Arusha, May 11, 2001 (FH) Earlier this month, an Anglican Bishop appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) accused of committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Rwanda in 1994. In Belgium, four Rwandans including two Benedictine nuns are currently on trial for their alleged role in the mass murder of Tutsis.

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Coming after the trial and acquittal last year in Rwanda of catholic bishop Augustin Misago, these events are reopening debate about what role the church played in Rwanda during the genocide, and how it should respond in the aftermath. Such events also raise questions about the relationship between the church, the state and the judicial system, especially in a country like Rwanda which has one of the highest rates of church membership in the world. While reliable figures are hard to come by, at least two-thirds of Rwanda's population are Christian and about half are Roman Catholic. In Rwanda, the catholic church in particular has come under fire for involvement in the genocide. Many persecuted Tutsis fled to churches and religious sanctuaries, but were subsequently killed there or driven to their deaths. Some church dignitaries are accused of having openly supported the massacres. On the other hand, a significant number were also killed whilst attempting to protect refugees. Anglican Bishop Samuel Musabyimana is the second churchman now in the ICTR's custody along with Seventh Day Adventist Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana. Appearing before the court in full ecclesiastical robes, Bishop Musabyimana on May 2nd pleaded not-guilty to four charges including genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity. He said he wished to protest his innocence to the Christian community and his colleagues in the Anglican church, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. "They should be assured that there is no blood on my hands," he said. "My conscience is quiet. "During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Musabyimana was bishop of the Shyogwe diocese in central Rwanda. The Prosecutor alleges that he ordered refugees who fled to Shyogwe to be registered according to their ethnic group, and that soldiers and militia used these lists, with his knowledge, to single out Tutsi refugees and take them to their deaths. The Bishop is alleged to have told soldiers and militias publicly that he did not oppose the killing of Tutsis but that they should be taken elsewhere because he did not want them killed in his diocese. Musabyimana's indictment says he held meetings with the Rwandan interim government that presided over the genocide, and that he carried out missions abroad on behalf of that government. Church reactionReacting to Musabyimana's arrest, the Archbishop of Canterbury's office said that Archbishop George Carey (head of the Anglican church) "has supported and encouraged the setting up of an independent inquiry into the role of the Church in the genocide. The legal process now in train should be allowed to run its course. Any decision on a Church investigation would need to be taken after appropriate consultation in the Anglican Communion and in the light of the outcome of the legal process". A spokesman for the Archbishop told Hirondelle from Lambeth Palace in London that Musabyimana was innocent until proven guilty and that "this is a principle the Church takes very seriously". Asked about the Bishop's wearing of ecclesiastical robes in court, the spokesman said that "the wearing of robes is a matter for his own personal judgment. He is entitled to wear them". During the genocide trial of catholic bishop Augustin Misago in Rwanda in 1999-2000, Misago wore prison clothes to court, with a large cross around his neck. Protesting his innocence before the ICTR, Bishop Musabyimana made reference to Bishop Misago, who was acquitted by a Rwandan court but whose name still appears on the Kigali government's list of top genocide suspects (the prosecutor has appealed the acquittal). ICTR judge William Sekule of Tanzania cut Musabyimana short, telling the Bishop: "Don't go into issues that do not concern your case. This is not a political platform. "Indeed, religion and politics often seem to have been inextricably mixed in the Rwandan context. For example, former catholic Archbishop of Kigali Vincent Nsengiyumva was for many years a member of the central committee of the former ruling party MRND. Independent observers suggest that Misago's trial was essentially "political". The catholic bishop was arrested on April 14th, 1999, shortly after an inflammatory public speech by former Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu. Bizimungu said the church should not remain silent while Christians were accusing Misago of genocide, and that even if Misago were tried and acquitted, the church should transfer him away from his diocese. Many people welcomed Misago's acquittal in June last year as a sign of courage and independence on the part of Rwandan judges. However, others think that the acquittal itself was influenced by politics and the attitude of the catholic church during the case. The Vatican lent strong support to Misago, with the Pope sending his envoy to every hearing. Relations between the Rwandan authorities and the powerful catholic church had become extremely strained during the case. Many people in Rwanda seem to feel that the church hierarchies should have taken a stronger moral stance regarding possible involvement by their representatives during the genocide. However, there has been no mass defection from the Christian churches, and the catholic church in particular remains strong in Rwanda. Both the ICTR and national jurisdictions such as Belgium have now had the courage to pursue church members suspected of genocide. It remains to be seen whether France will also go ahead with judicial proceedings against Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a catholic priest alleged to have committed genocide and rape at the Sainte-Famille church in central Kigali. The job of the courts, however, will be to try the suspects on individual criminal responsibility, not on whether they lived up to their religious principles. JC/PHD/FH (MS0514e)