Last week, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda granted the prosecution appeal in the case of Athanase Seromba. Seromba was a priest who had participated in the massacre of several thousand Tutsi, who had sought refuge in his church. He encouraged a bulldozer operator to knock down the church, with the victims inside. But Seromba was only convicted for 'aiding and abetting' genocide, and he received a relatively short custodial sentence from the Trial Chamber.
The Appeals Chamber changed the conviction, describing Seromba as 'committing' the crime and not just 'aiding and abetting'. It also upped the sentence to life imprisonment.
I had looked regularly on the website for the Trial Chamber decision since it was issued in 2006, as part of research for the second edition of my book Genocide in International Law, due to appear later this year. But it has never appeared on the website. This week, in The Hague, I picked up rumours to the effect that the Trial Chamber judgment was not posted on the Tribunal website out of deference to the Church, which is shocking. It seems that the Roman Catholic Church, embarrassed by the role of one of its priests in the Rwandan genocide, attempted to pressure the Tribunal in various ways, including by directly contacting judges of the Tribunal. I cannot prove this. But the Trial Chamber judgment in Seromba remains unavailable. I believe it is the only judgment of any of the three ad hoc United Nations tribunals that cannot be obtained on the official website. In the absence of any other explanation, I am inclined to accept the version from The Hague rumour mill. Seromba fled RWanda following the genocide, and was arrested at the requestn of the Tribunalin Florence, Italy.
A couple of legal notes of interest. This is the first judgment of the Appeals Chamber to clarify the scope of the term 'committing'. The judges give it a very broad meaning. This is in line with some case law that uses the term 'co-perpetration', rather than the controversial 'joint criminal enterprise'. This debate is not directly refelcted in the judgment, which avoids the troublesome terminology. But it is implicit in the ruling. The Appeals Chamber decision increases the gravity of the conviction as well as the sentence. The President of the Tribunal, Fausto Pocar, has frequently criticized this as inconsistent with human rights standards. According to President Pocar, because there is a right to appeal a conviction, the Appeals Chamber cannot 'convict'; rather, it should remit such cases back to the Trial Chamber for a new ruling. President Pocar, who served for many years as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, did not participate in the Seromba decision.