Arusha, September 18, 2001 (FH) Genocide charges against Seventh Day Adventist pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and his son Gérard do not make sense in terms of their lives and characters, lawyers for the accused told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), as their trial opened on Tuesday. Former US Attorney General Ramsay Clark for Pastor Elizaphan, and Edward Medvene (US) for Doctor Gerard, portrayed their clients as good men, who were not involved in politics, promoted tolerance and had nothing to gain by participating in genocide.

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"When the accused here are evaluated, just from their personal backgrounds, it's extremely difficult, it's dumbfounding and would lead to enormous pessimism, to believe that they could be swept up into the conduct alleged here," Clark pleaded. He suggested reasons why prosecution witnesses might give false testimony in the context of continuing regional conflict, while Medvene urged the court to "suspend judgement" during presentation of the prosecution case. The father and son are charged with five counts of conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions (war crimes). In an opening speech earlier in the day, prosecutor Charles Philips described them as "predators, who delivered thousands to their deaths and actually committed murders themselves". In particular, the two are accused of luring Tutsis to the Mugonero church and hospital complex where they worked, and conspiring with local authorities to have the refugees massacred. According to the Prosecutor, the two men were part of a convoy of attackers that arrived in Mugonero on April 16th, 1994, and slaughtered hundreds of Tutsi refugees there. However, Clark told the court that Pastor Elizaphan was "involved in saving souls, just as Gerard Ntakirutimana was involved in saving lives". He said his client "never had a weapon, never possessed a weapon, couldn't wring the neck of a chicken", while Medvene said Gerard "didn't take part in any violence in any sense at any place or any time". As the genocide began and violence spiralled outwards from Kigali, Clark said Pastor Elizaphan continued his church work, but by April 15th the situation in Mugonero had become desperate and people could sense danger. It was then that he received a letter from seven Tutsi pastors urging him to go to the local mayor and ask for protection, because they had heard they would be killed the following day with their families. According to the Prosecutor, the Pastor sent a cold reply telling the letter-writers he could do nothing and that their fate was sealed, "or words to that effect". However, according to Clark, Pastor Elizaphan went to see mayor Charles Sikubwabo early in the morning and fetched him from home, only to be told that the mayor could do nothing. "It was the most painful message he had ever had," said Clark. Then, according to the lawyer, Elizaphan "sped" back to Mugonero and wrote out a message to the pastors who had asked for his help "to say that he had done so". "He told them the burgomaster (mayor) could do nothing, that they must act to save themselves and quoted from the Scripture," said Clark. But by that time, he continued, there were "large angry crowds" in Mugonero and the pastor could not reach the Tutsi pastors. He gave the hand-written note to a gendarme to deliver, according to Clark. After that he was warned his life was in danger and left for nearby Gishyita. He, his wife, Gerard and those with them "were chased, stoned and had things thrown at them", Clark told the court. They went to Gishyita, where they stayed until April 27th, according to the defence, then returned to Mugonero and the devastation there. Clark said his client remained in Mugonero until July 17th, trying to do what he could, but was never in the nearby Bisesero hills. According to the prosecution, the father and son also helped to track and kill Tutsis who had taken refuge in Bisesero. False testimony?Clark said it was clear from prosecution witness statements that they would contradict the defendants' version of events and that "we have to ask why this could happen". He suggested that there were many possible reasons, in the context of a continuing conflict that had extended into the Democratic Republic of Congo, and which was, in his eyes, a political power struggle. "You can understand the passions that still drive people," he told the court, "those who are seeking power, seeking to consolidate and maintain their positions or to rewrite (history) as essential to their standing in the international community. " He said that the genocide trials in Rwanda and Arusha were "the main point of struggle for writing the fiction that they want history to agree upon". He said some might be seeking favours or advantages by giving false testimony, while "there will be some with hatred because of past injustices or racism. Then there is the great problem of the oral tradition: people come to believe that they have lived, experienced and were present at something when they themselves have only heard about it". Clark said that some witnesses might also think they saw things they did not, because of the turbulence they were going through at the time, or because they wanted to believe them. "Apparently some are angry at the survivors," he continued, "because they survived, and people want to believe they could have saved others. " But, he said, "who did the Belgians save? Who did the French save? Who did my own government which could have made a difference save? How does one lonely pastor respected perhaps stop the whirlwind?"The case is before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR, composed of judges Erik Mose of Norway (presiding), Navanethem Pillay of South Africa and Andrésia Vaz of Senegal. JC/PHD/FH (NK0918F)