Rwandan former priest sentenced to 15 years’ jail by UN war crimes tribunal

13 December 2006 – The United Nations war crimes tribunal for Rwanda today sentenced a former Roman Catholic priest who encouraged and directed the demolition of a church where about 2,000 Tutsis had tried to take shelter during the 1994 genocide – killing all those inside – to 15 years’ jail.

Athanase Seromba, the former priest of Nyange Parish in Kivumu commune in the west of the country, was found guilty of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), sitting in Arusha in neighbouring Tanzania.

But Judges Andrésia Vaz of Senegal (presiding), Karin Hökborg of Sweden and Gberdao Gustav Kam of Burkina Faso dismissed the counts of complicity in genocide and conspiracy to commit genocide. Mr. Seromba had pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The three judges said prosecutors had established beyond a reasonable doubt that a large number of Tutsis had sought refuge at his church on or about 12 April 1994 as Interahamwe militiamen and gendarmes surrounded the building and began to attack it with grenades.

Mr. Seromba later spoke to the driver of a bulldozer, encouraging and identifying when to start demolishing the parish building and which parts were the weakest. All those Tutsis inside the Nyange church were killed when the church was bulldozed and its roof subsequently crashed.

Mr. Seromba was arrested by Tanzanian authorities in February 2002 after surrendering to the ICTR following his arrival from Italy, where he had been working as a priest, allegedly under a false identity, in two parishes near Florence.

Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered, mostly by machete, across Rwanda in just 100 days starting in April 1994. The Security Council set up the ICTR in November that year to prosecute people responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

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