Arusha, February 17, 2003 (FH) - The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) will on Wednesday, February 19, 2003 deliver its ninth judgement since it started trials in 1997. The judgement is expected to shed light on what Seventh day Adventist pastor, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and his son, medical doctor Gerard Ntakirutimana did or didn't do during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

4 min 1Approximate reading time

Pastor Ntakirutimana, 78, was the president of the west Rwanda SeventhDay Adventist (SDA) area. He was based at Mugonero SDA complex in Kibuye province. His son, Gerard Ntakirutimana, 45, was a doctor at the SDA hospital in the complex. Notable among charges against Pastor Ntakirutimana and his son is the April 16th, 1994 killing of an estimated 6,000 ethnic Tutsis that had taken refugee at Mugonero complex. The refugees were fleeing from attacks by extremist Hutu militias. The refugees, says the prosecution, had taken refugee at the complex on the invitation of Pastor Ntakirutimana. According to the indictment, a few days after the refugees had gathered at the complex, the pastor and his son mobilised, transported and led to the complex, a convoy of “members of the national gendarmerie, communal police, militia and civilians”. Prosecution witnesses have testified that as soon as the convoy arrived at the complex, its members immediately began attacking the men, women and children at the complex. The defence have dismissed all the allegations against the pastor and son as “baseless and illogical”. At the start of the trial, defence counsel for pastor Ntakirutimana, former US Attorney General, Ramsey Clark said that the pastor had always been "involved in saving souls, just as Gerard Ntakirutimana was involved in saving lives". The April 15th, 1994 letterThe evening before the attack on Mugonero complex, a group of refugees in the complex composed of six pastors and a teacher wrote a letter to pastor Ntakirutimana. The letter, saluting the pastor as "our dear leader", in part reads: "We would like to inform you that tomorrow we will die with our families. We are requesting you to intervene on our behalf and contact the mayor". The letter concludes saying: "Your intervention will be highly appreciated in the same way Jews were saved by Ester. "Pastor Ntakirutimana has acknowledged receipt of the letter. “This letter shattered me", the pastor said in his testimony. "I didn't know how to conduct myself", he added. Pastor Ntakirutimana told the court that early in the morning of April 16th, 1994, he had, in the company of Gerard, gone to see the mayor who told them that he couldn't do anything to help. "I then came back home and wrote a letter explaining what had happened and telling them that 'you pastors have not sinned against God and you are in his hands'". He sent the response through the gendarmes that had brought the letter from the pastor. After sending the response to the refugees, testified the pastor, “we immediately organised to flee Mugonero”. The pastor said that he, with his wife and the family of Gerard Ntakirutimana, fled to Gishyita before the start of the attacks. Both the pastor and his son said they hadn't returned to Mugonero on April 16th. Prosecution witnesses have testified that the signatories to the letter asking for the pastor's assistance were aware of the power he had over what was going on. They say that instead of helping, the pastor organised an attack. The defence have denied prosecution allegations that the Ntakirutimanas were powerful citizens in Mugonero who had the authority to stop or reduce significantly the killings in the area. The prosecution says that survivors of the Mugonero attack fled, among other places, to the Bisesero hills. Attacks on Bisesero hillsThe pastor and his son have also been accused of leading gangs of militias across Bisesero hills searching for and killing Tutsis refugees fleeing from attacks on various parts of Kibuye province. The pastor has denied ever going to Bisesero hills during this period. His son too denies participating in the attacks and says that he never went to the area save for one occasion for which he told court that he had been forced by soldiers to go and transport their wounded colleagues. Furthermore, the pastor has denied prosecution witnesses' accounts that he ordered the demolition of the roof of a church in Bisesero area that had been sheltering Tutsi refugees. The reason behind this action, said the witnesses, was to “expose the refugees to rain and sunshine”. According to the prosecution, the pastor, in the company of Gerard, presided over the destruction of the church roof. Discriminating against TutsisThe pastor and his son have rejected allegations that they had always discriminated against ethnic Tutsis. In his testimony, Gerard Ntakirutimana refuted prosecution allegations that he had mistreated and finally abandoned injured ethnic Tutsi refugees seeking for medical attention at Mugonero hospital in the run up to the attack on the complex. “I would never do such a thing”, said the doctor. “I did my best at a period when other doctors at the hospital had fled. (…) I also eventually fled when we were told by the gendarmes guarding the complex that they would no longer guarantee our security”, he added. Moreover, he denied allegations that he had disconnected water supply to Mugonero complex during the stay of the Tutsi refugees. Pastor Ntakirutimana also testified that he never harboured any hatred for Tutsis. He said that he had worked with many Tutsis and maintained many Tutsi friends. His lawyer, Ramsey Clark, described him as a pacifist who couldn't even “wring the neck of a chicken”. This trial has been one of the fastest in the history of the tribunal. It began in September 2001 and closed in August, 2002. It is before Trial Chamber One of the ICTR composed of judges Erik Møse of Norway (presiding), Navanethem Pillay of South Africa and Andrésia Vaz of Senegal. Gerard Ntakirutimana is represented by David Jacobs of Canada. The prosecution in this case is led by Charles AdeogunPhillips of Nigeria and the UK, Wallace Kapaya of Tanzania and BoiTia Stevens of the United States. Pastor Ntakirutimana was the first clergyman to be indicted by the ICTR. He was arrested in Texas, USA, on September 29th, 1996. The pastor was transferred to the ICTR on March 24th, 2000 after loosing a protracted legal battle against his extradition. A month after, his son was arrested in Ivory Coast. He was transferred to the ICTR in November that year. GG/FH (NT'0217e)