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Nuns convicted of genocide offences to appeal

Two Rwandan nuns, convicted in 2001 by a Belgian Crown Court of participating in the 1994 genocide, have lodged an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights.

Sr Gertrude, named as Consolata Mukangando, and Sr Maria Kizito, named as Julienne Mukabutera, were accused of failing to protect between 5000 and 7000 people who had sought sanctuary in their Benedictine convent. Prosecutors said the two Hutu nuns drove local Tutsis - mostly women and children - out of their compound and stood by as militiamen killed them.

The nuns - who fled to Belgium in 1994 - were also accused of informing militiamen that some people had fled to nearby buildings. Kizito was also accused of providing jerry cans of gasoline used to set a garage containing 500 people on fire.

The nuns were sentenced to 15 and 12 years' imprisonment respectively without right of appeal. Only the Cour de Cassation (the highest court of appeal) would have been authorised to review legal technicalities of the case, but not the facts, if a request had been made within 15 days.

"They believe they did not get a fair trial," a lawyer representing Kizito told Reuters. He said the appeal would centre on key witnesses and the chief accuser, Emmanuel Rekeraho, head of the extremist militia in Sovu, southern Rwanda, where the crimes had been committed, who could not testify at the nuns' trial as he had already been imprisoned in Rwanda. "We were never able to question him," the lawyer said.

Defence lawyers at the trial expressed doubt over a foreign jury's ability to understand the complexities of the 1994 genocide, while lawyers for the victims said the involvement of a people's jury "avoided transforming the trial into a political debate".

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks

10 Jul 2002