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Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 17:49 GMT 18:49 UK
Vatican 'surprise' at Rwanda verdicts
Sister Maria Kisito Mukabutera (Left) and Sister Gertrude Mukangango
The two nuns handed over refugees to their killers
The Vatican says it is surprised that two Rwandan nuns convicted of war crimes should have been singled out for blame when so many people were responsible for the genocide there in 1994.


The Holy See cannot but express a certain surprise at seeing the grave responsibility of so many people and groups involved in this tremendous genocide in the heart of Africa heaped on so few people

Vatican spokesman
In a formal statement, the Vatican referred to a letter from Pope John Paul to Rwandans in 1996, saying that the church could not be held responsible for the misdeeds of individual members.

A court in Belgium on Friday sentenced the two nuns to 12 and 15 years in prison for their part in the genocide.

They were found guilty of homicide.

'Grave responsibility'

"The Holy See cannot but express a certain surprise at seeing the grave responsibility of so many people and groups involved in this tremendous genocide in the heart of Africa heaped on so few people," a statement by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

Sister Gertrude Mukangango received a 15-year sentence for her role in the massacre of some 7,000 people seeking refuge at her convent in southern Rwanda. Sister Maria Kisito Mukabutera received a 12-year sentence.

Two men accused of helping plan and carry out the killings received 20 years and 12 years respectively.

Bones from Rwanda genocide victims
It is not known exactly how many people died in the genocide
The prosecution in the war crimes trial had called for all four defendants to receive life sentences.

They were being tried for their complicity in the 13-week genocide in 1994 that resulted in the death of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The defendants, who all now live in Belgium, had maintained their innocence throughout the trial. Their lawyers claimed they were the victims of a conspiracy.

Landmark trial

The Belgian trial took place outside the United Nations Rwanda tribunal process in Arusha, Tanzania.

It was the first time Belgium had used a law passed seven years ago, allowing its courts to hear cases of alleged human rights violations even if they were committed abroad. It is not known exactly how many people died in the genocide

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 the trial may come in part from concerns here that it did not do enough to stop the genocide.

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See also:

08 Jun 01 | Europe
Nuns jailed for genocide role
08 Jun 01 | Europe
Rwanda nuns guilty of genocide
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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