President Paul Kagame meet Pope Francis today. KT Press has made a list – not exhaustive though – of Rwandan priests and nuns that the church believes have their full right to minister, while back home, they cause sickness to people who met them in 1994 Genocide against Tutsi whenever their names are mentioned.
Father Emmanuel Rukundo
Father Emmanuel Rukundo was the ‘Military Chaplain’ for the army when the genocide was planned and executed in 1994 and was also Rector of St. Leon Minor Seminary in Kabgayi, Southern Rwanda.
In 2001, Rukundo was arrested by Swiss officials acting on an arrest warrant issued by International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and was later extradited to Arusha, Tanzania.
Court found him liable for genocide, murder and extermination in relation to abduction and murder of Tutsi who had sought refuge at Saint Joseph’s College and Saint Leon Minor Seminary both situated in Gitarama prefecture, Central Rwanda.
In one particularly terrifying case, according to the verdict, Rukundo attempted to rape a Tutsi girl at the St. Leon Minor Seminary. Instead of sheltering her, Rukundo who had a gun told the Tutsi girl, that she and her entire family were to be killed for assisting the Inyenzi (coakroaches). The Tutsi girl, dubbed witness CHH, had testified before the court.
ICTR charged Rukundo with among other crimes; genocide and crimes against humanity including murder and extermination. He was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2010.
He instigated several murders including his fellow priests; Niyonshuti Celestin, Tharcisse and Callixte Musonera; Father Martin and Sister Bénigne. He is also linked to several killings of Bernadine sisters’ convent in Nyarugenge sector in Kigali-Ville prefecture.
When the RPF rebels defeated the Rwandan Army, Rukundo fled and settled in Switzerland from where he continued ranting against the Tutsi saying; “They had got just what they deserved…. They looked for it”.
Coming as a chock for Rwanda in December 2016 was news from Judge Theodor Meron, current President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, a replacement system for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Judge Meron decided to release Rukundo – a man trial judges described as the “devil in Kabgayi” – in reference to the seat of Rwanda Catholic Church. He justified that Rukundo has “shown signs of rehabilitation.”
Rukundo is still celebrated by bishop at his Kabgayi Parish. Last year, the bishop organized jubilee celebration to wish Rukundo well as a servant of God like other priests.
Father Joseph Ndagijimana
Fellow to Emmanuel Rukundo, Fr. Joseph Ndagijimana, was arrested and accused of facilitating the murder of several Tutsi hiding at Byimana Parish and didn’t spare a fellow priest Alphonse Mbuguje of Cyangugu diocese.
After the Genocide, Ndagijimana was tried under Gacaca community court after he was found guilty of Genocide offenses and sentenced to life imprisonment at Mpanga prison in Southern Rwanda.
Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka
Everyone can interpret a photo his or her way, but a scenario where a man – in uniform – stands confidently in front of soldiers and is addressing them tells it all; the person is their commander or commonly ‘Afande’ if we go by Rwandan military jargon.
Though in bullet proof uniform, the ‘commander’ in our photo that dates back 23 years is Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka. During the 1994 Genocide, he was Head Priest at Sainte Famille, first parish ever in the capital Kigali.
The parish which owns biggest accommodation infrastructure did not help thousands of Tutsi survive, rather brought them together and killed them.
Gilbert Masengo, a Genocide survivor in Nyarugenge, city of Kigali, narrates that during the Genocide, Munyeshyaka first acted as “a Priest of God” which allowed thousands of Tutsi to gather at Church. After gathering them in collaboration with then Prefet of Kigali city Col Renzaho Tharcisse, he brought interahamwe militia and government soldiers, introduced them inside the church and locked church.
Inside the church, none was left to tell the story, except a baby who would later be found trying to breastfeed from her dead mother.
Munyeshyaka does not regret anything because he benefited a safe environment and his employer, the Church still considers him a good boy. He fled to France and since 2001 is a serving priest at Gisors and the Epte Valley. Back home, he was sentenced to life in jail in absentia. ICTR sent several arrest warrants against him, but courts in France always disregarded them. In October 2015, his case was not continued. The courts decried “poor quality of evidences.”
Father Athanase Seromba
Some would name him after bulldozer, in reference to his tactics of killing the mass. Seromba was Head priest in Nyange parish, currently in Ngororero district, Western Rwanda. During the Genocide, like many priests did, he decided that Tutsi had to die.
He locked inside the church over 2000 Tutsi who had sought refuge at the parish which is built near the highway Kigali – Karongi and ordered a machine bulldozer which bullied them all alive. The church ruins currently serve a genocide memorial.
On 13 December 2006, ICTR Trial Chamber found Seromba guilty of genocide by aiding and abetting and extermination as a crime against humanity and convicted him to 15 years in jail. Prosecution appealed against this sentence and Seromba lost trial in 2008. He was sentenced to life in prison, now serving remainder of his sentence in Benin, Western Africa.
Father Emmanuel Uwayezu
Father Emmanuel Uwayezu, is little known, but is well known among alumni of GS Marie Merci in Kibeho parish where Mary Mother of Jesus appeared to three school girls 30 years ago, according to the church.
Father Uwayezu became director of this school replacing a Tutsi priest that Hutu students had said, ‘is cockroach and a traitor.”
The then Minister of Education Mbangura Daniel brought in Uwayezu in the wake of a severe demonstration of Hutu extremist students who looted Tutsi shops in the area back in 1993.
The following year, when the Genocide was launched, Uwayezu was a mediator between genocide militia that were killing inside the school, including students, and those that carried mass killing at the nearby Kibeho parish.
According to Theophile Zigirumugabe, one of a few survivors of killings in the school, Uwayezu also supported deployment of soldiers in the school, in collaboration with the then Prefet of Gikongoro Prefecture, Laurent Bukibaruta and late bishop Augustin Misago.
News has it, said Zigirumugabe, the priest – Uwayezu is happily a practicing priest in Italy.
Would this be true, the Pope might have by any chance stood on the same altar with a man Zigirumugabe and classmates identify as a Genocide perpetrator.
Gertrude Mukangango and Maria Kizito Mukabutera
Two Benedictine sisters Gertrude Mukangango and Maria Kizito Mukabutera were during the genocide, based in Sovu Couvent, currently Huye district, Southern Rwanda. Genocide survivors testified that they would have prefered to meet a man instead of coming across them because at a certain time, their being females and even nuns was no longer a thing that could guarantee they were soft and kind.
They testified that, during the Genocide, Maria Kizito born Julienne Mukabutera and her Mother Superior Sister Gertrude delivered Tutsi to be killed by Interahamwe militia, and as if this was not enough, offered them gasoline to burn them live.
Kizito and Gertrude were sentenced to 12 and 15 years in jail respectively by courts in Belgium in 2001over genocide and war crimes but the former was released in 2007 after serving half her punishment.