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Peace prize for Belgian priest accused of genocide

<font color="#ff0000">* PHOTO IS NOT FOR USE</font> Belgian Roman Catholic missionary Guy Theunis, left, awarded a peace prize by the Flemish weekly church newspaper Kerk en Leven (Church and Life) on Wednesday in Ghent. To his right, Monsignor Luc Van Lo
Le prêtre catholique belge Guy Theunis, à gauche, recevant mercredi à Gand le prix pour la paix décerné par le journal paroissial flamand Kerk en Leven. A droite, Monseigneur Luc Van Looy, archevêque de Gand (Kristof Ghyselinck)

Belgian Roman Catholic missionary Guy Theunis, who has been accused by Rwandan authorities of taking part in the 1994 genocide, has been awarded a peace prize.

The prize was granted on Wednesday in the Belgian city of Ghent by the Flemish weekly church newspaper Kerk en Leven (Church and Life). The bishop of Ghent, Luc Van Looy, presented a cheque for 3,000 euros (US $3,560) and a work of art to Theunis on behalf of the jury.

Van Looy said Theunis, 60, who worked in Rwanda as a member of the White Fathers order from 1970 until 1994, "was mainly active in the fields of human rights, peace and justice". Theunis co-founded a Rwandan association for human rights and was also active in the Rwandan media. After the genocide, he trained church workers in South Africa.

"He strongly favoured the option for non-violence, which attracted on him many death threats," Van Looy said.

It was Theunis's first public appearance since he arrived in Belgium on 21 November 2005 from Rwanda.

Rwandan police arrested him on 6 September 2005 while he was in transit to Belgium from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. He was charged in Rwanda with "incitation to genocide", for reprinting - in a press review mainly intended for diplomats - articles from an extremist publication that incited the country's majority Hutus to kill its minority Tutsi population.

The Rwandan government also accused Theunis of reproducing biased information and sending it to Europe during the first days of the genocide, as well as masterminding killings in and around a church in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Media rights groups such as Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) and Human Rights Watch maintain the charge against Theunis was unwarranted, given that he left Rwanda seven days after the start of the genocide.

Brussels had asked that Theunis be brought to trial in Belgium; a request to which Rwanda acceded, crediting Brussels with a commitment to fight genocide.

In 2001, a Brussels court convicted four Rwandans for their roles in the genocide and sentenced them to between 12 and 20 years' imprisonment. Two more Rwandans were convicted in Belgium in June 2005 and sentenced to a minimum of 10 years.

During the award ceremony, Theunis said he felt the peace prize was "a sort of reparation". He said, "Because of totally unfounded accusations, mud was thrown on my name and my ideal of peace activist was tarnished."

He added that he considered himself to be the representative of "several Rwandan friends" who are dedicated to peace and the human rights.

"Some of them, including some of my former colleagues, have died because of their engagement," he said. "Others work in difficult circumstances. Maybe they will never receive a peace price."

Theunis would not comment on his case during and after the ceremony because he is still under Belgian investigation. So far, no arrest warrant has been issued against him.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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