Religion in Rwanda, especially the Catholic Church, has for the last one hundred years occupied an influential position. It did not come as a surprise therefore that thousands of people took refuge in churches during the 1994 Genocide.
Those who sought refuge within church compounds had a misplaced sense of security. Little did they know they had unwittingly entered slaughterhouses, the chief executioners being the clergymen and women.
Just as they did for many Nazi war criminals after World War II, religious networks exfiltrated most of the suspected architects of the churchyard killings.
The first religious figure to be convicted for Genocide was a 79 year-old head of the Seventh Day Adventists in Kibuye, Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana. He was arrested in 1996, living a ‘pious’ and peaceful life in the US.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) found him guilty in December 2003 and sentenced him to ten years in prison. He died just one month after his release in 2006.
The Anglican Bishop of Shyogwe Diocese, Samuel Musabyimana, was also arrested by the ICTR but died shortly before his trial could begin.
Not to be left out of this list of shame are three Catholic priests currently being held by the Arusha-based tribunal: Fr.Athanase Seromba, Fr. Hormisadas Nsengimana and Fr. Emmnauel Rukundo. Three nuns have also been convicted; two in Belgium and one in Rwanda.
Seromba is perhaps the most infamous of the three priests. He has appealed a 15-year jail sentence for the murder of over 2,000 people who had taken cover in his church. This man of God ordered his church demolished using a bulldozer. The walls came tumbling down on the poor souls inside and they were buried alive.
Fr Athanase Seromba’s case is a very revealing one. It opens a can of worms into the mucky world of international intrigue that allowed him and others to leave the Zaire refugee camps complete with a Zairean passport and a new identity.
When the human rights organisation, African Rights, caught up with him, he was the deputy Vicar of a remote church in Florence, Italy, and went by the names of Don Anastasio Sumba Bura.
How did he go through the labyrinths of the Vatican with an assumed name if he had no powerful backers in the Holy See?
The same backers would stand by him for four years, echoing his innocence before pressure finally came to bear upon them, and Seromba "surrendered" to the ICTR. The judgment of his appeal will be read March 12, 2008.
It is true that those who committed crimes did not do so on the instructions of the Church; it could be said they were just answering a call from their inane homicidal streak.
But what is puzzling is the unrelenting flak that comes from some quarters close to the church usually covered in the shawl of human rights activists.
Juan Carrero Saralegui, the founder of the S’olivar Foundation in Spain, was one of the candidates for the 2000 Nobel Peace prize though he was beaten to the tape by former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung. Saralegui is said to be one of the driving forces behind the Spanish judge’s indictment of 40 Rwanda army officers
Saralegui’s main backers for the prize were Rwandan exiles in Europe, who flooded the internet and the Nobel committee with anti-Kagame/RPF rhetoric saying they were "co responsible for the 1994 Genocide."
S’olivar’s website, which read like an indictment against the RPF since 1996, has surprisingly "frozen" since May 1999. Was it because he had missed out on the Nobel Prize and suddenly realized he’d been duped all along and ditched his friends? Only he can tell.
Closer to home is another Spaniard who has nothing good to say about this country even though, until recently at least, he was living in northern Uganda. Fr Carlos Rodriguez of the Comboni Missionaries has been a regular columnist for The Uganda Observer newspaper and has the uncanny gift of reconditioning people’s minds. He has since thrown in a towel, parting ways with Rome after getting himself a native bride and heading back to Spain.
During the height of the Cold War, people living in Communist countries were brainwashed with repeated messages of their glorious motherland and ate, slept, and dreamt of the Hammer and Sickle.
Out in the West, in the US to be exact, Senator McCarthy was busy on the rampage hunting for Communists and their sympathisers. If one was lucky, they could be blacklisted and branded a "Commy lover" and that was that.
But for our friend in Gulu, nothing seems to meet his high standards. Perhaps it is too much sun, but then they have the same in Mallorca or Andalusia, - what better place to be for a holiday? Especially when accompanied by a pretty survivor of Joseph Kony and Lakwena’s raids? Joseph Kony also kills in God’s name. Isn’t his movement named the Lords’ Resistance Army?