Religion & Genocide

Last month two Benedictine nuns were convicted in a Belgian court of collaborating in the murder of thousands during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Sister Gertrude Mukangango and Sister Maria Kisito were sentenced to fifteen and twelve years’ imprisonment, respectively, for their roles in turning over to their Hutu killers seven thousand Tutsi who had sought asylum in the nuns’ monastery. In addition to betraying those who had found refuge at the monastery, the sisters willingly provided the gasoline used by Hutu militiamen to burn down a garage in which five hundred Tutsi men, women, and children were hiding. The two women subsequently fled to Belgium, Rwanda’s former colonial ruler, in the hope of escaping prosecution by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the Tutsi-led government now in control of the traumatized Central African country. More than eight hundred thousand Tutsi were killed in less than three months at the hands of the Hutu majority in what is considered one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century.

There appears to be little doubt about the women’s guilt. Crucial to the prosecution was the willingness of other Benedictine sisters to testify against them. Sister Gertrude and Sister Maria were tried under a Belgian law that allows the state to prosecute crimes committed in another country. The convictions are unprecedented because this is the first time that a jury in one country has...

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