10.09.07 - ICTR/RUKUNDO - A BELGIAN PRIEST TESTIFIES FOR ABBOT RUKUNDO'S DEFENCE

Arusha, 10 September 2007 (FH) - Father Jean Marie Dussart, a Belgian catholic priest, testified Monday before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for the defence of Abbot Emmanuel Rukundo, accused of crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity, noted the Hirondelle agency.
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After 34 years in Rwanda, the clergyman in 1994, priest of a small countryside parish in the diocese of Kagbayi, in central Rwanda. He denied that the defendant who, was a military chaplain, at the time of the facts, had played a part in the removal of Tutsis on 24 May 1994 at the Kagbayi seminary.
 
The witness who says that he remained in this establishment from mid-April to the beginning of June 1994, moreover, stated that he never heard, during this stay, any comment associating the name of Abbot Rukundo to the removal of 17 persons named by the prosecution. These people were later killed.
 
According to Father Dussart, the military chaplaincy which had been entrusted to Rukundo was "a good duty for his country and the church confronted with an armed aggression". His goal, has he says, was "to put a little humanity in this surge of violence" and it was normal that the military chaplain, who has the rank of officer, benefited from an escort.
 
He, however, denounced the "crushing responsibility" of a person of high rank originating from the area. Callixte Nsabonimana, Minister for youth at large and sought by the ICTR, had told him that another priest paid 500 Rwandan francs (approximately 3 USD at the time) for any murder.
   
In cross-examination, the substitute of the prosecutor, Veronic Wright, wanted to suggest that Abbot Rukundo could have taken part discreetly, without the knowledge of the witness, in the removal of the 17 persons, but the presiding Judge, Joseph Asoka de Silva, advised Mrs. Wright to return to the point at the time of the closing arguments.
 
The role of the Rwandan Catholic church in the 1994 genocide is very controversial. Two other catholic priests, Athanase Seromba and Hormisdas Nsengimana, are detained by the ICTR. Sentenced to 15 years in prison in first instance, Seromba awaits his appeal trial while Nsengimana is still being tried, like Rukundo, in first instance. Another catholic priest, Abbot Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, arrested for the second time last week in France, was charged by the ICTR. French courts must rule Wednesday on the request to transfer the clergyman to the ICTR in Arusha, Tanzania.
 
ER/PB/MM

© Hirondelle News Agency