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article imageItalian police arrest priest for role in Rwanda genocide

By Miriam Mannak     Oct 22, 2009 in World
Just weeks after the arrest of a top accused of planning, executing and participating in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the Italian police arrested another suspect. A priest, this time. The man is accused of ordering for the deaths of 80 students aged 12-20.
According to media reports, 47-year-old Emmanuel Mihigo Wayezu - who had been serving in a church in the Tuscan town of Empoli for the past 12 years - has denied all charges and has said he tried to save lives rather then ending them.
The arrest comes just over three weeks after the arrest of Idelphonse Nizeyimana, one of the top four planners and executors of the massacres, which started in the first week of April 1994, lasted for approximately three months and killed approximately 800.000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Ethnic division
However, a group called African Rights accused Wayezu, who is an ethnic Hutu, of being involved in the massacre of 80 Tutsi students aged 12-20 at the Kibeho College of Arts, situated in the south of Rwanda. Wayezu at that time was the director of the school.
"They perished at the hands of their teachers, fellow students, the gendarmes who were supposedly protecting them and interahamwe militiamen," Africa Rights say in a report.
"They died because the director of their school, Father Emmanuel, abandoned them and laid the groundwork for the massacre. The youngsters were studying at the Groupe Scolaire Marie Merci [part of the art school] in Kibeho where he had been the headmaster for two years. They died at the nearby College of Arts because that is where Wayezu, after separating the students along ethnic lines, sent all the Tutsis."
"He planned their deaths"
According to the organisation, the role of the church man in massacre of the Tutsi students in Kibeho - which took place on May 7 - is crystal clear:
For two years prior to the massacre of 7 May 1994, Fr. Uwayezu allowed some students, in particular those displaced from the war-affected préfectures in the north, to spread ethnic hatred at the school, labelling all Tutsis as inyenzi [cockroaches in Kinyarwanda] and enemies of Rwanda. This created ethnic divisions within the student body, encouraged lack of discipline and emboldened these students, and many among the staff, to believe they could do whatever they saw fit.
Dangerous vaccuum of hatred
The report furthermore says that on 7 April, when a plane carrying president Juvénal Habyarimanawas shot from the sky, Uwayezu gathered the students together "to announce the death of the president in a manner that was calculated to enflame ethnic tensions and suspicions. At a time of fear and uncertainty, he left the students to their own devices. His failure to provide them with guidance and leadership created a dangerous vacuum filled by staff and students with an ethnic agenda in support of the genocide."
According to reserach by Africa Rights, Wayezu on April 11 arranged for about 20 gendarmes to camp near the school to look after the students’ security. Only 4 days later, these militiamen actively participated in the massacre of about 20,000 people at the Parish of Kibeho, situated nearby. "Afterwards they returned to the school. Wayezu is accused of instructing the gendarmes to shoot the refugees who were trying to escape the parish by hiding in the school. He allowed the students who were especially hostile to Tutsis to spend time with the gendarmes," the report says.
Wayezu is also accused of ignoring pleas for help from Tutsi students who said Hutu classmates had told them of a plan to massacre them, and that the gendarmes were taking a census of Tutsis within the school.
Handful of survivors
In the days to come, it is said that Wayezu has been often seen in the presence of the men who would later be key participants in the 7 May massacre. On the night of May 6, it is alleged that gendarmes escorted a small group of students out of the College and confiscated the key, making it impossible to lock the school from the inside.
A few hours later, in the morning of May 7, a large number of militiamen armed with machetes and knives entered the dining room, where the students were having breakfast. Wayezu was nowhere to be seen.
The gendarmes, who he had posted there “to safeguard the students” shot into the air instead of dispersing the attackers. The massacre started immediately. Except for a handful of survivors, most of the students at the College perished, killed by the guns and grenades of the gendarmes or the spears, axes and machetes of the militiamen. Wayezu returned to Kibeho several days after the massacre at the College
Men of God?
It is not the first time a 'man of God' has been arrested on suspicion of planning, participating in and executing the 1994 genocide. In 2001, ex-priest Athanase Seromba - who had also fled to Italy - was charged by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on the four counts: genocide or alternatively complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. Five years later, Seromba was found guilty of genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity and sentenced to a single term of fifteen years imprisonment.
On 22 December 2006, the Prosecutor filed an appeal against this judgement. Two years later, the Appeals Chamber overturned the conviction of Athanase Seromba for "aiding and abetting genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity and substituted it to convictions for committing genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity. The Appeals Chamber unanimously quashed the sentence of 15 years imprisonment and sentenced him to life in prison."
More about Rwanda, Genocide, Genocide priest, Idelphonse nizeyimana, Genocide suspect
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