UN convicts Rwandan priest of genocide

By on February 1, 2007

Nairobi
The United Nations war-crimes court for Rwanda has convicted a Roman Catholic priest of genocide and sentenced him to 15 years for his role in the 1994 mass killings in the central African country.  

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) found Rev. Athanase Seromba guilty on two of four counts he faced in connection with the genocide which afflicted the country and in which about 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis and some Hutus, died. He was the first Catholic priest to have been tried in connection with the genocide and was sentenced to a single term of 15 years in prison by a three-member panel.

Earlier, the tribunal released Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, an 82-year-old former senior pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church who was serving a 10-year prison sentence meted out in 2003 for his role in the genocide.  Mr. Seromba was a Catholic priest at Nyange parish in Kivumu Commune and is an ethnic Hutu. He pleaded not guilty to all charges. The priest was acquitted on lesser counts of complicity to commit genocide and incitement to commit genocide.  

The charges centred on the destruction of his church where about 2,000 ethnic Tutsis had sought shelter in April 1994. He was accused of ordering the destruction of the church by bulldozers, which led to the deaths of all inside, and of sending in Hutu militia members to kill Tutsis who tried to flee.  

Mr. Seromba had claimed he was simply a parish priest and powerless to stop the killing, but prosecutors had called for the maximum sentence of life in prison for the cleric.  

Meanwhile, after his release on Dec. 6 former pastor Mr. Ntakirutimana said: “I have no idea where to go.” The Rwanda government had told the pastor he was free to return to his country.   

Mr. Ntakirutimana spent nearly three years at the prison during his sentencing, but the tribunal ruled an early remission for the time as he had already served on remand in the United States and in Arusha, Tanzania after being arrested in 1996 in Texas. He became the first ICTR convict to be set free, and left the prison in poor health. His age and state of health are thought to have facilitated his release.

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