Genocide Culpability Deserves Pope Benedict XVI’s Apology – At a Minimum

Posted: August 3, 2010 in Genocide Denial
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By Tom Ndahiro

On Monday 29, March 2010 the Guardian published Martin Kimani’s article with a title: “For Rwandans, the pope’s apology must be unbearable: If sexual abuse in Ireland warrants his contrition, what contempt is shown by the Vatican’s silence over its role in genocide”.

Martin appropriately said: “This turning away from the Rwandan victims of genocide comes at a time when the Catholic Church is increasingly peopled by black and brown believers. It is difficult not to conclude the church’s upper reaches are desperately holding on to a fast-vanishing racial patrimony. Perhaps it is time Catholics forced the leaders of their church to deal with a history of institutional racism that endures, if the church is truly to live up to its fine words. Apologies are not sufficient, no matter how abject. What is demanded is an acknowledgment of the church’s political power and moral culpability, with all the material and legal implications that come with it.”

There is a priest who ordered a bulldozer to collapse the walls of his church to the almost two thousand men, women and children who were desperately trying to survive the killing in 1994.

That man is Father Athanase Seromba, a Catholic priest.

On 12 March 2008 the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) imposed a sentence of imprisonment for the remainder of Seromba’s life.

Thus quashing the 15 years in prison he had been given on December 13, 2006, by a Trial Chamber that found him guilty of genocide as well as extermination as a crime against humanity, by virtue of his role in the destruction of the church in Nyange Parish.

The Appeals Chamber described Seromba’s crimes as “egregious in scale and inhumanity.”

This Chamber stressed that “this priest knew that approximately 1,500 refugees were in the church and  that  they were bound to die or be seriously injured as a consequence of his approval that the church be bulldozed, knowing that the refugees had come to the church seeking safety.”

Despite such findings which were in the public domain through the investigation of both African Rights and Human Rights Watch, Seromba still managed to continue being a priest for seven years in the Diocese of Florence, Italy using the false name of Anastasio Sumba Bura.

The leadership of this Diocese had full knowledge of this falsehood.  This is clear if only because the Catholic Church keeps meticulous records.

It is hardly credible that it would allow a priest to preach without looking deeply into his background.  Especially, knowing that many of its number stood accused of participating in genocide.

In 2004, the United Nations declared April 7th a day of reflection on the Tutsi genocide and of solidarity with the survivors.

The same year, which was the 10th commemoration of the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, Father Peter Hans KOLVENBACH, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, (Jesuits) published a book titled: Faubourg du Saint-Esprit (Suburb of the Holy Spirit).

In his position, of the highest authority of The Society of Jesus the book was the denial, justification and legitimating of genocide as an act of revenge. He invokes the language of genocide ideologues, accusing the Tutsi of being “a minority” and “a long time dominating group” “coming from abroad.” The genocide is “parishioners… killed one another …” and that “the Hutu took revenge against the Tutsi.”

This revenge was the result of the imbalance of the social and political situation in 1994, which he says, was the same as the one in Iraq before the 2003 war, whereby the minority Sunnis dominated the Shiites majority”.

Those same Hutus, after their “revenge,” which ended up exterminating a million of their fellow citizens, Kolvenbach emphasised, would be “ready for reconciliation”, even if this reconciliation “comes to confirm Tutsis’ domination.”

Kolvenbach’s is not an ordinary priest. The Superior General of Jesuits, whose authority and influence in the Vatican earns him a name the “black pope”.

His order is the “largest male religious order of the Catholic Church” wielding command of a multitude of prestigious academic institutions worldwide.

If this Superior of the society of Jesus was to be on the panel of judges in the case of Seromba or any genocidaire, the verdict would be innocent, because there was no genocide but settling of scores with enough mitigating factors.

After all, in his book he says his Church was on the side of the oppressed—the Hutu. What the “black pope” says is genocide denial.

This Catholic Church’s solidarity with “Hutu Power” ideology, as Kolvenbach confirms it, dates back to 1957 with the publication of the infamous “Bahutu Manifesto” the fulcrum of Rwanda’s genocide machinery.

According to historians, Ian Linden, and Jean Gaulbert Rumiya, the manifesto, though signed by Rwandans including Grégoire Kayibanda was written under the guidance of White Catholic priests Chanoine Ernotte and Arthur Dejemeppe.

Jean-Pierre Chretien writes: “the manifesto was made popular among Hutus through the Catholic structures.”

What the Bahutu Manifesto revealed was the intellectual roots of the Rwandan genocide. The first intellectuals Rwanda had, were Catholic priest, or lay people trained by the Catholic Church.

Academics and other intellectuals have been at the forefront of genocide promotion not only in Rwanda but elsewhere mass murder has followed from politics.

Academicians, like Kolvenbach, Ferdinand Nahimana, and Leon Mugesera for instance have been accomplices or tools of genocidal conspiracies.  They may not do the actual killing, but their contributions are every bit as important as that of the blood stained killer, if not more so.

According to Eric Markusen says of academics: “They often play a role in the ideological rationalisation for genocide, using their scholarly credentials and influence to support the accusations against the victim group and to justify discrimination and persecution.”

Through propaganda, genocidal ideology is promulgated and genocidal mentality articulated.

I have extensively read the testimony the genocidaire Prime Minister, Jean Kambanda gave to the ICTR investigators. It is from an individual who does not express remorse, but, at least sheds light on truth.

He is better than many leaders of the Catholic Church who have mastered crimes cover-up including genocide.

On the first day they started quizzing him, September 25, 1997, Kambanda spoke about bystanders and denial.

“I say again, that during the massacres I didn’t see a single person, be it a civil, political, religious, or moral authority or an expatriate … state in public his opposition to the massacres. Today, you can ask all bishops who are in Rwanda, and who were there in Rwanda during the massacres. You can ask all the soldiers who were in Rwanda at the time of the massacres. You can ask the entire population that was there during the massacres. I didn’t see a single soul stand up and say “I am against”.

In this statement, five times, Kambanda use the word “massacres” instead of “genocide”. For a confessed perpetrator, it is understandable.

What he may not know is that powerful men of the cloth in the Vatican remain unsympathetic to victims.

Jean Pierre Karegeye, dared ask Kolvenbach the source of his allegations. Answer? Was the Rwandan Catholic Bishops!

Kambanda said he had noted that those who were guilty of genocide “were doing everything to deny even the obvious.” For example, that people between April and July 1994, were killed because of their ethnic origin.

He continues: “They even go as far as refusing that people were killed during the period in question. To this end, we fabricated all kinds of alibis in which lies had pride of place.”

One, and most important decisions they made to enforce denial, was to establish “the responsibility” of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and the international community in the “Rwandan catastrophe”.

Kambanda says: “Contrary to what one may think, this was the easiest part to prepare since everyone was willing to make a contribution”

To bolster genocide denial and accuse others instead, Kambanda says his genocidaire government in Bukavu and Goma quickly established NGOs to carry out the task.

The first was SOLIDAIRE-Rwanda ASBL which was supposed to do investigations in South Kivu, Burundi and Tanzania. The second was called LIRDHO (Rwanda Refugees Human Rights League) and, the third, AJPR (Association for Justice and Peace in Rwanda)

LIRDHO and AJPR, basically, were subsidiaries of SOLIDAIRE- Rwanda. The findings of Solidaire were published in three volumes under the title “The Untold Side of the Story of the Massacres in Rwanda”.

LIRDHO’s task was to reproduce part of the SOLIDAIRE’s report but only findings which fall after July 1994.  What AJPR did, was to reproduce SOLIDAIRE’s report with a different title: “The Other Face of the Genocide”.

According to Kambanda, investigations for these reports “were carried out by teams set up” by his “intelligence services”.

These reports, by the genocidaire machinery have been widely quoted by known academicians like Filip Reyntjens with or without knowledge of the real source. Or, like the Belgian Catholic priest, Serge Desouter, who argues that in the case of Rwanda, genocide is nothing more than a political campaign by Tutsis.

Several Catholic News agencies, like Fides and Misna, and Newspapers, have blatantly used the discourse of genocidaires to deny genocide. One good example is the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano, which in May 1999 published an editorial affirming “double genocide” in Rwanda.

The Catholic Church is grappling with sex scandal to protect its dignity. Genocide is fundamentally an attack on human dignity and worth.

If only the Catholic Church thought to increase its dignity by extending recognition and respect to the victims and survivors of genocide.

So many hearts still cry for the harmless Tutsi who were so sadistically annihilated in 1994 and in the 1950s and 1960s, with clear knowledge or complicity of the clergy.

Not only does this tragedy weigh heavily on my backbone, I am distressed, as should all of us, which many of their killers are at large and continue to activate their extreme hatred of Tutsi.

Given the opportunity, they would try and regain power so as to put the finishing touches to their criminal project.

They are empowered in this aim by the likes of Desouter and Kolvenbach when the events of 1994 are subjected to distortion and denial.

In a country which is predominantly Christian thousands of people sought sanctuary in churches but were killed there with full knowledge or complicity of priests and bishops.

Their choice of the place of safety was based on a false belief that nobody would attack them in places believed to be sacred. People went to their relatives’ places for safety-later only to be handed over to the killers because they were Tutsi.

The genocide of the Tutsis in 1994 was a total act.  They were to be destroyed in their entirety, every single one of them.  It was not enough that they should die, they had to be killed in cruel and unusual ways.  Their killers competed to outdo one another.

Teacher turned against student; doctors gave their Tutsi patients lethal injections; nuns turned away terrified, helpless people; and priests stood at the front of the mob and directed its fury at Christians cowering in churches.

From dawn to dusk, groups of men gripping their work tools trudged through the marshes and knocked on closed doors looking for hiding places.

So much energy, so much thinking in the cause of genocide!  What could the victims have done to deserve such a fate?

The immediate answer that many of the killers would have given to this question is revenge.  Mass murderers are apt to give this answer from the Russian steppes, to North American Rockies, to Rwanda’s hills.

The men, women and children who are hunted and brutally killed, are blamed, that, somehow brought it on themselves.  That they started the cycle of violence and very often the killers make the charge that they were defending themselves.

To destroy human life requires such elaborate misdirection, as much sometimes for the killer as for the far-off witness whose moral empathy he seeks.  Yet there are those who even without bloody blade in hand, trot out the ‘revenge’ theory.

They are the unfortunate complement of revisionists who appear on the heels of every human atrocity to claim that the brutalised are to blame.  The Rwanda genocide produced many such revisionists, some out of a kind of willed, disingenuous ignorance and yet others from actual malign intentions to support the killers to keep their genocidal project alive.

The question is, which of these two categories Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach belongs who until 2008 was the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, (Jesuits).  In his 2004 book, titled: Faubourg du Saint-Esprit (Suburb of the Holy Spirit), Kolvenbach wrote that the Rwanda genocide was an act of revenge.  A mass example, of the Old Testament law of the Talion, that called for ‘an eye for an eye.’

To Kolvenbach, it was a Hutu action against Tutsis in response to a real and not perceived grievance – an instance of justice realized. The objective of the genocidaire was to make the victims suffer, the same or greater pain, than that originally inflicted by them.

Going by his logic, since this genocide was state sponsored, justice was done. He is telling genocidaires they managed to recover their sunk costs. We thus arrive at equivalence: the men standing at the opening of the mass grave with spades in hand are as much victims as the dead bodies waiting to be buried.

There is obscenity in such an accounting and it is one of the major tools of the friends of the genocidaires.  Another one is to avoid using the word genocide.

From someone with a high profile like Kolvenbach, the idea of genocide as revenge is so offensive. He exonerates the genocidaires and tells the victims and the survivors that they got a fair pay-back.

A clear example of this was evident as the killing went on.  As reported by the Egyptian MENA News Agency, on April 30, 1994, Justin Mugenzi, Rwanda’s Minister of Trade, in the genocidaire government, visited Egypt and consulted with President Hosni Mubarak.

At a news conference in Cairo Mugenzi said he had appealed to the president to use his influence and relations to end “the war.”

On what was happening in the country Mugenzi said his government was doing all it could to “restore stability and calm” to a country where “people were dominated by a spirit of revenge.”

He claimed the war had turned into “a tribal and ethnic one.” Adding, “It was difficult to control a people willing to apply their own law of revenge who were confident that their primary enemy was the RPF and its Tutsis tribes.”

Mugenzi urged the International Community to intervene to stop the fighting and persuade all sides to abandon arms, so that the people of Rwanda can be persuaded to halt the war.

Our image of war is of two rivals, both armed and determined to attain their aims through the military conquest of the other.  It is age-old, it evokes a sense of fairness even if we all know how much suffering it brings.

Around the same time, the government spokespeople in the White House and in other capitals were also desperately trying to avoid using the word genocide.  It would have shown that it was not a war, that instead defenceless people were being murdered by the hundreds of thousands.

The terms came pouring out: ethnic war, tribal conflagration, civil war, savages at war, tit-for-tat…  This language continues to this day, utilised by the genocidaires and their friends.  How hard the language must be twisted to get us all away from the horrifying reality.  Even the sacred spaces and words were recruited to this effort.

The Catholic Church’s solidarity with the Hutu was appreciated by the genocidaires.  They felt that they had support from the Holy family. On May 20, 1994 Valerie Bemeriki, an infamous announcer on RTLM, said, “In  fact,  the  Virgin  Mary  is  with  us,  we  are  with  her,  she  knows  that  we  are  innocent victims,  because  she  knows  that  we  are  innocent  victims,  she  will  encourage  us.  She  (the  Virgin  Mary)  told  them  about  her  churn,  look  they  have  broken  it,  they  have broken  it  when  that  churn  contained  milk  that  has  nourished  many  people,  but  those who  were  nourished  with  that  milk  will  regret  the  absence  of  the  churn  (…).  There  are those  who  long  for  the  churn  while  they  caused  it  to  break  it.”

This rhetoric of genocide having heavenly support emphasized the revenge of the Hutu against the Tutsi. The “churn” referred to is President Habyarimana. The “innocent victims” were the genocidaires, like Bemeriki.  Those who broke it are the Tutsi who were accused to have killed Habyarimana and therefore deserved to suffer a dire consequence.

Desouter is among the very few known Europeans to have played a key role in creating the genocidaires’ RDR. From his writings, he is a devoted anti-Tutsi. He talks about the Tutsi as a “warrior caste.”

Desouter argues that a culture of war and spear “can never be the culture of a civilization.” Mimicking a moralist, but remaining a racist he says:  “One cannot define what the culture of war is in reality. It’s a way of living.  It’s like love or beauty. We don’t know what it is but we recognise when it appears.”

In April 2007, his book entitled “Rwanda: Le procès du FPR. Mise au point historique”, was published in France. This book is a summary of many of his writings, including his defence expert reports to the ICTR.

His convictions are clearly expressed. The overall responsibility of the genocide against Tutsi lies with the RPF: “If there has been the planning and orchestration of genocide, find it with RPF which is ultimately responsible for it”.  The “RPF warriors were the architects”, one of his reports to the ICTR insists.

Desouter, is just like RTLM’s editor in chief, Gaspar Gahigi who, on May 31, 1994, denied  that  “RTLM  ever  told  Hutu  to  kill  Tutsi  or  Tutsi. … I  deny  in  the name  of  RTLM  for  I  am  its  editor  in  chief.  I maintain that on the waves of this radio, no one has told Hutu to kill Tutsi.

The two institutions, Interahamwe and RTLM, remained inseparable in the grand Tutsi extermination plan in Rwanda.   Ananie  Nkurunziza, RTLM commentator,    on June  21, 1994 had this to say: “What  we  know  at  RTLM,  the  radio  loved  by  the  Interahamwe,  file  radio  that  supports  the Interahamwe,  the  radio  that  supports  the  youths  of  all  Republican  parties  …  These  youths are united  under  the  umbrella  of  a  single  group  commonly  referred  to  as  Interahamwe and,  as  General  Bizimungu  says,  the  youths  are  in  the  frontline.”

Some genocidaires have demonstrated remorse in court than this Catholic priest. I witnessed this in the Gacaca tribunals and the ICTR.

Joseph Serugendo was one of the members of the Interahamwe militia’s executive committee, and a board member of the RTLM. He pleaded guilty before the ICTR that from early 1992 through 1994, as a member of the Interahamwe, “he planned with other leaders of the MRND, and the Interahamwe militias, political meetings and rallies aimed at inciting members of the Interahamwe to kill or cause serious harm to members of the Tutsi population with the goal of destroying the Tutsi ethnic group.”

Serugendo, also admitted that he and others “planned to establish, fund and operate the RTLM as a radio station which disseminated an anti-Tutsi message, intended to foment racial hatred and ultimately to destroy the Tutsi ethnic group.”

He admitted something of a common knowledge that their incendiary Radio’s broadcasted messages “aimed at disseminating an anti -Tutsi message and that such broadcasts in fact incited the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilian Tutsi throughout Rwanda.”

David Gushee, in his paper “Why the churches were Complicit: Confessions of a Broken-Hearted Christian” has this to tell: “But long study of the holocaust, and now fresh study of the Rwandan genocide, has led me to the heartbroken realization that the presence of Churches in a country guarantees exactly nothing. The self-identification of people with the Christian faith guarantees exactly nothing. All of the clerical garb and regalia, all of the structures of religious accountability, all of the Christian vocabulary and books, all the religious titles and educational degrees, they all guarantee exactly nothing. The desecrated churches and parish houses and seminaries and church schools and prayer books and Bibles of Rwanda will survive (unlike the murdered people who once used them) as the enduring memorial to this fact.”

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