Date: Fri, 11 Dec 1998 15:39:09 -0600 (CST)
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Churches urged to examine genocide
From the IPS, 6 December 1998
HARARE, Nov 30 (IPS) - A leading rights group has appealed to Protestant churches meeting in Harare to examine the "overwhelming" evidence that leaders of the Anglican, Free Methodist and Presbyterian churches were implicated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
The London-based 'African Rights' called upon the churches meeting on Dec 3-14 in the Zimbabwean capital on the occasion of the World Council of Churches' 50th anniversary to seek new ways to make a contribution towards the process of justice in Rwanda, and through this, to the healing and reconciliation in the country.
"The tragedy of the 1994 genocide shook all the Christian churches, particularly the Catholic church, to which the majority of Rwandese belonged," the group's co-director Rakiya Omaar said in a statement.
The statement, to be released on Dec. 2, said like the Catholics, many in the hierarchy of the Protestant churches had close links with the regime of President Juvenal Habyarimana, the former leader whose death -- when his plane was shot down on April 6, 1994 -- sparked the slaughter of up to a million Tutsis and well-known Hutu politicians and their families.
"It was five weeks after the killings began, by which time hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were dead, that the Protestant and Catholic leaders jointly issued a belated and feeble plea for peace, signed by some of the bishops who stand accused of involvement in the genocide," said Omaar.
The result is that the church in Rwanda was deeply divided by the end of the genocide, with most of its leaders fleeing the country following the military defeat of the former government. "But it was left to struggle along without a decisive response to the crisis from any of the outside Churches, or the other Church bodies in a position to intervene," she added.
According to 'African Rights', the experience of Rwanda highlights an alarming lack of accountability within the churches.
"In institutions of such size and influence, which, particularly in Africa, have a key role as the backbone of civil society, this is unacceptable," the group said.
"Ultimately the bishops and pastors concerned are employees of the Church. The overwhelming evidence that they not only failed in their duties, but that they violated Christian principles must surely be grounds for investigation and, if proven, for dismissal. The fact that so many of the accusations come from other members of the clergy shows just how deep is the crisis for the Church."
In a 24-page appeal to the WCC delegates, titled 'Rwanda: The Protestant Churches and the Genocide', African Rights compiled a catalogue of accusations against a number of Anglican bishops who gathered at the Parish of Shyogwe in the central Rwandan town of Gitarama during the genocide, allegedly plotting the pogrom.
Samuel Musabyamana, the former bishop of the diocese, has been accused by two Anglican pastors and several former friends of having betrayed the Tutsis who came to him for protection. "Most of them he turned away into the arms of the militia waiting at nearby roadblocks," the appeal document claimed.
"The few he did agree to hide were educated Tutsis, the first target of the genocide. On May 6, 1994 he is said to have brought militias to their hiding places, then to have supervised and encouraged them as they took the refugees away in a van to be killed elsewhere."
Musabyamana was often to be seen with ministers of the interim regime, who are said to have met regularly with him and other bishops at his house.
The accusations against clergy of the Free Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist and Seventh-Day Adventist Churches are equally shocking.
According to survivors, Bishop Aaron Ruhumuliza, head of the Free Methodist Church in Gikongo, Kigali, helped the militia carry out a massacre in his own church on April 9, 1994.
Michael Twagirayesu, the President of the Presbyterian Church of Rwanda and a former vice-President of the WCC, is alleged to have worked closely with the killers in the Presbyterian stronghold of Kirinda, Kibuye, betraying parishioners and fellow- clergy alike.
"Yet these men, against whom there is such compelling evidence, remain immune from justice. In the meantime, men, women and children accused of lesser offences -- whose participation in the genocide was without doubt influenced by the example set by church leaders -- remain in Rwanda's overcrowded prisons," said Omaar.
More than 125,000 people have been detained in Rwanda for their role in the 1994 genocide.
Given the enormous burden upon both the justice system in Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the Tanzanian resort town of Arusha, the burden of responsibility for ensuring that justice is done rests firmly with the churches. As long as the Churches continue to harbour men and women accused of heinous crimes, they cannot offer the kind of moral leadership and spiritual leadership which Rwanda, and Africa, so badly needs, according to Omaar.
"In writing this appeal," African Rights said, "we hope to ensure that all members of the WCC are fully informed of the nature of the accusations against their fellow clergy."
"We urge the WCC to listen to the voices of the survivors, some of them clergymen themselves. Their testimonies are extremely distressing accounts of human suffering and betrayal. They should be heard, and they demand an appropriate answer."
The claims have, however, been rejected by the accused bishops. They blame the break-down in law and order on the refusal by the then rebel Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) to honour the cease-fire.
"The breaking of the cease-fire by the Rwandese Patriotic Front led the country into disorder and the population started killing each other," said Anglican Bishop Jonathan Ruhumuliza, the spokesperson of the accused group. (END/IPS/mn/98)
Origin: ROMAWAS/RELIGION BULLETIN-RWANDA/
[c] 1998, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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