Arusha, 14 March 2008 (FH) - The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) increased this week the sentence handed to Athanase Seromba, a Catholic Priest, for his role in the 1994 genocide.

1 min 44Approximate reading time

On Wednesday, the appeal judges quashed the 15-year prison sentence that Seromba had received on 13 December 2006 and substituted it with imprisonment for remainder of his life. He was a vicar at the catholic parish of Nyange, in western Rwanda, where 1,500 Tutsis were killed in 1994; the church in which they had found refuge was destroyed with orders from the priest using a bulldozer.

The first instance judges had said that Seromba had helped and encouraged the authors of the genocide, while the appeals chamber concluded that his responsibility was definitely higher. The priest had accepted the decision of the local administrative authorities to destroy his church and had advised the driver of the bulldozer to start with the most fragile side.

"The acts of Seromba are enough to constitute a direct participation in the crimes of genocide and extermination" the chamber ruled.

Two other catholic priests, Emmanuel Rukundo, a former military chaplain, and Hormisdas Nsengimana, a director of a school, are on trial before the ICTR.

Also accused by the ICTR, Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a priest with the Holy Family Parish of Kigali in 1994, will be tried in France. The ICTR granted jurisdiction of the case within the framework of its completion strategy of December 2008 for all first instance trials. Those before the appeals chamber should close by 2010.

On Thursday, the appeals chamber also held a hearing in the trial of Colonel Tharcisse Muvunyi, sentenced to 25 years in prison on 12 September 2006. The prosecutor has asked that the chamber sentence him to life in prison, while the defence pleaded for his acquittal.

Soldiers based at this school, Butare, Southern Rwanda, committed many massacres, as well as rapes. Muvunyi stated that he did not have authority over them.

At the first instance chambers, the proceedings continued during the week in two group trials: Butare and Government II. Both are at the defence stages.

In the Butare Trial, which involves six defendants, it is the second to last defendant who is calling witnesses. In Government II trial of four defendants, it is the turn of the last defendant.

Butare has been in progress since June 2001, while Government II started in November 2003.

Finally, Thursday saw the release of GAA, a protected witness who had been sentenced to nine months in prison by the ICTR for contempt to the court after having admitted that he had made a false testimony in the trial of the former minister for higher education, Jean de Dieu Kamuhanda, sentenced to life in prison. Friday, GAA was back in Rwanda, his home country.

© Hirondelle News Agency