Rwandan priest cleared of genocide charges

A UN court today acquitted a Catholic priest charged with genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda ordered the immediate release of Father Hormisdas Nsengimana, 55, who was a priest at a Catholic secondary school during the three months of slaughter of some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus in 1994.

Judges reversed an earlier conviction, citing several serious factual and legal errors. They said they could not conclude that Fr Nsengimana,  was guilty of any of the crimes, which included killing Tutsi priests, a judge and other Tutsi victims.

"The Chamber did not find a sufficient factual and legal basis for concluding that Nsengimana was guilty of any of the crimes," the tribunal said.

Father Nsengimana, had been imprisoned for seven years since his 2002 arrest in Cameroon. Judge Erik Mose ordered his immediate release from the UN  detention facility in Arusha.

"I wish for peace and reconciliation in Rwanda ... I thank God for this release," Fr Nsengimana told the press after his acquittal.

The tribunal, set up by the UN to try key suspects of the genocide, has now convicted 39 people and acquitted eight.

Fr Nsengimana is one of the four Catholic priests indicted by the ICTR. Athanase Seromba, a former vicar in western Rwanda, is serving a life sentence. Emmanuel Rukundo, a former military chaplain, was sentenced in February to 25 years in prison. Fr Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a former priest at the Parish of the Holy Family in Kigali, is awaiting trial.

At least 500,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during Rwanda's genocide, which began after President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was brought down in April 1994.

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