Rwandan priest gets life imprisonment on appeal 12 Mar 2008
The Appeals Chamber of the ICTR has quashed the 15-year sentence handed down to former Rwandese priest, Athanase Seromba, and imposed a sentence of life imprisonment for genocide.

Athanase Seromba

On 12 March 2008, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), quashed the sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment imposed by the Trial Chamber on the Catholic priest, Athanase Seromba, and replaced it with a life sentence after finding him guilty of committing genocide, in addition to extermination as a crime against humanity.

In the lead up to the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Athanase Seromba was a Catholic priest in charge of the Nyange Parish in the Kibuye prefecture in west Rwanda. In April 1994, Seromba was an active participant in the destruction of the church where he was a priest and where many Tutsi civilians had sought refuge. During the massacre, around 1,500 Tutsi lost their lives.

On 13 December 2006, the Trial Chamber had ‘merely’ found Athanase Seromba guilty of aiding and abetting genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity. However, the Trial Chamber had dismissed the count of complicity in genocide and had acquitted him of conspiracy to commit genocide. Both the Prosecutor and the Defence had appealed the 15-year sentence.

Around 1,500 people were killed at the Nyange Parish in Rwanda in April 1994 when Seromba ordered the church to be bulldozed on top of Tutsi civilians seeking refugee inside. Graves of some of the victims are next to ruins of the church. On 12 March 2008, the Appeals Chamber considered “that the crimes for which Athanase Seromba has been convicted are egregious in scale and inhumanity” and constituted a crime even graver than aiding and abetting genocide, but genocide itself. According to the Appeals Chamber, “Athanase Seromba knew that approximately 1,500 refugees were in the church and that they were bound to die or be seriously injured as a consequence of his approval that the church be bulldozed, knowing that the refugees had come to the church seeking safety.”

The Appeals Chamber convicted “Athanase Seromba of committing genocide as well as extermination as a crime against humanity based on his role in the destruction of the church”. The Chamber—which heard the appeal in Arusha on 26 November 2007— accordingly increased his sentence to life imprisonment, Judge Liu dissenting.

At the time of the Trial Chamber’s decision, the sentence resulted in a deep sense of frustration because of the substantial imbalance between the horror of Nyange and the actual punishment of the persons responsible for the crimes.

Read the commentary on the Seromba case by Gabriella Venturini

ICTR press release

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