Mother of Atrocities: Pauline Nyiramasuhuko’s Role in the Rwandan Genocide
28 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2010 Last revised: 5 Mar 2014
Date Written: 2006
As Pauline Nyiramasuhuko stood trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the media seemed more focused on her gender than on the significance of her prosecution for crimes against humanity and genocide. As the first woman brought to trial for her role as a high-level organizer of the Rwandan genocide, Pauline was accused of ordering the rapes and murders of countless women and men. The press remarked on her appearance – that of “school teacher” or someone’s “dear great aunt.” Underneath these remarks was an assumption that women are purer, weaker, more subservient than men and therefore less capable of committing the kind of atrocities for which she stands accused.
Those who view Pauline’s actions during the genocide as somehow inexplicable because of her gender ignore history and engage in the stereotypical thinking that perpetuates the special victimization of women. Women are subjected to especially heinous violence during conflict because of their otherness, their difference from the patriarchy that perpetuates conflict. Women and girls are violated to denigrate the men of another racial or ethnic group, to attack their perceived purity or the purity of their ethnic group, or used as a warrior’s reward. Pauline’s case shatters the myth that women, by their very nature, are incapable of being warriors. Perhaps her case can also shatter the myths about women that have left them especially susceptible to the kinds of violence carried out against women in the Rwandan genocide.
Keywords: crimes against humanity, sexual violence, international tribunals
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