Pauline Nyiramasuhuko and son, Arsene Ntahobali, a former militia leader, helped abduct hundreds of ethnic Tutsis who were assaulted, raped and killed in Butare region in the south.
The UN international criminal tribunal for Rwanda today (Friday) found them both found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Nyiramasuhuko is the first woman to be convicted of genocide, said international law researcher Hanna Brollowski.
Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were murdered in the space of 100 days. Some 300,000 of these victims were children.
Backed by the extremist Hutu militia, Nyiramasuhuko and Ntahobali, abducted hundreds of ethnic Tutsis in Butare.
"Many were physically assaulted, raped and taken away to various places in Butare, where they were killed. During the course of these repeated attacks on vulnerable civilians, both Nyiramasuhuko and Ntahobali ordered killings," said Judge William Sekule.
"They also ordered rapes. Ntahobali further committed rapes and Nyiramasuhuko aided and abetted rapes."
Four others were also jailed today including Elie Ndayambaje a former mayor. They were sentenced to between 25 and 35 years jail.
The convictions come 10 years after the UN international criminal tribunal for Rwanda started trials, and 16 years after some of the accused were arrested after the 100-day genocide.
Though she’s the first woman convicted, Nyiramasuhuko is not the only woman to be charged with genocide. A genocide charge against the former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic in 2000 was dropped after a plea bargain that saw her convicted by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal of persecution.
The Rwandan genocide was sparked by the death of nation’s Hutu President Juvenal Habyarimana, when his plane was shot down above Kigali airport on 6 April 1994. Most of the dead were Tutsis - and most of those who perpetrated the violence were Hutus.
Some 95,000 children were orphaned after the violence that followed, according to the United Nations fund for children. And nearly every child in the central east African country witnessed what it describes as ‘unspeakable horror’. Thousands of children were victims of brutality and rape, and thousands of children – some as young as seven – were forced to fight and commit acts of violence against their will.