Rwanda - Not So Innocent: When Women Become Killers
 Working for Justice
Africa's problems seen from an African perspective

This is a brief outline of a 255 page book written and published by African Rights in August 1995.

"Not So Innocent: When Women Become Killers" examines women's active participation in the 1994 genocide and murder of political opponents in Rwanda. A substantial number of women, and even girls, were involved in the slaughter in countless ways, inflicting extraordinary cruelty on other women, as well as children and men.

Women of every social category took part in the killings. Government ministers, civil servants, local government administrators, journalists, doctors, nurses, academics, school teachers and inspectors, students, housewives, domestic servants, traders, nuns, the staff of local NGOs and employees of international agencies were involved in the slaughter. But the burden of responsibility lies with the educated women who took part: they used their education, experience and standing in the community to urge less fortunate women to commit genocide.

The extent to which women were involved in the killings is unprecedented anywhere in the world. This is not accidental. The architects of the holocaust sought to implicate as much of the population as possible, including women and even children. They set out to create a nation of extremists bound together by the blood of genocide. If everyone was involved, directly or indirectly, there would be no one to point an accusing finger.

Not all women participated of course, and neither did all men. Many women, as well as many men, refused to kill and took risks to save the people they knew, as well as many they did not know. But thousands of women contributed to the murder of their neighbours, colleagues, friends, and even relatives, as well as strangers.

A number of educated women - including political activists, civil servants, journalists and staff of NG0s - were known as extremists long before April 1994. Others succumbed, like men, because of fear and pressure, or because of the deeply-ingrained habit in Rwanda of obeying official orders. Many were motivated by greed; they believed the promises of politicians, ideologues, journalists and local government officials that those who killed would receive material rewards, particularly that they would be able to inherit the land of Tutsis. They were also encouraged to loot the possessions of people driven out of their homes.

Some women killed with their own hands. On the hilltop of Kabuye, commune Ndora in Butare, a pregnant former gendarme shot at thousands of unarmed people and threw grenades at them. One elderly grandmother in Gitarama is accused of murdering dozens of Tutsi baby boys.

Scores of other women who did not use a gun or a machete nevertheless played a crucial and direct role. Pauline Nylramusuhuko, the minister for women and the family, visited places of refuge in Butare at night-time and supervised the selection of refugees to be executed. Several female councillors in Kigali led the militia who abducted refugees from their hiding places. Lists of people to be eliminated were drawn up and kept in their homes; weapons and ammunition were also distributed in their houses.

Women and girls in their teens joined the crowds that surrounded churches, hospitals and other places of refuge. Wielding machetes and nail-studded clubs, they excelled as "cheerleaders" of the genocide, ululating the killers into action. They entered churches, schools, football stadiums and hospitals to finish off the wounded, hacking women, children and even men to death. Some women have been accused of killing or betraying their own husbands and children. Above all, women and girls stripped the dead - and the barely living - stealing their jewellery, money and clothes.

Other women told the killers where people were hiding, often screaming out their names as the terrified quarry ran for their lives. Some women, including a nun currently hiding in Belgium, provided the petrol with which people were burnt alive. Some women and girls were seen at roadblocks, checking ID cards, a prelude to the slaughter of thousands of people "incriminated" by the fact that their IDs said "Tutsi".

There is no evidence that women were more willing to give refuge to the hunted than men. Some mothers and grandmothers even refused to hide their own Tutsi children and grandchildren. Some women forced out people taken in by their husbands. Many nurses at the CHK Hospital in Kigali and at Butare's University Hospital gave the militia and soldiers lists of patients, colleagues and refugees to be killed.

Some women have been arrested in Rwanda, thousands more are at liberty, confident that their deeds will never be revealed. Many of them are in government service, working as nurses, teachers and civil servants, sometimes in the very institutions where they committed unspeakable crimes. Some have gone to live in regions where they are unknown. Many of the educated women most directly implicated in the killings are living in comfortable exile in Africa and in Europe. Some have been employed by international humanitarian organisations in the camps for refugees in Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi.

Taking advantage of the blanket protective cover of their "innocence", women have returned by the thousands to the regions of Rwanda neighbouring Zaire, Burundi and Tanzania. Leaving their husbands, fathers and brothers in the camps, many of them return to reclaim their property, at the same time providing information for their men folk on their reconnaissance visits. These women cultivate their fields or rent out their property. Some of this money returns to the camps, and a per centage is no doubt used to hold the refugees as hostages and to destabilise Rwanda. Some of these women are killers. Others are themselves guilty of nothing, just as not every male refugee is a killer. But the ease with which the label of "innocence" is exploited makes it easier to use them as a front for men and women who are killers.

Not So Innocent concludes by stressing the importance of documenting, exposing and punishing women's participation in the killings. Failure to do so reinforces the impunity that is enjoyed up to today by the men and women responsible for the death of a million of their fellow citizens.

Director: Rakiya Omaar  
11 Marshalsea Road LONDON SE1 1EP.  
United Kingdom  
Tel.  ++44 171 717 1224  
Fax: ++44 171 717 1240
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