The Rwandan authorities said yesterday they have agreed to transfer responsibility for carrying out the judicial investigation against Father Guy Theunis to Belgium at the latter’s request. The Belgian foreign ministry said the two countries would have “detailed talks on the technical modalities” for implementing this agreement. Theunis, who is Belgian, would be transferred back to Belgium as soon as the judicial investigation gets under way there. The former editor of the Rwandan magazine Dialogue, Theunis was recently accused by the Rwandan authorities of having a role in planning and inciting the 1994 genocide. He is currently held in the main prison in Kigali.
11.09.2005 Belgian priest who edited magazine to be tried for genocide, faces death penalty
Reporters Without Borders voiced shock and dismay today that one of Rwanda’s people’s courts (known as gacaca) has classified Belgian missionary priest Guy Theunis, the former editor of the Rwandan magazine Dialogue, as a category one genocide suspect and ordered him held in Kigali prison pending trial by an ordinary court.
Father Theunis, 60, no longer lives in Rwanda. He was arrested on 5 September while on a stopover in Kigali airport on his way back to Belgium after attending peace and reconciliation seminars in the neighbouring eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
By putting him in category one during a public hearing on 10 September, a gacaca in the Kigali district of Rugenge effectively accused him of being among the “planners, organisers, inciters, supervisors and leaders” of the 1994 genocide. As a result, he faces the death penalty.
“Father Theunis has always defended the principles of tolerance and respect for others, and has spent his life combatting racism and ethnic hate, so we are outraged that the Rwandan authorities have now brought these charges against him,” Reporters Without Borders said.
The organisation said it was “absurd” that he has been accused of inciting hate for reproducing passages from the extremist newspaper Kangura in Dialogue. “He did indeed quote passages from that newspaper, but he did it with the aim of condemning hate and intolerance.”
“We are not fooled,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “Some political score is being settled here. The Rwandan authorities must have given him a visa to enter Rwanda with the aim of trapping him. We are also astonished at the unusual speed of the proceedings and the fact that most of the people who appeared as prosecution witnesses were ruling party members.”
Noting that Father Theunis gave space in his magazine to all those who advocated reconciliation, including President Paul Kagame’s opponents, the organisation said it was puzzling that he was arrested now, as he had visited Rwanda several times since 1994, each time with a visa issued by the authorities.
“Father Theunis was our correspondent in Rwanda in 1992 and 1993,” Reporters Without Borders added. “We will not forget him and we will not stop proclaiming his innocence and campaigning for his release.”
The Company of Missionaries of Africa, to which Father Theunis belongs, has also rejected the charges brought against him. The Belgian authorities summoned the Rwandan ambassador in Brussels on 9 September to voice concern about the case and request an explanation.
Theunis is the first foreigner to be brought before the gacacas, which were set up to try the hundreds of thousands of people still held on suspicion of involvement in the 1994 genocide.