Life sentence light for Seromba, say survivors

WESTERN PROVINCE NGORORERO –The life sentence handed to father Athanase Seromba, who sanctioned the massacres at the Nyange Church during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, is a light sentence, survivors say.

WESTERN PROVINCE

NGORORERO –The life sentence handed to father Athanase Seromba, who sanctioned the massacres at the Nyange Church during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, is a light sentence, survivors say.

With sullen expression, few survivors who escaped the attack say, God ‘will never forgive Seromba for his crimes’.

Before the killings started, many Tutsi had run to the church hoping the killers could not attack the house of God, but their ‘shepherd’ sanctioned their death.

Seromba, a former priest of the Nyange Church was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Arusha based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

However, many survivors say the jail sentence given to him did not match his crimes, and God will ‘punish him severely for betraying his flock.’

Life sentence is the strongest punishment the ICTR can give, according to the law.

“What he did was a taboo to God. I am sure (God) will never forgive him,” one of the survivors said.

Speaking last Thursday during a memorial for hundreds of Tutsi who were killed at Nyange Church, survivors and witnesses who recounted their ordeal said they were disappointed with the verdict.

More than 10,000 Tutsi are buried at Nyange Genocide Memorial Site. The memorial is built on the foundation of the former church.

“When Seromba heard that Tutsi were hiding in his church, he ordered for its immediate destruction. He said that the Hutu were many and could construct a new church,” a witness who was 14 years then, narrated.

ildephonse Maniraguha, said when the Tutsi arrived at the church seeking refuge on April 7, 1994, father Seromba led them into the church - which became their death trap.

‘He did all this under the help of Col. Nzapfurundi (now in exile),’ Maniraguha said.

After they had entered the church, Maniraguha continued, Seromba ordered the victims to be starved, before he later ordered the church to be leveled using a bulldozer. The church came crashing down on the 2000 refugees. 

‘They spent days from April 7 to 14, 1994  without food or drinks. They were suffocating helplessly,’ he said.

After starving for seven days, the survivors say, Seromba organised a special meeting at which a plan to raze down the church was hatched.

Maniraguha says he saw bulldozers approaching the church on April 14 1994, which moments later, pulled down the wall close to the altar. 

Emeritha Nyirurugo, is another survivor of the church carnage. When the rubble started falling, she says, she moved slowly to dodge the falling debris.

“It became unbearable when the whole church was destroyed and whoever attempted to escape was hacked or shot to death,’ she recounted with tears rolling down her face.

Nyirurugo lost conscious for about six hours, and when she regained her senses she was thirsty but couldn’t get water to drink.

‘As I shook my body trying to get out of the rubble, the militias came and put all the church chairs on top of me. They sat on top of them and started pounding me,’ she said.

Fortunately, the Interahamwe left the church for a short break late in the evening and that was when Nyirurugo escaped. 

Fifteen years after the Genocide, Nyange Catholic Christians pray from a makeshift church supported by old wooden pillars – and covered by perforated sheets.

Father Seromba was first sentenced to 15 years in jail in 2006. However, prosecution contested the verdict. He was sentenced to life in jail after appeal.

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