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The BBC's Janet Barrie
"If found guilty the defendants could face life imprisonment"
 real 28k

Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Rwanda nuns await genocide verdict
Sister Maria Kisito Mukabutera (Left) and Sister Gertrude Mukangango
The two nuns are accused with helping Hutu soldiers
A Belgian jury has retired to consider its verdict on Thursday in the ground-breaking trial of two Roman Catholic nuns accused of complicity in the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

The two women are accused of delivering to their killers thousands of people who had sought refuge in their convent.

The nuns, Sister Maria Kisito Mukabutera and Sister Gertrude Mukangango, and two co-defendants, who face similar charges, have pleaded innocent. If found guilty, they could face life in prison.

Bones from Rwanda genocide victims
It is not known exactly how many people died in the genocide
The Belgian trial is taking place outside the United Nations Rwanda tribunal process in Arusha, Tanzania.

The Arusha court on Wednesday announced its first not guilty verdict.

It is the first time Belgium has made use of a law passed seven years ago, allowing its courts to hear cases of alleged human rights violations even if they were committed abroad.

The prosecution has alleged that the two women enthusiastically embraced genocide when they handed over up to 7,000 Tutsis sheltering in the convent in southern Rwanda.

In the two months that the trial has lasted, the jury has heard evidence from many survivors of the Rwandan genocide, that claimed as many as 800,000 lives.

Conspiracy allegations

The defendants have maintained their innocence, and their lawyers have argued that they are the victims of a conspiracy.

Human-rights groups hope the trial will set a precedent and make it harder for war criminals to seek sanctuary abroad.

Belgium is the former colonial power in Rwanda, and its willingness to stage this trial may come in part from concerns here that it did not do enough to stop the genocide.

In Arusha, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) acquitted former mayor Ignace Bagilshema of all genocide charges against him.

He was accused of being involved in the murder of 45,000 Tutsis in the region where he was mayor.

The judges said the prosecution had failed to prove its case.

Since starting proceedings in 1994 the ICTR has found eight people of genocide.

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See also:

17 Apr 01 | Europe
Rwanda nuns in genocide trial
17 Jul 00 | Africa
Rwanda counts its dead
05 Jul 00 | Africa
UN general's Rwandan nightmares
22 Jan 00 | Africa
Rwanda updates genocide list
16 Dec 99 | Africa
UN admits failure in Rwanda
07 Jun 01 | Africa
Visiting the scene of genocide
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