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Friday, August 20, 1999 Published at 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK


World: Africa

Rwandan bishop facing genocide charges

The Church has been criticised for its attitude to the genocide

The trial of a Roman Catholic bishop in Rwanda has been delayed for five days in order for the defence team to prepare their case.


Chris Simpson in Kigali: "Case depends on testimonies of genocide survivors"
Bishop Augustin Misago, a Hutu, is on trial in Kigali in connection with the 1994 genocide, in which about 1m Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered.

In court on Friday, the defence team accused the state of holding the bishop illegally, arguing that there had been unacceptable delays in assembling a case bringing him to trial.

Bishop Misago - who appeared in court wearing regulation prison pyjamas and a crucifix around his neck - said he had not been given enough time to study his case file.

The trial has now been adjourned while the Rwandan judiciary decides whether the case should go ahead.

Evidence from survivors

Bishop Misago has been held by the authorities since April, despite strong protests from the Vatican.

The 56-year-old bishop of the southwestern diocese of Gikongoro is the highest placed clergyman to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

He is accused of failing to protect Tutsis seeking refuge in his parish. In particular, he is alleged to have refused to help to Tutsi girls who disappeared and are thought to have been murdered by death squads.


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Survivors allege that the girls had sought his protection during the 100 days of bloodshed during which Hutu militias slaughtered Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

More than 150,000 people are estimated to have been slaughtered in the diocese of Gikongoro alone.

Apart from having close links to the Hutu authorities, Bishop Misago is said to have been linked to those who actively led the death squads.

If convicted of the charges, the bishop could well face the death penalty.

Vatican protest

Bishop Misago has published a long letter in his defence. He says he is being made a scapegoat

He argues that he did what he could to protect his bishopric but had to make difficult choices in order to save as many lives as possible.

Relations between Kigali and the Vatican have been strained since the Bishop's arrest.

Sixty-five per cent of Rwandans are practising Catholics and the Vatican is concerned at the implications the trial will have on the Catholic Church.

The Vatican reacted strongly to Bishop Misago's arrest in April, saying it was an act of "profound gravity".

Criticism

The Church in Rwanda has been strongly criticised for its attitude both before and during the genocide.

Several priests and nuns are among tens of thousands awaiting trial for actively participating in the killings organised by the Hutu majority.

Human rights groups also accuse the Catholic Church of hiding other alleged murderers in Europe.

In 1998, two priests became the first members of the clergy to be sentenced to death for organising the killing of 2,000 Tutsis by bulldozing the church in which they had sought shelter.



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