Arusha, 11 February 2009 (FH) - The closing arguments will be heard Thursday and Friday in the trial of Catholic Priest Hormisdas Nsengimana, on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for his alleged role in the 1994 genocide.

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The priest, who has claimed his innocence, was in 1994 the head of the Christ the King College of Nyanza, southern Rwanda, one of the most prestigious schools of the country.

At the opening of the trial on 22 June 2007, former Chief of Prosecutions at ICTR, Italian Silvana Arbia, currently the Registrar of International Criminal Court (ICC), had accused the clergyman of having put his remarkable knowledge and gifts at the service of a joint enterprise aiming at exterminating Tutsis.

She had described the defendant as a Hutu extremist who, even before the genocide, did not hide his hatred of Tutsis, starting with those at his school -- pupils, priests and other employees.

According to Mrs Arbia, the defendant stated, after the start of the genocide: "Time is over where churches are used as refuge for Tutsis".

The representative of the prosecutor alleged that the priest was the spiritual leader of a group called "the Dragons or the Death Squad" whose members illustrated themselves during the genocide in the region of Nyanza.

According to Arbia, the priest not only ordered massacres but personally killed an old Tutsi priest Mathieu Ngirumpatse and several Tutsi women.

For his part, the main defence counsel, Emmanuel Altit, stated, at the start of the defence case on 2 June 2008, that the indictment of the priest targeted "the Catholic Church as an institution".

The objective of the indictment is, according to the French lawyer, "to see this man fall, he who was promised to the high destinies in the church".

Altit alleged that his client was "a priest profiting from an aura" and who had the confidence of his Tutsi bishop, Jean Baptiste Gahamanyi.

"The defence does not deny the genocide, but Father Hormisdas did not have anything at all to do with it", affirmed the defence attorney, inviting the judges "to put an end to all these nightmare years for Nsengimana.''

The prosecution called 19 witnesses in support of its allegations and the defence 24.

Hormisdas is part of the four catholic priests indicted by the ICTR, including Athanase Seromba, convicted to life in prison and Emmanuel Rukundo, who is awaiting his verdict.

Priest Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, will be tried in Paris, the ICTR declined jurisdiction of the case to the benefit of French justice.


© Hirondelle News Agency