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  1. Pontiff acknowledges some Catholic priests and nuns ‘succumbed to hatred and violence’ by taking part in 1994 killings Pope Francis with the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, and his wife, Jeannette Nyiramongi, during an audience at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. Pope Francis has asked for forgiveness for the Catholic church’s role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which 800,000 people were slaughtered in 100 days of violence. The “sins and failings of the church and its members” had “disfigured the face” of Catholicism, he said. Speaking after meeting the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, the Vatican acknowledged that some Catholic priests and nuns had “succumbed to hatred and violence” by participating in the genocide. According to the Vatican, Francis “expressed the desire that this humble recognition of the failings of that period, which unfortunately disfigured the face of the church, may contribute to a ‘purification of memory’ and may promote, in hope and renewed trust, a future of peace”. Between April and June 1994, an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists in a wave of violence sparked by the death of the Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana – a Hutu – when his plane was shot down. Violence spread from the capital, Kigali, throughout the country, encouraged by the presidential guard and radio propaganda. The killing was led by a militia called the Interahamwe, but ordinary citizens were urged to join in. In some cases, Hutus were forced by military personnel to murder their Tutsi neighbours. About 200 priests and nuns – Tutsi and Hutu – were among those slaughtered. But other priests and nuns were complicit, or even took part, in the violence. Thousands of people were butchered in churches where they sought refuge. An estimated 5,000 people were killed at the Ntarama Catholic church on 15 August 1994: the site is now one of six major memorials in Rwanda. One priest, Father Athanase Seromba, ordered his church to be bulldozed with 2,000 Tutsis sheltering inside. Another, Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, helped draw up lists of people to be killed and raped young women, according to charges issued by the UN’s international criminal tribunal for Rwanda in 2005. The Catholic church was compromised by its longstanding political ties to the ruling Hutu elite. Archbishop Vincent Nsengiyumva sat on the ruling party’s central committee for nearly 15 years even as it implemented policies that discriminated against Tutsis. Once the massacres started, instead of using his political affiliations to urge the regime to stop the killing, he refused even to call it genocide. Witnesses said he stood by as Tutsi priests, monks and a nun were taken to be murdered. The Vatican statement said that the pope “implored anew God’s forgiveness for the sins and failings of the church and its members, among whom priests, and religious men and women who succumbed to hatred and violence, betraying their own evangelical mission.” Last year, Rwanda’s Catholic bishops apologised for “all the wrongs the church committed” during the genocide. Their statement acknowledged church members planned, aided and carried out the genocide, and that the local church had later resisted efforts by the government and groups of survivors to acknowledge the church’s complicity in mass murder. A report on the genocide commissioned by the Organisation of African Unity said the church in Rwanda had offered “indispensable support” to the Hutu regime during the killing, and that church leaders had played a “conspicuously scandalous role” in the genocide by failing to take a moral stand against it. “This stance was easily interpreted by ordinary Christians as an implicit endorsement of the killings, as was the close association of church leaders with the leaders of the genocide,” it said. For two decades following the genocide, the Vatican maintained that although individual clergy had committed terrible crimes, the church bore no institutional responsibility. After the genocide, a Catholic network helped priests and nuns who had been complicit in the violence to reach Europe and evade justice. Munyeshyaka took charge of a Catholic church in Gisors, in northern France, while Seromba changed his name and became a parish priest in Florence. Carla del Ponte, the international tribunal’s chief prosecutor, later accused the Vatican of obstructingSeromba’s extradition to face trial. The pontiff’s meeting with Kagame at the Vatican on Monday was a “positive step forward”, the Rwandan government said. “Today’s meeting was characterised by a spirit of openness and mutual respect,” said a statement from the Rwandan foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo. “It allows us to build a stronger base for restoring harmony between Rwandans and the Catholic church.” However, she added, “genocide denial and trivialisation continue to flourish in certain groups within the church and genocide suspects have been shielded from justice within Catholic institutions”. Philip Gourevitch, the author of We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families, an account of the genocide, said the pope’s statement was “a significant change of tone” but not an apology. “It’s a significant step towards acknowledging the deep stain on the church. But there have been some well-documented cases of the church whisking out of Rwanda suspected genocidal priests and sheltering them from attempts to hold them accountable,” he told the Guardian. The population of Rwanda, a former Belgian colony, is overwhelmingly Christian, with similar numbers of Roman Catholics and Protestants. Since the genocide, many Catholics have joined Pentecostal churches. the Guardian
  2. There's fresh impetus to explore Namibia's startling landscapes this year CREDIT:FOTOLIA 6 JANUARY 2017 • 12:31PM If your ambition this year is to try new things and explore new places, you're in luck. From Nicaragua to Tajikistan, a number of hitherto "undiscovered" destinations are increasingly catering to discerning holidaymakers, with a host of new resorts opening and experiences launching over the year to come. Read below for more on the most exciting outdoor adventures to be enjoyed around the world in 2017, or for something more sedate see our guides to 2017's best wellness and fitness breaks; 2017's best luxury beach holidays; the year's best yachting and sailing holidays; and the best cities to visit over the next 12 months. The Desert Circuit: Namibia Exclusive Lodges The four new luxury lodges on the Namibia Exclusive circuit are located in some of the most remote and beautiful northern parts of the country, each designed by architect Greg Scott and built of local materials that reflect the region’s landscapes and cultural traditions. Sorris Sorris Lodge in Damaraland has been built into huge granite boulders scattered across the desert landscape, its modern African rammed-earth structures and pool offering views over the Ugab River and the mountains of the Brandberg Massif. Sorris Sorris Lodge Omatandeka Lodge is surrounded by vast plains inhabited by the Himba people, table-top mountains and a vital wildlife corridor used by mountain zebra, oryx and endangered black rhino, while Sheya Shuushona Lodge, on the northern boundary of Etosha National Park, is surrounded by photogenic salt pans that change colour with the seasons and turn into a lake in the rainy season. Finally, Xaudum Lodge, the most recent addition, is surrounded by the sand dunes of the Kalahari, home to some 3,000 elephants. All four lodges are located in areas with indigenous communities and contribute funds so these people can continue to live in traditional ways on their ancestors’ land. The Explorations Company offers a nine-night safari, staying at three Namibia Exclusive lodges, from £8,985 per person including flights, air transfers, full board and guiding. The Italian Castle: Castello di Ugento, Puglia There are few buildings in Europe in which guests can stay above a Norman keep, dine beneath 17th-century Baroque frescoes and wander around a garden in which Bronze Age artefacts have been found. In April, on the southern heel of Italy, the (rather wonderfully named) d’Amore family will open their restored thousand-year-old Castello di Ugento to paying guests for the first time (doubles from £260). Visitors can relax within walled gardens, in which more than 100 medicinal and aromatic plants are grown for the kitchen and spa; admire the frescoes painted in 1694 to portray the noble family’s history; sample local wines in an ancient cistern-turned-cellar; and take cookery lessons in a wing turned by the Culinary Institute of America into its first European school. A maximum of 18 guests will sleep in stone-walled rooms with high, star-vaulted ceilings and views over Ugento’s rooftops, and they will feast on Puglian favourites cooked by Milanese chef Odette Fada, whose refined cuisine at the renowned Rex Il Ristorante in Los Angeles and San Domenico NY made her name as one of America’s finest Italian chefs. The nearest beaches are two miles away and Baroque towns such as Lecce are a short drive from the castle. The Urban Forest: Aman Shanghai Aman’s latest property in China (its fourth) must be one of its most anticipated to date. The Shanghai retreat (rates not yet available) is a picture of leafy tranquility – and full of surprises. If a visitor were to drop into the 100-acre property, planted with thousand-year-old camphor trees and interspersed with historic Ming- and Qing-dynasty houses, they’d never believe that they were within easy reach of buzzy downtown Shanghai. Neither the forest nor village are native to this area; both were moved here over the past 10 years from Jiangxi, some 500 miles southwest, by Ma Dadong, a pioneering businessman, when the building of a reservoir threatened their survival. Aman Shanghai Now that the painstaking replanting (which took three years) and the building of the hotel are complete, the 37 villas in the new sanctuary are being decorated with original beams, floors, sculptures and carvings from the uplifted village homes. Kerry Hill, the project’s architect, has taken care to reflect traditional Chinese culture while blending in contemporary comforts and natural tones of earth, moss and creamy whites. Guests can take day trips to Shanghai, walk in the forest, sample Eastern cuisine, or relax in the spa, beside the two pools or in the Nan Shu Fang contemplation garden. The South American Sleeper: The Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru For the first time in May 2017, travellers will be able not only to traverse the Andes in one of the most luxurious trains on earth, but to sleep overnight on one. The Belmond Andean Explorer has been built to carry up to 68 passengers in en-suite cabins decorated by the South African designer Inge Moore in contemporary light woods and comforting alpaca-wool colours. Each of the train’s cars is fitted with expansive windows to frame views of the Andean plains, mountains and grand architecture, including the Unesco World Heritage Site of Arequipa. Although another two trains already operate in this area – Belmond’s Hiram Bingham, which offers day trips to Machu Picchu, and the more traditional Inca Princess – this is the first modern luxury train to offer trips from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and Arequipa, on one- and two-night journeys. Chefs from the Hotel Monasterio in Cusco will serve modern Peruvian cuisine in two dining cars; guests can also enjoy spacious lounge and observation cars, and an open deck. Doubles from £738 , all-inclusive, for one night. The Gorilla Camp: Bisate Lodge, Rwanda One of the key trends in Africa in 2017 is the growth of camps that offer both sustainable luxury and adventure. Hence Wilderness Safaris’ decision to open Bisate Lodge in June as a luxury base for tracking the 10 habituated gorilla groups in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park (doubles from £1,762 full board, excluding gorilla permits). The lodge, raised high above the forest floor in the amphitheatre of an eroded volcanic cone, has been designed by architect Nick Plewman to echo the spherical, thatched structures that dot the hills, as well as the layout of traditional Rwandan palaces. The interiors by Caline Williams-Wynn have been inspired by the rich detail of Rwandan textiles, many of which are made using a technique called imigongo, an ancient art form incorporating geometric shapes. When the first guests arrive, they will be able not only to track gorillas, but to hike to Dian Fossey’s grave and her former research station at Karisoke, to trek to the top of a nearby volcano, and then to relax in the extensively reforested gardens. The Jungle Retreat: Nekupe Sporting Resort and Retreat, Nicaragua Nicaragua’s first luxe mountain resort sits in the lush landscape of Nandaime, just 40 minutes’ drive from the pretty colonial city of Granada. Nekupe – or heaven, in the indigenous Chorotega language – was designed with the help of a feng shui architect to have the highest energy flow and least environmental impact possible, and the four freestanding villas and four expansive suites, with king-sized beds, made-for-sharing bathtubs and alfresco showers, are decorated in earth tones and warm woods that echo the serene setting (doubles from £720, full board). Floor-to-ceiling windows frame views over Mombacho volcano’s perfect cone, and wraparound terraces are perfect for sipping daiquiris, before farm-to-table feasts of nuevo-Nicaraguan cuisine. Nekupe will provide access to Nicaragua's underexplored nature reserves The surrounding nature reserve, which echoes with the sounds of primates and toucans, can be explored on ATVs, as well as on paths created for hikers, bikers and horseback riders, or on zip wires, which soar above the forest canopy. For those not expending energy on target-shooting, tennis and yoga, there is an infinity pool and a spa. The Cook Ski Spot: Lech, Austria Size matters to ski resorts, so the hotly anticipated coronation of Ski Arlberg as Austria’s largest contiguous ski area is big news indeed. Encompassing eight villages, including big hitters St Anton, Lechand Zürs, Ski Arlberg is already one of the best-known ski areas in the Alps. But now its four new lifts are open, linking the entire area to deliver 109 miles of pistes (three more than Val d’Isère), Ski Arlberg will join the ranks of the world’s über resorts. New developments have given Lech a leg up The four connected lifts, known as the Flexenbahn, will place Lech at the epicentre of the ski area (stealing some thunder from St Anton). While expanding its lifts, Lech has also been consolidating its position as Austria’s leading town for luxury ski chalets. In December – hot on the heels of properties like the Aurelio Clubhouse, Chalet N, Chalet 1597 and Überhaus, which have raised the luxury bar in recent years – Severin’s Alpine Retreat will open its doors. The nine-suite hotel will be fitted with only the best: Minotti furnishings, a spa with an indoor infinity pool and hypoxic chamber for altitude training, and a ski room with bespoke Indigo kit. Guests can take over the chalet, for free rein over the suites, restaurant, capacious spa and fire-lit lounges, or plump for The Residence: a sleek four-bedroom private apartment spanning two floors with a professional kitchen, cinema, bar and outdoor hot tub. The Oxford Ski Company offers a week for two people at Severin’s Alpine Retreat from £6,440, including transfers and flights. The Rugged Destination: Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan Tajikistan was the second-fastest growing tourist destination in the world in 2015, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Which is why in 2017 Edge Expeditions will be running a two-week Luxury Tajikistan tour of the country’s spectacular Pamir Mountains: one the most diverse, wild, exhilarating and least-explored corners of the planet. With a team of expert guides, a maximum of eight guests will traverse the raw wilderness by either four-wheel-drive vehicles, with a driver, or motorbikes. Journeying along the legendary Pamir Highway, travellers will spend days exploring azure mountain lakes, hidden valleys, ancient ruins and high mountain passes that very few outsiders ever get to see. The trip starts off at a five-star hotel in the capital, Dushanbe, while on the road the ground crew will prepare yurt camps with hot showers, comfortable beds, Egyptian cotton sheets and gourmet meals prepared by the expedition’s private chef. Along the way, both British and Tajik guides will interpret the layered history of the region, while astronomers with telescopes will also be on hand to explore some of the least light-polluted night skies in the world. Edge Expeditions is offering a 14-day Luxury Tajikistan journey by four-wheel-drive or motorcycle, from £9,495 full board, starting and ending at Dushanbe, including transfers, motorcycle rental or vehicle (with driver), back-up vehicles, guides and medic, but excluding international flights.
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  3. Thanks to the efforts of Rwanda’s Ombudsman and clear-thinking judges, Jehovah’s Witnesses received justice after a long legal battle. The Supreme Court initially ruled against the Witnesses and ordered them to pay compensation to the owners of a building that Kigali city officials had ordered to be demolished. However, the Ombudsman saw a clear injustice and asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its judgment. Kigali City Officials Order a Cleanup As part of a far-reaching cleanup initiative, Kigali city officials issued an order in 2006 for residents to remove all street kiosks built on public land. This same order obligated residents to maintain and beautify the public areas surrounding their property. The order also required the removal of illegally constructed buildings. This included a building that Mr. Ngayabateranya had constructed on public land without permits. In addition, he used materials and construction methods that did not comply with building regulations. When the 21-day compliance period expired without action, the Gasabo District mayor issued a written order to demolish the illegally constructed buildings. With the buildings removed, the national office of Jehovah’s Witnesses, also located in the Gasabo District, Remera Sector of Kigali, beautified the public area near its facility by laying a walkway and planting a garden. Intermediate Court Holds the Witnesses Responsible After city officials had Mr. Ngayabateranya’s building demolished, he and his associates filed complaints in the Intermediate Court of Gasabo, accusing the Witnesses of destroying the building. Mr. Ngayabateranya and associates maintained that they were entitled to compensation for the demolished building, though they failed to provide the court with any valid evidence to support their claims. Jehovah’s Witnesses provided official documentation clearly proving that city officials were responsible for the action. Nevertheless, the intermediate court ignored the evidence and ruled against the Witnesses. High Court Reverses Decision The Witnesses appealed to the high court to remedy the obvious injustice. After reviewing the evidence, the high court determined that there was no sound basis for the intermediate court’s decision against the Witnesses. On November 5, 2010, the high court determined that Mr. Ngayabateranya and associates had filed a frivolous lawsuit and ordered them to pay damages and costs of 800,000 Rwandan francs ($1,360 U.S.). Supreme Court Misses Vital Evidence Mr. Ngayabateranya appealed the decision to Rwanda’s Supreme Court. During the proceedings, Remera Sector’s Executive Secretary testified that Mr. Ngayabateranya’s building was illegally constructed and therefore demolished as part of a State program for restructuring the city. The Supreme Court acknowledged that Jehovah’s Witnesses did not, in fact, demolish the building. However, the Court concluded that the Witnesses instigated its demolition. The Court overlooked significant evidence and then reasoned that the Witnesses unjustly benefited because they landscaped the area where the building once stood. The Court awarded the complainants 22,055,242 Rwandan francs (over $33,000 U.S.) in damages. The Witnesses paid the damages under protest on April 4, 2013. Ombudsman Urges Supreme Court to Remedy Injustice Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman because they had been falsely accused and unfairly held responsible for the demolition of Mr. Ngayabateranya’s building. Rwanda’s Chief Ombudsman, Mrs. Aloysie Cyanzayire, reviewed the complaint and the Supreme Court’s decision. After examining the evidence, Mrs. Cyanzayire established that the city demolished the building because Mr. Ngayabateranya had failed to comply with Rwandan law. She also affirmed that there was no reason to punish the Witnesses for supporting the city’s directive to beautify the adjoining public land.The Witnesses’ improvement and continued maintenance of the land was a “helpful achievement” and “a noteworthy support given to the State in its program of cleaning the city.” Illegally constructed buildings prior to the Kigali city ordinance and the revitalized public land after their removal On December 4, 2013, Mrs. Cyanzayire requested that the Supreme Court review its judgment against Jehovah’s Witnesses. A new panel of judges heard the case, and on October 17, 2014, the Court reversed itself, finding Mr. Ngayabateranya’s claim to be unfounded. It ordered Mr. Ngayabateranya to return the money he had unjustly received under the prior judgment and to pay legal fees. Attorneys representing Jehovah’s Witnesses and a bailiff are currently working to recover these funds. Protection Under the Law Jehovah’s Witnesses graciously acknowledge the help of Mrs. Cyanzayire in her role as Ombudsman, and they are grateful to the Supreme Court for its reversal. No doubt all law-abiding citizens appreciate that the Republic of Rwanda has an effective mechanism to remedy injustice and uphold the rule of law. The Office of the Ombudsman in Rwanda Rwanda established the Office of the Ombudsman in 2003 to receive and investigate citizens’ complaints of unjust treatment by public or private institutions. The Ombudsman independently determines the validity of complaints and makes impartial recommendations. In Rwanda, the Ombudsman can also investigate acts of alleged judicial misconduct. As in this case, the Office of the Ombudsman may even request the Supreme Court to review its own judgments. A person must exhaust all other avenues for relief before resorting to the Ombudsman. Source:
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  4. The government of Rwanda took a step toward eliminating religious discrimination in schools by issuing an order that mandates respect for the religious beliefs of students. This is welcome news to students whose conscience does not allow them to participate in certain school activities. In Rwanda, most schools are government subsidized but administered by religious organizations. Enrollment is open to the public, so students who attend these schools may belong to various religions. However, some school authorities have rigidly enforced religious or patriotic activities or required payment of church taxes. They have punished students whose religious beliefs do not allow them to comply. A government minister in charge of primary and secondary education characterized the prevailing attitude among some school administrators this way: “Our students are not allowed to worship in a way that contradicts our beliefs.” Government Order Reinforces Freedom of Conscience Government officials stepped in to correct the problem with an executive order containing new regulations intended to eliminate religious discrimination in schools. Article 12 of the government’s Order No. 290/03, published in the Official Gazette on December 14, 2015, states that each school shall respect the freedom of worship of the students and allow them to pray in accordance with their faith if their religion or church is legally accepted and if doing so does not interfere with teaching and learning at the school. Each school shall respect the freedom of worship of the students.—Order No. 290/03, Article 12 The government’s action reinforces the decision of the Intermediate Court of Karongi, which involved Witness students who were expelled from a local school in May 2014. The school authorities there did not honor the students’ refusal to participate in a religious service sponsored by the school. The court exonerated the students of any wrongdoing, and they were able to continue their education. In another case, the headmaster of a school in the Ngororero District refused to give report cards to 30 students who refused to pay church tax (not part of tuition or school fees). When the parents of the students complained to the director in charge of education in the district, the headmaster finally relented and gave reports to all the students at the end of the academic year. Relief for Witness Students Chantal Uwimbabazi, a Witness student, was dismissed from her school in the Ngororero District because she would not attend the school-sponsored Catholic Mass. She endured ridicule from her classmates and others and was unable to continue her education for an entire year. She eventually enrolled in another school farther from her home and with higher school fees, a hardship for her widowed mother of humble means. When Chantal learned about the new regulations, she was relieved. “I think other students in similar circumstances in religious schools will also enjoy their education without any violation of their rights,” said Chantal. The new regulation is in harmony with the Rwanda Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion and the right to an education. Students who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and their parents look forward to seeing incidents of religious discrimination come to an end. They are grateful for the government’s action to protect the religious freedom of schoolchildren. 802016685_E_cnt_01.mp3

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