May 16, 1998

Church accused of shielding Rwanda genocide suspects

By Jean Baptiste Kayigamba

KIGALI, May 16 (Reuters)- A London-based human rights organisation has blasted the Catholic Church, claiming that it gave sanctuary to clergy who were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

In an open letter to Pope Jean Paul II, the director of African Rights, Rakiya Omar, said this week at least three dozen members of the Rwandan clergy, both men and women, were suspected of complicity or even direct involvement in the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

African Rights told the Pope that his 11th hour appeal for clemency for 22 genocide convicts, who were publicly executed in Rwanda last April 24, was insensitive and caused immense pain to survivors.

``There is compelling evidence that a number of bishops, priests, nuns and Brothers were either complicit in the genocide, or participated directly in it,'' African Rights said in a press statement issued with the letter.

``Given the scale and consistency of the accusations, the reluctance of the Catholic Church to act upon them is regrettable,'' it added, calling on the Pope to set up a commission of inquiry.

Chief papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said on Saturday that the Vatican would have no immediate comment on the report.

African Rights, which has published numerous reports on the genocide and its aftermath, said its ``research has shown that most of the accused remain in the heart of the Catholic Church.''

It said many were evacuated to European countries or now lived in parishes in other African countries.

It named some of the suspects.

In Rwanda, the letter accused the Catholic hierarchy of putting pressure on priests and nuns to find witnesses willing to testify in favour of those clergy who have been imprisoned with 130,000 other genocide suspects.

The letter accused the Papal Nuncio in Rwanda, Bishop Julius Janusz, of having attitudes about the genocide which were ``morally untenable and politically suspect.''

It said two senior Rwandan clergy members, Archbishop Thaddee Ntihinyurwa and Bishop Augustin Misago, retained their positions despite heavy criticism about their own behaviour during and after the genocide.

``It is unlikely that the decision to confront the implications of the genocide will come from within the Church in Rwanda,'' African Rights said, adding that this was its main motivation for writing to the Pope.

On the Pope's vain intervention before the April 24 executions, the letter accused him of double standards.

``Your concern for the nation of Rwanda, recently expressed in a telegram to President (Pasteur) Bizimungu -- on the eve of the execution of 22 people convicted of genocide -- is well known,'' the letter said.

``Unfortunately, the content of your appeal for clemency lacked sensitivity to the suffering experienced by the survivors of the genocide and has caused immense pain.

``These are the very people who are most in need of solace and spiritual sustenance. Their response to your appeal demonstrates just how weak the moral authority of the Papacy has become among (genocide) survivors,'' it added.

Rakiya Omar told Reuters that African Rights did not support the executions but understood ``why so many survivors believe it is better than the law being taken into their own hands.''