Magazine article The Christian Century

Churches in the Thick of Rwandan Violence

Magazine article The Christian Century

Churches in the Thick of Rwandan Violence

Article excerpt

When Hutu militia swept through Rwanda last year, killing an estimated 500,000 Tutsi civilians, churches were a particular target for the violence, charged African Rights, a Londonbased human rights group. Not only that, Hutu churchpeople--including clerics and nuns--sometimes actively participated in the killing of Tutsis, according to the report.

More Rwandans died in Catholic and Protestant church and parish buildings than anywhere else during the killing frenzy, which began in early April 1994 and lasted through june of that year, the report said. "Mass graves, rotting corpses, latrines with dead bodies, blood-stained altars, bullet-ridden doors and shattered windows bear testimony to the killers' determination to kill--and to kill the belief of the Rwandese people that the church can protect the innocent."

The 1,200-page African Rights report, "Rwanda: Death, Despair and Defiance," is an exhaustive examination of the Rwandan slaughter. It is based on research, including eyewitness accounts and interviews with survivors and accused killers, begun while the killings were going on. Its 19 chapters chronicle the grisly details o the massacre, torture and rape of men, women and children--most of them Tutsis--by Rwanda's Hutu majority.

Some of the report's most devastating accounts are in a 68-page chapter on the churches. "The killers did not merely kill people in churches," the report said. "They killed churchpeople--priests, nuns, seminarians and lay staff of the church. Many of Rwanda's finest priests and nuns died. In addition, the killers deliberately desecrated the churches, attacking the moral and spiritual fabric of the community. The aim was annihilation."

Even as the report spotlighted the victims, it also underscored what it called "the moral failure" of Catholic and Anglican church leaders, most of whom were Hutus. …

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