Priest Gets 12 Years for Rwanda Genocide Revisionism

From the Hirondelle News Agency (via All Africa):

A Rwandan catholic priest, Abbot [i.e. “Father”] Jean Marie Vianney Uwizeyeyezu, head of the parish of Kaduha (district of Nyamagabe, Southern Rwanda), was condemned on October 6th to 12 years of imprisonment for “having downplayed the genocide”, his lawyer has declared.

…According to Imvaho Nshya, a pro-government weekly published in kinyarwanda, the national tongue, the priest, while officiating back in April during the commemoration of the genocide, would have understated the massacre of Tutsis in 1994. The newspaper states that the priest’s discourse contained several Rwandan sayings that were interpreted as negationism.

This was in violation of a law passed on 6 September 2003. Whether or not such a law is a good idea, the context is somewhat different from France outlawing Armenian genocide denial; it should be noted that in recent years several genocide survivors in Kaduha have been murdered to prevent them giving testimony in court. The nature of Rwandan “genocide denial” is discussed in a 2005 report from Front Line, an Irish human rights organisation:

President Kagame and Government officials repeatedly accused former Prime Minister [Faustin] Twagiramungu, Kagame’s only credible opponent in the [2003] presidential race, of promoting ethnic divisions and denying the genocide…The accusation of genocide denial stems from Twagiramungu’s testimony in defence of Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (Ntakirutimana was convicted). There, Twagiramungu did not deny the genocide per se, but rather that it was planned and that it only targeted Tutsi. He also proposed some pernicious revisionism: that more Hutu were ‘probably’ killed than Tutsi during the period from 1990 to 1994.

Alexandre Kimenyi, himself a survivor and now a professor of Linguistics and Ethnic Studies in the USA, gives further details in an article from the UCLA International Institute:

Kimenyi was critical of the widely used phrase “Rwandan genocide.” This made it difficult for people out side the country to fix in their minds who was being killed. The term “Rwandan genocide,” Kimenyi said, is used by some writers not to signify the murder of the Tutsis “but to suggest apparently that the two groups were killing each other.”

Another term used to deny genocide in Rwanda is “civil war.” Because “if there are acts of war, two groups kill each other.” Not a civil war but a massacre took place in the spring of 1994. The number killed, Alexandre Kimenyi said, “is more than a million, although the UN and other governments refuse to accept that number.”

Alexandre Kimenyi said that he was particularly concerned because many Hutu spokespeople who deny the Tutsi genocide “are very well educated, they have very influential friends. They not only raise these arguments on the internet but they also have journals where they publish articles, well footnoted, where they claim the victims were the ones responsible for the killings that took place.”

…In Professor Kimenyi’s opinion, the many well-educated Hutus who live abroad create a problem in disseminating the truth because of their efforts to convince foreign public opinion of their position of denial.

But what about the hapless Uwizeyeyezu? Details are scarce, but a priest of the same name and from the same area was featured in a 1999 report entitled “Damien Biniga: UN Genocide Sans Frontieres”, and published by African Rights (and posted here). And if this is the same person, this where things get a bit odd – because this report describes Uwizeyeyezu as someone who helped Tutsi refugees in the face of obstruction from his priestly superiors:

Jean Marie-Vianney Uwizeyeyezu, âgé de 34 ans, se prepare actuellement pour sa prêtrise au grand séminaire de Nyakibanda, à Gishamvu, Butare. A la mi-1993, il était en stage à la paroisse de Muganza, aidant les abbés Sagahutu et Jean-Marie Rwanyambuto. En visite chez ses parents à Nyamagabe, Gikongoro, il réalisa que les Tutsis étaient tués et que leurs maison étaient incendiées, suite à la mort d’Habyarimana . Il retournait à Muganza lorsqu’il apprit que l’abbé Rwanyambuto avait quitté Muganza et que l’abbé Sagahutu était seul. Il espérait que le fait d’être hutu le protégerait des violence et qu’il pourrait ainsi aider ceux qui en avaient besoin.

He also testifies to the slaughter of Tutsis:

Le 15, les génocidaires sont revenus avec des grenades, des fusils, des machettes, des lances etc.. Ils étaient trop nombreux. Ils nous nous ont encerclés et ont commencée à tuer. Beaucoup de Tutsis ont été tués immédiatement, d’autres ont été blessés. Ils ont tué jusqu’au soir . Après leur départ, nous avons commencé à ramasser les blessés, mais il n’y avait pas moyen de les soigner. Certains n’avaient plus de jambes. Nous étions complètement découragés.

Uwizeyeyezu also apparently appeared as a witness at the trial of Mgr Augustin Misago, who was accused of refusing to shelter Tutsis from Hutu mobs (he was eventually acquitted, amidst some controversy).