Arusha, February 11, 2002 (FH) - The church in Rwanda never participated in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as alleged by the prosecution, a Belgian priest told the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on Monday. Catholic Father Serge Desouter was testifying for the defence in the genocide trial of Seventh Day Adventist pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and his son Gerald Ntakirutimana.

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At the time of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Elizaphan, 77, was pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist church mission at Mugonero in Kibuye, western Rwanda. Gerald, 44, was a medical doctor at the infirmary which lay in the same complex. The two are charged with five counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. "I'm shocked by such information," Desouter said of a report by prosecution expert witness, Hugh McCullum. McCullum is a Canadian journalist and author of a book on the Rwandan genocide entitled "The Angels have left us: The role of the church in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda". He testified late last year that the Rwandan church and its leaders had been aware of what was going on during the genocide and had assisted in the organization and carrying out of massacres. "Instead", Desouter told the court, "the church continued to give assistance to the people in the difficult times, even though the church herself had been wounded by the war". Desouter worked in Rwanda between 1968 and 1986 for the Catholic Church and other organizations. Under questioning by judge Erik Mose of Norway, Desouter admitted that he knew nothing about the Ntakirutimanas or the Seventh Day Adventist church and its relationship, if any, with the political authorities before, during, and after the genocide. Desouter further testified that besides not participating in the genocide, the church did not have the capacity to stop the genocide. "The international community through UNAMIR (United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda) failed," said Desouter. "How would the priests and the brave church leaders have managed ?" he asked. "Could they have done it with the Bible, when they were confronted with gangs of youths who wanted to destroy everything in their paths ?"Desouter declined to label the 1994 killings in Rwanda a genocide. He also said he wasn't aware of any "ideological" planning of a genocide in Rwanda. Under cross-examination by the prosecution, Desouter conceded that he had co-authored a book in which he referred to "a genocide" in Rwanda. He maintained, however, that he could not use the word "genocide" in his testimony, as it was a disputed matter before the court. Concluding his testimony, Father Desouter said that he believed the church, and not "any other group or political philosophy", was capable of reconciling Rwandans. The case is before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR, composed of judges Erik Mose of Norway (presiding), Navanethem Pillay of South Africa and judge Andrésia Vaz of Senegal. GG/JC/FH (NK-0211e)