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Catholic Priest Athanase Seromba Sentenced to Fifteen Years

Trial Chamber III of the ICTR today found Athanase Seromba, former priest of Nyange Parish, Kivumu commune, guilty of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity. The Chamber dismissed the alternative count of complicity in genocide, and acquitted the accused of the count of conspiracy to commit genocide. Seromba was then sentenced to a single term of fifteen years imprisonment and the Chamber ruled that the accused would receive credit for time already served since his surrender to the Tribunal on 6 February 2002.

For the purpose of sentencing the accused, the Chamber composed of Judges Andrésia Vaz, presiding, Karin Hökborg and Gberdao Gustav Kam, considered as aggravating factors: his authority as a respected Catholic priest; the trust he had from several Tutsi refugees who had taken shelter in his parish to elude massacres; and his failure to live up to the trust of the refugees who thought their lives would be safe there.

As mitigating factors, the Chamber considered that Seromba had a good reputation prior to the events of 1994; he was relatively young at the time of the events; and his voluntary surrender to the Tribunal.

The Chamber ruled that in his capacity as a Catholic parish priest, based on the situation prevailing throughout Rwanda during 1994, Seromba must have been aware of the intent of the attackers of the refugees at the parish.

For the charge of extermination as a crime against humanity, the Chamber found that the Prosecution established beyond a reasonable doubt that a large number of Tutsi seeking refuge at the Parish were surrounded on or about 12 April 1994 by Interahamwe, militiamen and gendarmes. When the Tutsi refugees repelled the attack, the Interahamwe, and militiamen used grenades to attack the parish. It was further established beyond reasonable doubt that Seromba spoke to the driver of the bulldozer, encouraging and identifying to the driver when to start the demolition of the parish and which parts of the parish were the weakest. The Chamber found that Seromba orally aided and abetted the assailants to demolish the Church.

Seromba’s trial commenced on 20 September 2004 before Chamber III and the Prosecution closed its case on 25 January 2005 after calling 15 witnesses. The Defence closed its case on 27 April 2006 after the Chamber heard 24 defence witnesses. Seromba is represented by Patrice Monthé and Barnabe Nekuie, both from Cameroon.

At the time of the indictment, Seromba was working as a priest, under a false identity, in two parishes near Florence, Italy. He was arrested and detained in Arusha after his surrender to the Tribunal on 6 February 2002. He made his initial appearance before the Tribunal on 8 February 2002 and pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

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