- Roman Catholic priest Athanase Seromba is accused of the worst imaginable crimes during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Today, the trial against him started at the UN war crimes tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, but the priest refused to appear in court.
Father Seromba is accused of being central to the planning and execution of a massacre of more than 2,000 Tutsis in his Nyange church in western Rwanda in April 1994. According to the Prosecutor at the Arusha court, Mr Seromba, Mayor Gregoire Ndahimana, Police Inspector Fulgence Kayishema, Télesphore Ndungutse and Gaspard Kanyikuriga conspired to commit genocide against Tutsis in the commune.
The five leading Hutu extremists of Kivumu in western Rwanda agreed to terrorise the commune's Tutsi population, thus provoking them to seek refuge in Nyange church, according to evidence presented by the Prosecutor. Father Seromba urged refugees arriving here to name other Tutsis still "not in safety", and this list was used by Mayor Ndahimana and the communal police to search for Tutsis still at large.
After all of Kivumu's Tutsis had been gathered in Mr Seromba's church, the group of five called for the assistance of the genocidal Interahamwe militia and Hutu civilians "to exterminate them." The refugees at Nyange church were deprived of food and sanitary services and under constant attack from the Interahamwe "to weaken them physically," according to the Prosecutor.
- The third and final step of the plan consisted in assembling a consistent number of killers, including Hutu civilians, to kill all the refugees, according to the indictment. "That was done with the demolition of the Church, using a caterpillar Bulldozer with more than 2000 Tutsi civilians trapped inside the Church." The few survivors on 15 April 1994 were attacked by the Interahamwe, "anxious to finish them off," according to the Prosecutor.
The day after the destruction of the church, the group of five again met, and Father Seromba is quoted as having ordered the Interahamwe to clean the "rubbish". The corpses of victims were placed into common graves. After that, the Catholic priest, the mayor, the police inspector and the drivers of the caterpillar bulldozer "sat drinking beer together," the indictment says.
Father Seromba is the first Catholic priest to go on trial at the tribunal, however following an ex-Anglican bishop. In Belgium, two Roman Catholic nuns have also been accused and convicted for participating in the Rwandan genocide. While a few church leaders of all congregations participated in the genocide, most church leaders did a great effort to protect Tutsi refugees in their churches.
As for the colleagues of Father Seromba, many stand trial in Rwanda's own gacaca genocide courts. The province of Kivumu - which according to the Arusha Prosecutor was effectively cleaned of Tutsis by May 1994 - has been an area of particular activity of the gacaca courts. It is uncertain if all the Nyange church massacre's main plotters are detained.
In Arusha, the first non-gacaca case involving the Nyange church massacre today started without the presence of Father Seromba. The priest claimed that the UN court was "biased" and therefore he would not recognise it by participating. Mr Seromba has two experienced defence lawyers; one from Benin, the other from Cameroon.
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