During the 1970s, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko visited Israel for several months for professional training. During her stay, she gave birth to her only son. Being inspired by the visit, she gave him the middle name Shalom ("peace").
The choice got an ironic and chilling meaning over the weekend, after Nyiramasuhuko became the first woman in the world to be convicted of genocide.
As part of her capacity as the family affairs and women's development minister in Rwanda, Nyiramasuhuko encouraged her son Arsene Shalom Ntahobali to orchestrate the mass rape and murder of Tutsi woman and girls.
"During the trial, she looked calm and under control," said Attorney Sigall Horovitz of Nyiramasuhuko's appearance at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Tanzania.
Horowitz, who worked as a legal consul to the president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), added that Nyiramasuhuko always "dressed well and had stylish hairdos."
'Looks like a nice aunt'Merav Bat-Gil, who worked as an intern at the court's communications department, also remembers the killer's banal look. "Her case particularly fascinated me because I thought a woman cannot commit such grave acts, especially against other woman.
"I was also drawn by her relationship with her son, who is approximately my age, whom she educated to believe that rape is legitimate and encouraged him to carry it out," Bat-Gil added.
"She was always quiet during hearings, even a little out of touch. What's most shocking to me is that this woman looked like a nice aunt or a retired schoolteacher," she said.
'Educated her son to believe rape is legitimate' (Photo: AP)
Nyiramasuhuko, 65, was sentenced along with her son to life in prison for her part in the atrocities that took place in the Rwandan city of Butare in April 1994.
She started her path as a social worker and completed a law degree at the age of 44. During her school years, she befriended the wife of future president Juvenal Habyarimana, whose assassination triggered the massacre in Rwanda.
When the premeditated killings began, Nyiramasuhuko called the Interahamwe militias from the capital city of Kigali to come to her hometown and carry out the massacre of the Tutsi population.
She then instructed her son and the Hutu soldiers to rape and kill women and girls. "The evidence paints a clear picture of unfathomable depravity and sadism," presiding Judge William Sekule said during the trial.
'I couldn't kill a chicken'
After the genocide ended, Nyiramasuhuko escaped to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. During her 1995 stay at a refugee camp, she denied any involvement in the killing, telling a BBC reporter: "I couldn't even kill a chicken. If there is a person who says that a woman, a mother, could have killed, I'll tell you truly then I am ready to confront that person."
Former US President Bill Clinton in Rwanda (Photo: Getty Images)
Three years later, she was arrested in Kenya and later transferred to the ICTR.
Nyiramasuhuko was not the only woman involved in the Rwandan genocide, but is considered to be the highest ranking woman and the only one who was brought to trial at the ICC.
Attorney Horowitz noted that the local Gacaca courts set up in Rwanda have tried many women for different levels of involvement in the mass killings. According to Horowitz, rape trials are held behind closed doors, and therefore it is hard to verify the involvement of women.
Rape as a rewardThe story of a young Tutsi woman named Rose, who survived the massacre, reveals some of the atrocities that were ordered by Nyiramasuhuko.
In a 2002 interview with the New York Times, Rose said that while she sought refuge at a local hospital she saw Hutu soldiers storm the building.
''They said that Pauline had given them permission to go after the Tutsi girls, who were too proud of themselves,'' she recounted.
''She was the minister, so they said they were free to do it,'' Rose said, adding that "Pauline had led the soldiers to see rape as a reward."
The chief commander orchestrating the attack was Pauline's son, then a 24-year-old student, who was known by his middle name – Shalom.
Rose recalled that Shalom repeatedly said he had ''permission'' from his mother to rape Tutsis. He then found her hiding at the maternity ward and raped her.
Shalom promised he would be back to kill her, but Rose managed to escape the hospital and return to her family.
Several days later, a local official came to Rose's home. He told her that all the Tutsis will be exterminated, but one will be left alive as a witness who would "deliver a progress report to God." Rose was "chosen" for the role.
Rose witnessed atrocity after atrocity and said the soldiers were particularly obsessive about hurting women's bodies. They would rape them with spears and burn their pubic hair. One time she witnessed the soldiers spearing a baby while his mother was delivering him.
During these atrocious acts, Rose recalls hearing the soldiers repeatedly say: ''We are doing what was ordered by Pauline Nyiramasuhuko.''
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