Arusha, December 16, 2013 (FH) – The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Monday sentenced a former mayor to 25 years in jail for the massacre of Tutsis in a church during the 1994 genocide, whereas the lower court had given him only 15 years.

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Grégoire Ndahimana, 60, was mayor of Kivumu, in the western prefecture of Kibuye, during the genocide. The five judges confirmed his conviction for genocide and extermination but with an increased form of responsibility.The lower court had convicted Ndahimana for failing to sanction communal police who took part in the April 15, 1994 attack on Tutsis sheltering in Nyange Catholic church, which was situated in his commune. He was also convicted for his “tacit approval” of the church’s destruction the next day. The Nyange church was demolished with a bulldozer on April 16, burying alive some 2,000 Tutsis who were hiding there.The Appeals Court found that Ndahimana indeed had a genocidal intention and acted in the context of a “joint criminal enterprise aimed at exterminating Tutsis from Kivumu commune”. Its decision stresses that Ndahimana and other local dignitaries shared a beer, apparently celebrating, after the destruction of the church.After the appeals judgment was read out, the ex-mayor, who had been standing in court, collapsed into his wheelchair. As for his wife, Esther, who was in the public gallery, she could not hold back her tears.Ndahimana was arrested on August 10, 2009, in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and transferred to the ICTR prison in Arusha, Tanzania, 11 days later. His trial opened on 6 September, 2010.He is the third person to be convicted by the ICTR for the Nyange church massacre, after former parish priest Athanase Seromba and businessman Gaspard Kanyarukiga.The ICTR has also indicted for the same events the ex-head of judicial police, Fulgence Kayishema, who is still on the run.In Rwanda two Catholic priests, Edouard Nturiye and Jean-François Kayiranga were tried in connection with the Nyange church massacre and were acquitted. The driver of the bulldozer that destroyed the church, Anastase Nkinamubanzi, was sentenced in Rwanda to life imprisonment.The role of the churches, especially the Catholic church, in the Rwandan genocide is still highly controversial. During the anti-Tutsi pogroms of 1959 and 1962 in Rwanda, the Tutsis who took refuge in churches were safe. So three decades later they fled in their tens of thousands to religious buildings, trying to escape their killers. This time, however, they mostly died there, blown apart by grenades, burned alive or crushed to death by bulldozers.ER/ JC