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UN tribunal increases sentence for Rwandan priest to life in prison

UN tribunal increases sentence for Rwandan priest to life in prison

A Roman Catholic priest in Rwanda who directed the demolition of a church where about 1,500 Tutsis were trying to take shelter during the 1994 genocide, killing those trapped inside, has been sentenced to life in prison after a United Nations war crimes tribunal today increased his jail term.

Both prosecutors and Athanase Seromba, the former priest of Nyange parish in Kivumu commune in the west of the country, had appealed against the original verdict and the 15-year jail term imposed by the trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2006.

The ICTR appeals chamber overturned Mr. Seromba’s conviction for aiding and abetting genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity, replacing it with convictions for committing genocide and extermination. The court then quashed the sentence of 15 years’ jail and sentenced him to life in prison.

Judges at the Tribunal, which is based in Arusha, Tanzania, upheld one of Mr. Seromba’s other convictions for aiding and abetting genocide but quashed another conviction on a similar charge.

During his trial, prosecutors showed that a large number of Tutsis had sought refuge at Mr. Seromba’s church in Nyange parish on or about 12 April 1994 as Interahamwe militiamen and gendarmes surrounded the building and began to attack 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 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 under a false identity in two parishes near Florence.

Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered, mostly by machete or club, 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.