Monday, September 20, 2004

The Slow Train to Arusha

The Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, "Justice is like a train that is nearly always late." That line seems appropriate in contemplating the trial that began in Tanzania today.

On April 13, 1994, one week after the genocide began, 2,000 Tutsis seeking refuge from roving bands of Hutus were herded into the Roman Catholic church in Nyange, Rwanda. In many places in Rwanda during the genocide, churches offered sanctuary--at least temporarily--to people desperately trying to escape the interahamwe. Priests struggled valiantly to protect parishioners in Kigali's cathedral, Sainte Famille. Elsewhere--the cathedral in Kibeho, for example--churches were the scenes of massacres. At times, even priests and nuns are alleged to have participated in the killing.

Nyange's priest, Father Athanase Seromba, is now on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania. He stands accused of the crime of genocide, along with conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity. Prosecutors allege that Father Seromba arranged to have bulldozers demolish his own church in order to bury those who had sought refuge inside. Witnesses say that he personally shot many of those who attempted to escape the church.

For years following Rwanda's genocide, Father Seromba lived near Florence, Italy where he served as a parish priest under an assumed name. In 2001, the tribunal sought his extradition from Italy, but not until February 2002, after Carla del Ponte, then the chief prosecutor in Arusha, had accused the Berlusconi government of failing to honor its international obligations did Italy and the Vatican move to turn over Father Seromba.

Another genocide trial has begun. The train has left the station.