Two nuns and two laymen received prison sentences of 12 to 20 years yesterday, for their part in the 1994 massacres in Rwanda. The BBC World Service report that Sr Maria Kisito Mukabutera, received a 12 year sentence and Sr Gertrude Mukangango, was given a 15-year jail term, for their roles in the massacre of about 7,000 people who sought refuge in their convent. The Belgian trial took place outside the United Nations Rwanda tribunal process in Arusha, Tanzania. During the two month, the jury heard evidence from many survivors of the Rwandan genocide, that claimed as many as 800,000 lives. Witnesses said the nuns handed over people to be killed, and even gave petrol to a crowd who then set fire to a building sheltering 500 people. Sr Maria and Sr Gertrude, who have moved to Belgium, maintained their innocence, and their lawyers argued that they were the victims of a conspiracy. News of the sentences has shaken the Catholic community in Rwanda. Fr Dominique Karekezi, editor of the Kilgali religious newspaper Information, told Vatican Radio: "It is a sorrow for all the Church in Rwanda, and also for the whole universal Church. Above all, religious are witnesses of Christ and defenders of life. We are not judges. Human justice can be mistaken. Perhaps they did not have a proper attitude during the tragedy." He added: "I think that at that time we were all terrified. Truly, I cannot know the circumstances experienced by the nuns. But people wonder about the nuns' attitude, especially when they heard that they gave the gasoline that was used to burn the house in which 500 people had sought refuge, who later died." Comboni Missionary Fr Ephrem Tresoldi, told Vatican Radio that in spite of this case, people must not forget the great acts of heroism carried by many Christians in Rwanda during this time. Three bishops, 123 priests and 300 nuns were killed. This was 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. Human-rights groups hope the trial will set a precedent and make it harder for war criminals to seek sanctuary abroad.
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