The Government of Rwanda yesterday expressed satisfaction on the verdict handed down by the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) against Catholic priest Athanase Seromba.
Seromba was on Wednesday sentenced to life imprisonment by the Appeals chamber of the Tanzania-based tribunal following his appeal against an earlier 15-year jail term handed down by a lower trial chamber.
“In all fairness, we are satisfied with the decision of the appeals chamber…Seromba is known in this country for the killings in Nyange church (Karongi District) where he was a parish priest,” Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said yesterday.
Seromba was found guilty for the murder of thousands of members of his congregation who had sought refuge in the church at the height of the 1994 Genocide.
“He was responsible for preaching love to his flock but he instead used his position to massacre them. He deserved the sentence,” said Karugarama, who is also the Attorney General .
“Seromba knew that approximately 1,500 refugees were in the church,” Judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen said, while handing down his ruling.
While at the Nyange parish in the former Kibuye prefecture, Seromba brought bulldozers which razed the church to the ground burying alive all parishioners who were in the church.
Karugarama said that the sentence would act as a deterrent to other priests who might in involve themselves in similar acts in future .
Life imprisonment is the heaviest sentence that can be handed down by the UN court.
The prosecution had appealed against the initial ruling saying it was too light, while Seromba had filed another claiming he was innocent.
The trial chamber had ruled that Seromba aided and abetted genocide by substantially contributing to the causing of serious bodily and mental harm in prohibiting refugees from getting food from the Parish’s banana plantation, among other acts.
Faced with a time constraint, the ICTR has so far completed 35 five cases, five of them acquittals.
All trials are expected to close in December, 2008 but appeals are supposed to have been completed by 2010.