In September 2001 the New York Times Magazine published an article under this heading: “How Did a Rwandan Convent Turn from Sanctuary to Slaughterhouse?”. The article went on to describe the trial for crimes against humanity of two Benedictine nuns, Sister Gertrude and Sister Kisito. In 1994 Rwanda experienced a terribly violent period in its history. Conflict between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority flared into genocide. The Hutu government went on a rampage of violence and murder, slaughtering Tutsi’s on a massive scale. Many Tutsi people fled to the churches, believing that there they would find sanctuary. And so, thousands of people fled to the Benedictine convent headed by the Hutu, Sister Gertrude. But rather than providing shelter, Sister Gertrude went to the Hutu militia and asked them to “clear” the convent. The militia promptly obliged, beginning an indiscriminate shooting. 7000 Tutsis were killed. When some 500 fled to the convent’s garage Sister Gertrude and Sister Kisito provided the gasoline the militia used to burn them to death.

The New York Magazine article is dumbfounded by this evil. How is it that two angelic looking nuns could perpetrate such evil? The journalist ends with these questions: “The picture is not an allegory of innocence, after all, but a study in the unimaginable disguises of evil. What mixture of terror and hatred led these nuns to betray the promise of their faith? The Rwandan massacres left in their wake hundreds of disturbing questions like that one – How does mass violence suddenly erupt? Are we all capable of murdering our neighbours? Where does evil come from? – but none of them were resolved by the … court. Justice is built to establish the facts of evil. It cannot explain them.”

 

Source: Reported in New York Times Magazine, September 9, 2001.

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