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The Pope’s Killers

4:23 pm
  • Opening Wounds As Rwandan Convicted Priests Are Honoured

Pope Francis greets Rwanda's Smaragde Mbonyintege the Bishop of Kabgayi diocese

Pope Francis greets Rwanda’s Smaragde Mbonyintege the Bishop of Kabgayi diocese

The day was 21 May 1994 and killings targeting Tutsi had intensified since April after the plane carrying president Juvenal Habyarimana had been blown in midair killing all on board.

At about 40 km southwest of Kigali on this day, a young Tutsi woman fled from her home to hide at St. Léon Minor Seminary in Kabgayi diocese in current Muhanga district. It is the site of Rwanda’s oldest cathedral also hosts Catholic seminaries, schools and a hospital.

Emmanuel Rukundo, a priest she had always known arrived holding a pistol, she ran to him and begged him if he could help hide her. The priest told her that he could not help since her entire family had to be killed because one of her relatives was collaborating with (Inyenzi) RPF rebels.

The young Tutsi woman was worried of safety; she assisted him to carry some items to his room, hoping that he would help to hide her. While in the room, the priest locked the door, placed his pistol on a small table, grabbed the woman and pushed her onto the bed and raped her. She tried to resist but was overpowered.

This woman said she was traumatized by this incidence and feared to tell anyone until 2001 when she testified against Rukundo at the international criminal Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania.

She told court that she could not escape since Rukundo was on top of her, holding her down, was in a position of authority and had a gun.

Rukundo admitted he visited the Seminary on 21 May 1994, but maintained he didn’t see her there. Court found that the young woman suffered serious mental harm as a consequence of Rukundo’s conduct.

In another incidence of brutality, Rukundo led a group of soldiers and Interahamwe and attacked the Kabgayi Major Seminary on 24 May 1994. They had a list of names; abducted and subsequently killed about twenty Tutsi clergy and two Tutsi laypersons.

Rukundo prompted several killings and torture of Tutsi victims hiding or seized in 8 separate locations including; The Nyakibanda Major Seminary, roadblock at Kabgayi printing press (Imprimerie de Kabgayi) and at St. Joseph’s College.

Driven by his deep hate for Tutsi, he carried out more murders at; Nyabikenke Communal Office, Kabgayi Bishopric, St. Léon Minor Seminary, CND and Kabgayi Major Seminary.

Another notorious priest Joseph Ndagijimana facilitated the murder of several Tutsi hiding at Byimana Parish and didn’t spare a fellow priest Alphonse Mbuguje of Cyangugu diocese. After the Genocide, Ndagijimana was arrested and tried under Gacaca community court. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at Mpanga prison.

These two notorious priests will on 16th July be honoured by the Catholic Church for their ‘exemplary service’ during the silver jubilee celebrations. Kabgayi diocese has printed an invitation letter containing a list of seven priests including; Emmanuel Rukundo and Joseph Ndagijimana to be honoured.

Outraged survivors and relatives of victims say this is an insult and unacceptable at a time the country is observing a100-day mourning period for the 22nd commemoration of genocide which concludes on July 4.

The leaked letter which informs about the celebration bears the name of Smaragde Mbonyintege the Bishop of Kabgayi diocese inviting the general public.

A view of Kabgayi diocese

A view of Kabgayi diocese



While testifying at the ICTR, a witness told court that around 11 or 12 April 1994, Rukundo was seen in the Bishopric at Kabgayi striding down the corridor and frightening people saying “the time had come for us to kill the Inyenzi”.

The Tutsi were frightened by these rants. He continuously told the Tutsi “You will see, you will see, you will get it from us.”

Rukundo first visited St. Léon Minor Seminary on 21 April 1994. He went around and talked to a number of refugees and handed a piece of paper to one of the soldiers accompanying him and left.

The soldiers then called out the names of people that appeared on the list. The identified refugees were bundled onto a blue truck, taken away and killed.

Four days later Rukundo returned to the Seminary accompanied by solders, picked more Tutsi and took them to be killed.

Before the RPF rebels arrived at Kabgayi June 2, 1994, Rukundo returned to the seminary and ordered a large number of refugees to board a bus. He drove them away to an unknown destination where they got killed.

Survivors of Kabgayi atrocities testify that many women and girls witnessed traumatic incidents; some women were raped with clubs while others were defiled.

In another testimony Rukundo in company of Thadee Nsengiyumva, then Bishop of Kabgayi Diocese who was also head of episcopal council and the Prime Minister Jean Kambanda once visited the CND.  Barely two hours after the visit, soldiers came and abducted refugees from the place and killed them.

On 15 April 1994, Rukundo went to Nyabikenke communal office in Gitarama and ordered policemen to shoot at Tutsi refugees hiding at that location, which resulted in several deaths.

Tom Ndahiro a researcher on Genocide says the list was first leaked to him by an insider in the Church. Ndahiro twitted it to the Pope saying; “@Pontifex Shame #KabgayiDiocese 2 have SilverJubilee 4 Genocide convicts Fr. ERukundo (25yrs) & Fr.JNdagijimana(Life) .”

However, Smaragde Mbonyintege the Bishop of Kabgayi diocese denies authoring the invitation letter that contains names of priests including the convicted priests scheduled to be honoured.

“I didn’t make that list; some people are trying to confuse the public. The priests in prison cannot be honoured at the celebration,” says Mbonyintege adding he was out of the country and didn’t write the letter.

Ndahiro believes, “this letter was written by the church, denying the letter is just trying to escape.” He demands the church to produce an official list and also pronounce itself on the honour of convicted priests.

Earlier, Dr. Jean Damascene Bizimana, the Executive Secretary of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG) expressed impatience about this letter.

“The silver jubilee celebrations should be honouring someone that has properly executed their duties. We don’t understand why a genocide convict should be thanked and praised.”

Residents of Muhanga district in a walk to remember during previous commemoration

Residents of Muhanga district in a walk to remember during previous commemoration

Tracing the Convicted Priests

Rukundo was born in 1959 at Kabgayi in former Gitarama Province. Since 1973 when Rukundo was studying at the Kabgayi Minor Seminary, he deeply hated Tutsi and described them as “people to destroy; we must fight against them by all means.”

He hated his colleagues (priests who were Tutsi) saying that the Major Seminary of Nyakibanda was a stronghold of the Tutsi, and that it was difficult for him as a Hutu to live there and become a priest.

In 1991, he was ordained a priest and later in 1993 became a chaplain in the Rwandan military and held a rank of Captain. He was also head of St. Leon Minor Seminary in Gitarama.

When the RPF rebels attacked in 1990, Rukundo was studying at Nyakibanda Major Seminary, Butare. He created a group of extremists to collect money to support the Rwandan Army (RAF) to fight the RPF.

In spite of his attitude, Rukundo was appointed as priest of Kanyanza parish also in Kabgayi. This region at that time was characterized by having a majority Hutu population and for its extremism.

During the genocide, Rukundo worked closely with interahamwe militia searching for Tutsi from house to house and visiting the facilities of the parish to identify Tutsi to be killed.

He instigated several murders including his fellow priests; Niyonshuti Celestin, Tharcisse and Callixte Musonera; Father Martin, and Sister Bénigne. He is also linked to several killings of Bernadine sisters’ convent in Nyarugenge sector in Kigali-Ville prefecture.

When the RPF rebels defeated the Rwandan Army, Rukundo fled and settled in Switzerland from where he continued ranting against the Tutsi saying; “They had got just what they deserved…. They looked for it”.

In 2001 Rukundo was arrested by Swiss officials acting on an arrest warrant issued by ICTR and was later extradited to Arusha, Tanzania.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda charged Rukundo with: genocide and crimes against humanity including; murder, extermination. He was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The invitation to the silver jubilee celebrations

The invitation to the silver jubilee celebrations



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