The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Saturday, June 09, 2001

Nuns jailed for aiding massacre of 7,000 Tutsis

Author: David Haworth in Brussels
Publication: The Telegraph, UK

TWO Roman Catholic nuns and two other ethnic Hutu militants were given long prison sentences yesterday for their part in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

[Caption] Sentanced: Sister Maria Kisito and Benedictine Sister Gertrude

The Benedictine Sister Gertrude, a former Mother Superior at a convent in the southern town of Sovu where about 7,000 Tutsi refugees were slaughtered by Hutu militiamen, was sentenced to 15 years in a Belgian jail. Her colleague, Sister Maria Kisito, was sentenced to 12 years.

Alphonse Higaniro, a businessman and former Rwandan transport minister, was given 20 years, while Vincent Ntezimana, a university professor, received 12 years. The eight-week trial - the first time a civilian jury has judged war crimes committed in another country - is a landmark in judicial history.

Human rights activists hope it will accelerate moves towards a permanent international war crimes tribunal. One of the witnesses who said that she had lost all her family in the killings said: "They have given a human face to people who were killed like animals. Today, we can feel that our humanity has been recognised."

The nuns were convicted of playing an active role in the killing and burning of about 7,000 refugees who had sought refuge in their convent in Sovu. Alain Winants, the prosecutor general, had asked the jury to hand down life sentences, saying: "Your punishment will show that Belgium is not, and will not become, a sanctuary for perpetrators of genocide."

But defence lawyers appealed for leniency, insisting that the four defendants were not the masterminds of the mass slaughter. Serge Wahis said: "A life sentence would be too harsh. It would kill reconciliation and hope." Between 500,000 and 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in Rwanda during the terror unleashed by the Interahamwe Hutu militants before they were chased out of the country by Tutsi-led rebels.

The 12-strong jury was empowered by an eight-year-old Belgian law that gave the courts universal jurisdiction over war crimes regardless of where they were committed or by whom. Yesterday the Rwandan government administration sent a congratulatory message to the Belgian government. "It is highly positive that Belgium, a foreign country, pursues and punishes crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda."

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