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Former Rwandan minister given life sentence for genocide crimes

Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, the first woman convicted of genocide by an international court, was sentenced to life in prison for her role in the 1994 Rwandan massacre.

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Mrs. Nyiramasuhuko is the first woman to be convicted of genocide charges before an international tribunal, but she is one of a growing string of world leaders, from Yugoslavia to Sudan and Liberia to Kenya, who face trial for human rights crimes committed against their own people.

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Tribunals like this one in Tanzania and the main International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Netherlands, are a court of last resort for countries whose own legal systems have either broken down or do not have the capacity or will to try individuals for gross violations of human rights.

The ICC's focus on nations with broken legal systems has drawn criticism that it targets poorer African countries. After the ICC charged six prominent Kenyans for orchestrating mass violence after the December 2007 elections, Kenya’s parliament voted to request that its government rescind its signature on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, who is charged with genocide and other human rights crimes for his role in the massacres of the Darfur region, has also flouted an ICC arrest warrant and urged fellow African nations to rescind the Rome Statute that established the international court. Kenya is among 114 nations that have signed the Rome Statute. Forty-four, including the US and Sudan, have not.

Ramtane Lamamra, an African Union official in charge of peace and security issues, accused ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo of applying “a double standard in pursuing cases against some leaders while ignoring others,” such as the US military’s activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the US military’s prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

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