way, of women's greater independent agency in the Rwandan social equation. The added element of Hutu women’s ‘subordination’ to Tutsi women was doubtless a powerful motivation for the atrocities these Hutu women would inflict on other women.”
Examples in this paper of perpetrators of violence will be drawn primarily from women who were leaders and in a position of authority at the time of the genocide, and who thus had responsibility as superiors for the massacre, assault, rape, and killing of thousands of people targeted for no other reason than that they were of the Tutsi ethnic group. Sources presented here are primarily eye-witness statements and testimony given in the trials of the ICTR, and survivor interviews taken by human rights organizations. ICTR trial records also include judgment summaries of testimony, and statements given in the Rwanda Courts system, Gacaca hearings, and other national courts.
Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, Minster of Family Affairs and Women’s Development
Let us begin with Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, a former social worker, and the Minister of Family Affairs and Women's Development in the government of Rwanda during the genocide. After the genocide she fled to DRC and then to Kenya where she was arrested in 1997. She was tried at the ICTR and convicted on June 23, 2011 of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination as a crime against humanity, rape as a crime against humanity, persecution as a crime against humanity, violence to life as a war crime, and outrages upon personal dignity as a war crime. She received a life sentence. Pauline was from the province of Butare, location of the National University of Rwanda, the only province of Rwanda with a Tutsi Prefet (governor), and a significant number of mixed Hutu-Tutsi marriages. The genocide killings had been underway for almost two weeks in Kigali and the rest of Rwanda but with no killings yet taking place in Butare when, on April 19, Pauline returned with the President Sindikubwabo and Prime Minister Jean Kambanda of the interim government to call upon the population of Butare to begin “the work” of killing Tutsi. The local Prefet, who had been trying to maintain calm in his province, was dismissed and killed shortly thereafter. The massacres then proceeded according to plan; the President and Prime Minister departed, while Pauline stayed on in her home town and supervised much of the genocide killings there:
Apart from indoctrinating [the people] Pauline took care of the logistics for the militiamen who came in from Kigalito set fire on Butare. She distributed grenades and supplied the petrol for the burning down of houses in the rural areas and distributed machete and other useful equipment to the assassins.
On April 24 Tutsi were ordered to assemble in the local stadium where they were promised food and shelter, but instead Pauline organized the Interahamwe under the leadership of her son, Shalome, surrounded the stadium and massacred the thousands inside, mostly hacked to death with machetes. The court found Pauline guilty of ordering militiamen to rape Tutsi women before they killed them and she herself aided and abetted these rapes. She also ordered her men to take gasoline from her own car to burn alive a group of raped women, from which one woman witness survived, later to testify. Pauline continued to supervise the progress of the genocide for the next two months, until the RPF army reached and liberated Butare. During those months she set up a road-block in front of her house where any person caught who looked Tutsi, or tried to use a false identity card, was killed. As elsewhere in Rwanda, Tutsis took refuge in churches, schools, hospitals, swamps, and on top of hills, where they were nevertheless attacked and killed by thousands. Some Tutsi took refuge in the local government office in Butare town and here at first they found some shelter. But Pauline, angry that they were protected there, visited the prefecture office regularly, ordering as many as would fit into a pick-up truck each night to be taken away, raped, tortured, and killed. One witness, a Tutsi woman who had survived into mid-May because “she didn’t look Tutsi” recounted:
During my brief stay at the prefecture [offices] I saw Nyiramasuhuko take out Tutsis to kill many times. She said we weren't human beings. On the contrary she said we were dirt....She came with a group of high ranking Interahamwe militiamen. She stayed beside the van and always gave them orders.
Pauline would later deny that she had anything to do with killings, insisting to a BBC reporter that “It was the Tutsi who massacred the Hutus” and appealing to traditional gender assumptions: “I am ready to talk to the person who says I could have killed. I cannot even kill a chicken. If there is a person who says that a woman, a mother, killed then I’ll confront that person…” But the evidence presented at her trial said otherwise. Regarding the nightly abduction, rape and murder of refugees from the prefecture office, the judges convicting Pauline noted that the evidence was “among the worst encountered by this Chamber; it paints a clear picture of unfathomable depravity and sadism.”
Witnesses testified that she ordered the Interahamwe and public through a megaphone, that “it was necessary to kill the Inyenzi [including] foetus or old person.” In mid- June, even as the RPF were closing in on Butare, Pauline still continued her supervisions of the killings. Another witness testified:
In the night of the same day [in mid-June] the famous Pauline Nyiramasuhuko accompanied by her Interahamwe, including her son Chalome, arrived. The van stopped and right there, in full view was Nyiramasuhuko in black uniform. . . . I saw it all. She stayed by the van and ordered the militiamen to 'hurry up'. She said it in a loud voice. That’s when the militiamen started the selection. They took. . . Mbasha's wife who [said] 'Have pity have pity on my children' and I clearly remember Nyiramasuhuko saying ‘Kill her quickly.' ...There was also another Tutsi girl called Triphine. When the interahamwe went to take her she cried out in a loud voice, 'save me save me.' Nyiramasuhuko said 'Don't take long, slit her throat.'
Agnes Ntamabyariro, Minister of Justice
Agnes Ntamabyariro was a highly educated lawyer and Minister of Justice in the Rwanda government, before and during the genocide. She at one time directed an NGO that raised micro-finance loans for poor Rwandan women, though Jacqueline Novogratz, who worked with her at the time suspected her of embezzling funds. She came from the prefecture of Kibuye and during the genocide organized the militia there, distributed weapons, drew up lists of Tutsi to be killed, and gave incendiary speeches in order to encourage the killings. As Minister of Justice, she authorized the murder of the Tutsi Prefet of Butare mentioned above. She is said to have been particularly determined in the later weeks of the genocide to have the Tutsi wives of Hutu men exterminated. Witnesses stated that she exhorted with megaphone speeches to the peoples of her area to work harder at killing, criticizing them for “contenting themselves with killing only a few old women” and telling them that “When you begin extermination, nothing, no one must be forgiven.” And this was in May 1994, after about a quarter million Tutsi had already been killed in the province! Her driver, Gervais Ngendahayo, testified at her trial that after inspecting Tutsi corpses at the roadblocks, she distributed rewards to the killers. Agnes was eventually arrested in Zambia where she had fled. She was tried in Kigali, the only member of the Genocide government to be tried in Rwanda, the rest being tried in Arusha. In 2009 she was given a life sentence.
Valerie Bemeriki, RTLM journalist
Valerie Bemeriki was an extremist journalist before the genocide, writing for the Interahamwe's newspaper, and in 1993 began working for the Hutu-power radio station RTLM. She had a lively radio voice and was listened to by Hutu and Tutsi alike – the former to hear information about the progress of the genocide, and lists read every day by her of prominent Tutsi and their hiding locations in Kigali so as better to find and kill them. Tutsi also listened to hear if their name was read on the radio so as to know if they were on the daily death list and hence to shift their hiding place. At the time of her arrest in June 1999 in the refugee camps of fleeing Hutu, she admitted she was guilty of incitement to genocide and begged forgiveness of citizens of Rwanda. But she recanted in the Rwandan courts. She claimed that listeners must have “misunderstood my enthusiasm . . . I was only doing my job as a journalist.... If we asked people to get rid of cockroaches, we did not mean they should kill people.”  But the transcripts of RTLM in the archives of the ICTR tell a different story. They include Bemeriki laughing uproariously after reporting the “loss,” that is, murder, of Prime Minister Uwingiliyamana the night of the plane crash; also exhorting listeners “Do not kill those cockroaches with a bullet – cut them to pieces with a machete. In May 1994 she even proclaimed to listeners that the Virgin Mary, said to appear from time to time in Kibeho Church in Butare, had appeared to her, Valerie, and told her that Tutsi were “paying for their part in the killing of Habyarimana.” The Virgin had declared that “we [Hutu] will have the victory.” In December 2009 Bemeriki was given a life sentence by a Gacaca court.
Sister Gertrude Mukangango and Sister Julienne Kizito of the Sovu Monastery
Many survivors speak with gratitude of nuns and priests who hid them, fed them, treated their wounds, sheltered orphaned children, and helped many to escape. But many other priests and several nuns participated in the genocide, facilitating even the betrayal and killing of fellow clergy. Both the archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church initially publicly advocated citizen support of the policies of the genocide government. And the priest of Nyange, Athanase Seromba, authorized a bulldozer to demolish his own church, packed with Tutsi from his own parish, thus killing them inside, assuring his Hutu parishioners not to worry about the loss of the building because he would “rebuild the church in three days.”
Similarly, in the convent of the monastery and health center of Sovu, in Butare, Mother Superior Gertrude Mukangango and Sister Julienne Kizito decided that they did not wish to shelter Tutsi. But they went farther than this. “The accusations against [Gertrude and Julienne] are detailed, compelling and come from many different survivors and direct witnesses – men and women, Tutsi as well as Hutu.” In late April, despite the locked gates of the monastery, more than 7,000 Tutsi refugees forced their way into the large grounds for sanctuary from the on-going genocidal killings. Between April 21 and 24 they were attacked by “ all the communal policemen, retired soldiers, trained interahamwe, all of them well armed and accompanied by [ordinary] men and women with traditional weapons. . . .[a] jumble of killers.” Thousands were killed. A Hutu woman, Veneranda, married to a Tutsi man, whose five children were thus considered Tutsi, describes how she had not hidden with them on the grounds, but came to the convent to bring them food and then found herself witness to the assault:
At the beginning of the massacre, I was neither among the killers nor among the victims. I just watched. I saw Sister Kizito with 7 liter jerry cans full of petrol. She distributed them to the [interahamwe]. Since the refugees were not all in the courtyard, but [some] had locked themselves inside [a garage], they poured the petrol on the [garage] and set it alight. Sister Kizito was still there [watching] and she gave several jerry cans of petrol. My children were killed that day. My two daughters had taken refuge in the garage... I left the place in a state of madness. I wanted to kill myself.”
The massacre continued for three days and the head of the local militia, Emmanuel Rekaraho, later confessed to his part and was convicted and jailed in Rwanda. “I had good relations with the sisters. We were working as one.” He testified that “Those two nuns collaborated with us in everything we did. They shared our hatred for the Tutsi. I did not do anything without first discussing it with Kisito and Gertrude. They handed over innocent people without being threatened in any way and with[out] us having to use force.” 
After the massacre there were still about 30 Tutsi parents and siblings of Tutsi sisters hiding in the convent. Sister Gertrude became angry that they were still around, declaring that they were “dirt” and sullying a sacred place. A worker at the monastery recounted that “on the morning of 6 May, in church after the prayers of Laudes, Gertrude said this publicly: ‘Before God all-powerful I ask all the Sisters who have refugees in this establishment to put them out quickly so that the interahamwe don’t destroy this convent.” A young novice, Anunciata Mukagasana, described what followed: “The monastery was very big and it had many hiding places, but Sister [Julienne] Kisito and the mother superior they were never merciful at all. They [even] used ladders to check if people were hiding on the roofs.” Thus found, another young novice, Regine Niyonsaba, followed her mother and two younger sisters down a footpath to a banana grove where a police officer, for 7000 Rwandan francs, agreed to shoot them rather than machete them. They were killed in front of her, though as a novice, she herself was spared. She returned to her room but as she later recounted, on that day “I lost hope in the spiritual life. I lost faith in my life as a nun.”
When the RPF took over Butare the nuns of Sovu were evacuated to Belgiumand sheltered by the Catholic Church. But the accusations of the surviving sisters became so public that Sister Gertrude and Sister Kisito were arrested, tried, and convicted of homicide and war crimes in a Belgian court in 2004. In their defense they claimed they were terrified bystanders with “no control over the situation.” They were sentenced to 15 and 12 years respectively.
The examples given here so far are high profile women, leaders, planners, and enablers, the people who, like many male ringleaders of the genocide, never actually took up a machete and killed, who “kept their fingernails clean.” There were of course other less high profile female perpetrators. There was Rose Karushara “The Butcher of Kimisagara,” a local leader in the ruling political party in Kigali. Everyone described her as a huge powerful woman who could beat up men before she would order them killed in front of her house. She held meetings with interahamwe, distributed arms, and visited roadblocks where she decided who would be killed and who spared. “At least five thousand people were killed, all thrown into the Nyabarongo river under orders from Karushara. . . as paper is thrown into the dustbin.”  There was Zainabu Mukundufite who in the indictment of her husband is said to have “headed a female group of Interahamwe....This group was notorious for sexually torturing Tutsi women before killing them. The group forced iron rods into the genitals of the Tutsi women. They also asked Tutsi women to produce milk from their bodies if they were Tutsi. . . Those Tutsi women were then tortured to death.”
There was Dr. Jeanne-Marie Nduwamariya, a doctor at Groupe Scolaire Hospital of Butare who held regular meetings at her home to draw up lists and identify Tutsi to be killed. She drove around town with a gun at her side, stopping at roadblocks to check names off lists of Tutsi who were to be killed, stating publicly that all Tutsi women who knew how to drive had to be exterminated, and planning a party for July 1 by when all Tutsi should have been killed. “You could tell that she was proud of the fact that the Tutsi were being killed.” She had a particular vendetta for a an educated young female neighbor, Chantal, for whose death Dr. Nduwamariya was reported to have offered as much as 100,000 francs bounty. Dr. Nduwamariya fled Rwanda in the wake of the RPF victory. She was tried in absentia in Gacaca courts, found guilty, and given a life sentence on appeal in 2009. And there was Virginie Mukankusi, found guilty of “psychologically” torturing Tutsi before killing them in Kigali, and who was the only woman among 24 people publicly executed in Rwanda in 1998. There was Athanasie Mukabatana, a teacher at the Nursing School in Kaduha, who went to the hospital “enthusiastically” with the Interahamwe: As a witness recounted, “You [could] see the enthusiasm this girl had for finishing off these sick Tutsis. She had a machete and went into the hospital with the other assassins. She made all the sick Tutsis go out, often dragging them out. And once outside she killed them with a strike from the machete. She made several trips and all the dead were on the hospital grass.” And then there were just neighbors like the one seen by a witness trapped in the burning garage at the Sovu monastery who, looking out through bullet holes in the wall, saw the faces of the attackers: “What shocked me was that there were certain girls taking part in the attack, like Athanie, daughter of Thaddee, who held a masu in her hand. The girl now sings in the choir at the Catholic church of Rugango.”
Beyond these examples, we know that at the grassroots, groups of women ululated men into action at the massacres and sang their praises for their successes at killing, looted the stacks of corpses, often finished off the dying, and supplied beer and food to the Interahamwe at the roadblocks and massacre sights. They identified Tutsi neighbors for the Interahamwe to kill, and shouted out hiding Tutsi children in the sugar cane fields. In fact the Holocaust scholar Adam Jones maintains that “the extensive role of women in perpetrating the Rwandan genocide is apparently without parallel in recorded history.”
Analysis and Conclusion
What then should we make of women perpetrators of the genocide? Does the phenomenon require a different analysis beyond conventional efforts to account for the horror of genocide and mass murder, both in Rwandaand around the world? Some defense lawyers and even Rwandan judges tend to insist that it was an aberration for women to have participated in the genocide. Since women and mothers are not expected to do such things, they could not have done such things as women, and therefore are not genuine women but deviants. The female perpetrators are thus depicted as anomalies and monsters, and so placed outside our ability to comprehend human, especially female behavior. This is a dangerous historical/analytical approach when thinking of both male and female perpetrators –though it is sometimes done (with similar obfuscating consequences) in cases of male extremists such as Stalin or Pol Pot. If we demonize women perpetrators, regarding them as aberrant and unnatural, then we separate them, and fail to confront the motives and context of their actions, denying or excusing them, and thus we will never achieve justice for victims or deter future mass killings.
Similarly some defense lawyers, and perpetrators themselves, insist that women simply could not do such awful things and therefore they did not do these things: the perpetrators have been falsely accused, badly misunderstood, or were powerless to say no. As Sara Brown, observer of the U.S. genocide/deportation trial of Beatrice Munyenyezi (daughter-in-law of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko) notes, “The woman –as-mother narrative is, at its core, an essentialist belief that a woman who is also a mother cannot perpetrate crimes during genocide because she is just that -- a woman and a mother.. . . [Munyenyezi’s] defense did not provide any other reasons.” Carrie Sperling has masterfully demonstrated how news accounts feed this discourse as they report on the dress, hairstyle and “nice aunt” appearance of female perpetrators, particularly in the case of Nyiramasuhuko, who for example was described as wearing to court a “green flowery dress one day, a pressed cream-colored skirt and blouse set the next.” Even some Rwandan NGO women organizations maintain that “Women have a different nature to men. They are not violent...If there had been more women in power, the genocide would not have taken place.” It is an essentialist argument also made by some western feminist theorists who posit “that men are inherently more warlike than women...the wars we have suffered are the result of male-dominated political and military systems.”
This essentialism simply is not supported by the witness testimony, survivor accounts, and mounting judicial evidence that there were women with authority in Rwanda who abused power as readily as men. Jacqueline Novogratz worked with Agnes Ntamabyariro in women's development before the genocide, and interviewed her in prison after the genocide. Distressed by this former Minister of Justice's total lack of remorse and openly expressed enduring ethnic hatred, Novogratz commented:
Many individuals believe that if women ruled the world we'd finally have a chance at peace. While that may be true, Agnes stood as a reminder that power corrupts on an equal-opportunity basis.
Novogratz believed that Agnes had been led astray by a desire for power: “Agnes loved the trappings of power and when all was said and done she’d traded integrity and whatever good she’d built.” On the other hand, Hogg observed that many of the women she interviewed in prison insisted that they had no power to say no: “I am really surprised they put me in the first category [of criminal charges], I am a woman. . . I had no power.” Were the women in the examples given in this paper powerless to say no to men? Such an argument is not unlike that of male perpetrators who protest in their trials that they were coerced or forced against their better judgment to participate in the killings. When applied to women it not only discounts their intelligence and skills, but provides a mechanism for dissociating women from the personal responsibility of choice and decision making. Not all Hutu women participated in the violence of the genocide, nor did all men. All were surrounded by pressures and years of socializing propaganda that dehumanized Tutsi and anyone who befriended them, yet many chose not to succumb to it, and not to participate in the genocide, although too many of those were not “left to tell the story.” The moderate Hutu prime minister Agathe Uwingiliamana who heroically lost her life in the cause of peace and toleration is the most striking but hardly unique example.
Nevertheless, disturbingly, but ultimately not surprisingly, many women, both humble and powerful, deliberately chose to embrace the genocidal ideology of hate and violence, and even chose to participate with enthusiasm and dedication. Excusing or exoticizing, even sensationalizing women's genocidal crimes on the grounds that they are outside our, or Rwandan, gender norms of female behavior diverts us from the pursuit of explaining, understanding, and preventing future genocidal actions. A binarized gender-based analysis of female perpetrators reinforces and perpetuates a patriarchal myth that women by their very nature are implausible agents of atrocities. Instead the evidence is plentiful that when women are provided an atmosphere of positive incentives and impunity similar to those of men, as Jones notes, “their degree of participation in genocide and the violence and cruelty they exhibit runs closely parallel to their male counterparts” and for similar motives. 
In his recent book Becoming Evil, James Waller examines the coercive social and government atmosphere surrounding many historical mass killings in a way which initially convinces you that under some fairly common historical conditions and circumstances, picking up a machete or gun and killing your neighbor's wife and children is a rational act of which we are all capable. Alison Des Forges, close as she was to the Rwandan genocide, told a New York Times reporter that “This [genocidal] behavior lies just under the surface of any of us.” But Waller warns against blanket reductionism and argues that we cannot and should not displace responsibility from the person to the situation. People of Rwanda made a deliberate choice to participate, or not, in genocide. Perpetrators, male and female, leader and follower, willfully failed to exercise their moral judgment. Women in the examples given in this paper deliberately lead bystanders to engage in inconceivable acts, and as such they bear full moral and legal responsibility for the atrocities they committed, directed, and assisted. And let us not forget: there were many people, men and women, Hutu and Tutsi, in Rwanda in 1994 who did not succumb to pressure or circumstance, who did not think that killing their neighbor “seemed like the right thing to do at the time.” Many of those people, of course paid, for that decision with their lives. Now we must continue to confront ourselves and society with an insistence of individual – and public – responsibility. It is not easy. But women are not exempt from the corrupting consequences of power. A binarization of our historical research and judicial investigations will obscure this. We must acknowledge that male and female are equally capable of acts of genocide, and we must be alert to it, expose it, and condemn it regardless of gender.
 See especially African Rights, Rwanda Not So Innocent: When Women Become Killers (London: 1995), but also African Rights, Rwanda: Death Despair and Defiance (London: Rev. ed. 1995), Human Rights Watch, Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath (New York, 1996), and Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda (HRW New York, 1999).
 See Human Rights Watch, Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath, (Human Rights Watch, New York, 1996) pp. 19-23 and Jacqueline Novogratz, The Blue Sweater (Rodale, 2010) p. 13.
 The UN estimates 800,000 killed. Shortly after the genocide Human Rights Watch estimated “more than 500,000”. The Rwanda Government today estimates 1,071,000. See www.survivors-fund.org.uk/resources/rwandan-history/statistics [last accessed 10 January 2013].
 Philip Gourevitch We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families (Picador 1998) is perhaps the most accessible general description of the Rwanda genocide. His oft cited mention (p. 18) of the cutting of victims Achilles tendon so they could not escape their attacker’s return the next day at Nyarubuye was later confirmed by the forensic evidence excavated at Kibuye by UN investigators. See Clea Koff, the Bone Woman (New Yor, 2004) p. 35-36 and 103.
 See for example discussion of this with Alison Des Forges and persons familiar with Pauline Nyiramasuhuko in Peter Landesman, “A Woman’s Work,” New York Times (September 15, 2002) [ last accessed electronically 10 January 2013]: www.nytimes.com/2002/09/15/magazine/a-woman-s-work.html
 See Linda Melvern, A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide, (Zed books, 2000) pp.75-80; Des Forges, Leave None to Tell, p. 92, and African Rights, Rwanda: Death Despair and Defiance, (London, Rev. ed. 1995) pp. 19-20.
Cyriaque Sebera, statement to Dele Olojede, “A People’s Court, Part 3” Newsday (4 May 2004) [last accessed electronically 10 January 2013]: http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/6921]
 Known as the Trevidic Report, summarized contents and implications of it can be read at Christophe Chatelot, “Paul Kagame cleared of part in 1994 downing of president’s plane,” Guardian Weekly (17 January 2012): www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/17/new-evidence-rwanda-inquiry-kagame [electronic version last accessed 10 January 2013]
 Prosecutor v. Théoneste Bagosora, Gratien Kabiligi, Aloys Ntabakuze, Anatole Nsengiyumva: “Judgment and Sentence,” International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR-96-7 (18 December 2008): pp. 50-53 examines the evidence for this notorious statement. The chamber concluded that the Prosecution did not prove beyond all reasonable doubt that Bagosora made this statement as attributed because the witness remained confused about dates, but the evidence that Bagosora worked to undermine the Arusha accords is overwhelming.
 Phil Clark, The Gacaca Courts, Post-Genocide Justice and Reconciliation in Rwanda (Cambridge: 2010) pp. 3, 55-56, and 175; “Struggling to Survive: Barriers to Justice for Rape Victims in Rwanda,” Human Rights Watch (September 2004) 16, 10, pp. 13-17 http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/rwanda0904/rwanda0904.pdf [last accessed 10 January 2013]; Dele Olojede, “A People’s Court” Newsday May 4, 2004 [last accessed electronically]: www.pulitzer.org/archives/6921; and “Rwanda closes Gacaca genocide courts,” AlJazeera (19 June 2012) [electronic version last accessed 10 January 2013]: www.aljazeera.com/news/Africa/2012/06/201261951733409260.html
 The Hutu Ten Commandments are easily accessible on the internet, including Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hutu_Ten_Commandments and http://www.rwandafile.com/Kangura/k06a.html
They were originally published in French in Kangura December 1990.
 The cartoon was published in Kangura, February 1994, No. 56, p. 15. Christopher Taylor’s chapter 4, “The Dialectics of Hate and Desire,” in his Sacrifice as Terror: The Rwandan Genocide of 1994 (Berg, Oxford: 1999) is an excellent analysis of this phenomenon, as well as Taylor, “A Gendered Genocide.” See also J.P. Chretien, Rwanda: Les Medias du Genocide (Paris: Karthala, 1995).
Nicole Hogg, “Women’s participation in the Rwandan genocide: mothers or monsters?” in International Review of the Red Cross (March 2010) p. 90 – 91. Because she remained in France throughout the genocide and has never been tried, there is little testimonial evidence regarding the actual role she played. Agathe currently still lives in France where extradition procedures have been on-going for years. She has been arrested and released several times, though most recently a lower an appeals court has ordered that she be given permanent residence status. See James Karuhanga, The New Times, Kigali, 16 December 2012.
 “Agnes Ntamabyariro” Trial Watch [last accessed 9 January 2013]: http://www.trial-ch.org/en/resources/trial-watch/trial-watch/profiles/profile/861/action/show/controller/Profile/tab/fact.html
 “Former Rwandan justice minster sentenced to life imprisonment,” Hirondelle, Kigali, 20.01.09 [last accessed electronically10 January 2013] http://www.hirondellenews.org/ictr-rwanda/409-rwanda-justice/22725-en-en-200109-rwandajustice-genocide-former-rwandan-justice-minister-sentenced-to-life-imprisonment1177611776
“World: Africa ‘Hate radio’ journalist confesses,” BBC News, 22 June 1999 [last accessed electronically10 January 2013]: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/375187.stm; Dele Olojede, “When Words Could Kill,” Newsday, 4 May 2004 [last accessed electronically 9 January 2013]: http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/6922;
 “Rwanda Jails Journalist Valerie Bemeriki for Genocide,” BBC News (14 December 2009) [last accessed electronically 10 January 2013]: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8412014.stm
 DesForges, Leave None to Tell, p. 189; Chretien, Les Medias, p. 329; Dina Temple-Raston, Justice on the Grass: Three Rwandan Journalists, Their Trial for War Crimes (New York: Free Press 2005) p. 131.
 Prosecutor v. Athanase Seromba, “Judgment,” International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR-2—1-66-I (December 2006) pp. 60-72; and African Rights, “Information bulletin No. 2 of African Rights (P-5)” p. 15.
 Dele Olojede, “Testing Their Faith (part two), Newsday, May 3, 2004 [last accessed 10 January 2013]: www.pulitzer.org/archives/6919; Jessica Harrah, “Memorandum for the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICTR: Trial of ‘the Butare Four’ in Belgium,” Case Western Reserve School of Law International War Crimes Project (Spring 2003) p. 12, fn. 44.
 Chantal Mukazayire, interviewed Tumba, Butare, 29 July 1995, Seraphine Nyiragwize, interviewed Tumba, Butare 28 July 1995, Nsazurwimo, interviewed Tumba, Butare, 28 July 1995, and Marie Harerimana, Interviewed Butare, 22 July 1995, Rwanda not so innocent, pp. 123-127.
 “Rwanda/Gacaca – Harsher Sentence on Appeal for Woman Doctor,” Hirondelle 30 October 2009: http://www.hirondellenews.org/ictr-rwanda/411-rwanda-gacaca/23715-en-en-301009-rwandagacaca-harsher-sentence-on-appeal-for-woman-doctor-1276612766 [last accessed January 10, 2013].
 James McKinley Jr., “As Crowds Vent Their Rage, Rwanda Publicly Executes 22,” New York Times (25 April 1998), page A1. These were the only judicial death penalties ever carried out by the post-Genocide government which shortly thereafter suspended and then abolished the death penalty in 2007.
 Sara E. Brown, “But She Was Pregnant: The Woman-and-Mother Narrative in Genocide,” Armenian Weekly (posted March 2, 2012) www.armenianweekly.com/2012/03/02/woman-and-mother-narrative/
 Carrie Sperling, “Mother of Atrocities: Pauline Nyiramasuhuko’s Role in the Rwandan Genocide,” Fordham Urban Law Journal (2006) 33, pp. 637 and 651. The Judgment in the Butare case (Prosecutor vs. Nyiramasuhuko et.al. Judgment, ICTR-98-42-T, 24 June 2011) is considered to be notable for its even handed treatment of Nyiramasuhuko alongside her male co-defendants: see Mark Drumbi, “’She Makes me Ashamed to Be a Woman’: The Genocide Conviction of Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, 2011,” Michigan Journal of International Law (2013).
Peter Landesman, “A Woman’s Work,” New York Times Magazine (September 15, 2002) p. 16 of 17, [last accessed January 2013] www.nytimes.com/2002/09/15magazine/a=woman-s-work