By Mark Michael
The Church of England has reinstated a former Rwandan bishop who resigned his English clerical role six years ago after refusing to answer accusations of complicity in his native country’s 1994 genocide. The Guardian reports that Rt. Rev. Jonathan Ruhumuliza, 64, the former Bishop of Kigali, took up a new post in April as non-stipendiary interim minister of Astley, Tyldesley, and Mosley Common in the Diocese of Manchester after an attempt by the British Home Office to revoke his refugee status failed.
The Observer, a London-based weekly, alleged in 2014 that Ruhumuliza, an ethnic Hutu, misled foreign churches and press outlets about the severity of the Hutu government’s attempt to exterminate the nation’s Tutsi population. In 100 days of slaughter, Hutu militia groups killed 800,000 Tutsis, about 70% of the country’s Tutsi population, and raped between 250,000 and 500,000 women. In a media tour of Nairobi, Canada, England, and the United States during the killings, Ruhumuliza described the murderous government as “peace loving” and falsely blamed a rebel army for the attacks.
Ruhumuliza was attacked at the time by Human Rights Watch as “spokesman for the genocidal government,” and the Most Rev. Emmanuel Kolini, the Anglican Church of Rwanda’s archbishop from 1998-2011, described him as “an errand boy for the government.” African Rights, in a report sent to the World Council of Churches, accused Ruhumuliza of collaborating with another Rwandan bishop, Samuel Musabyimana, who was later charged with genocide by the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The African Rights report also charges that he refused shelter to Tutsis who were in danger of death and requested weapons used in the killings. Ruhumuliza has denied these accusations.
Ruhumuliza was co-adjutor Bishop of Kigali at the time of the genocide, and became bishop in 1995, but there were consistent calls for investigations into his actions, and an ecclesiastical trial by fellow Rwandan clerics. He apologized in 1996, stating that he was sorry “because I did not continue to energetically condemn either the tragedy which was in progress or the state communiques which were broadcast on the radios during this time.” He stepped down a year later from his Rwandan post, and served as Bishop of Cameroon in the Church of the Province of West Africa from 1998-2004, when he moved to the United Kingdom.
He assisted in parishes in the Diocese of Worcester from 2005 until the release of the Observer report in 2014, and was licensed as an honorary assistant bishop in that diocese for nine years. The Diocese of Worcester responded to the 2014 Observer article by claiming that “no evidence was found of complicity in the Rwandan genocide” in a background check conducted by Lambeth Palace. The Rt. Rev. Peter Selby, the Bishop of Worcester, also noted that Ruhumuliza had claimed that he could not return to Rwanda because he feared that people there would attack him or his family.
When the British Home Office refused Ruhumuliza’s asylum application in 2011, he challenged the ruling, with financial assistance from church funds. His asylum application was rejected for a second time in 2014, but this was later overturned by an immigration tribunal, which ruled that even if Ruhumuliza had been implicated in genocidal crimes, he had since found redemption through his religious work. The decision of the tribunal was upheld by an appeal appeals court in 2018, allowing Ruhumuliza uncontested refugee status.
A Church of England spokesman told The Guardian, “The immigration tribunal and, subsequently, the court of appeal found in 2018 that Jonathan Ruhumuliza had the right to remain in the UK… Following the conclusion of this legal process, the C of E ascertained that clear support was shown for Bishop Jonathan from his [present] archbishop in Rwanda. As a bishop in good standing with his home church, and subject to the normal checks applied to all bishops, he was allowed to seek a position within the C of E again.”