afrol News, 19 February - A pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist Church today was found guilty of aiding the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where almost one million persons were slaughtered. the 78-year-old, who still claims his innocence, was sentenced to 10 years in prison together with his son.
The pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and his son, Doctor Gerard Ntakirutimana, were convicted by the special UN tribunal for the Rwandan genocide, based in Arusha (Tanzania). Both the clergyman and his son maintain they are innocent.
The UN tribunal in Arusha, which by today only has convicted 10 persons since it was established in 1994, said it had solid evidence for the pastor's active participation in the slaughter of civilian Tutsis and moderate Hutus in western Rwanda.
There was in particular one episode that was emphasised by the tribunal. At the height of the genocide, a group of several hundreds fleeing unarmed Tutsis had sought refuge in the church of Mr Ntakirutimana in Murambi, asking the clergyman, as a man of God, to protect them. The pastor had answered them they should rather prepare to die.
The following day, he and his son led the Hutu death squadrons to the church where the Tutsi civilians were hiding out. There, almost all the internal refugees, mostly children and women, were brutally slaughtered by the militia. Only a few individuals survived the massacre to testify about it, leading the court to believe Mr Ntakirutimana had plaid an active part of it.
According to the tribunal, Mr Ntakirutimana was also to have removed the ceiling of the Murambi church to make it less fitted as refuge for the many uprooted, roaming about the Rwandan countryside in desperation to find a hideout. The Murambi "man of God" further was to have participated in several of the Hutu militia's convoys searching the countryside for escaping Tutsis.
The pastor and his son escaped to the United States immediately after Tutsi troops put an end to the genocide, and he was only extradited to the Arusha tribunal after an extended legal battle in American court rooms. The Ntakirutimana family itself claims it was not even present in the area when the Tutsi slaughter took place, something the massacre's survivors however successfully disproved.
The pastor's son, Dr Gérard Ntakirutimana, additionally was convicted for having executed two Tutsi civilians on his own. He further was proven to have actively participated in several attacks on fleeing Tutsi civilians.
The verdict of the UN tribunal was unanimous. The UN tribunal was composed of judges from South Africa, Senegal and Norway, the latter leading the board. While pastor Ntakirutimana was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, taking into account his current frail health, his son Gérard was sentenced to 25 years of prison.
Even if this is the first time a clergyman is sentenced for genocide by the Arusha tribunal, other courts at earlier occasions have convicted church representatives. In 2001, a Belgian court convicted the Catholic nuns Gertrude Mukangango and Julienne Kisito to respectively 12 and 15 years imprisonment for aiding the massacre of around 5000 Tutsis at the Sovu abbey.
Also in this case, witnesses had seen the nuns participated in the planning of the massacre by directing the Hutu death squats to the building at the abbey giving refuge to the Tutsi civilians. According to witness accounts, the nuns on their own were equipping the militiamen with the petrol they used to sprinkle the building before igniting it. The fire claimed the lives of an estimated 5000 Tutsis. Both nuns claimed their innocence.
Also an Anglican Rwandan ex-archbishop, Samuel Musabyimana, is accused of genocide crimes at the Arusha tribunal. The archbishop is also accused of having aided the death squats in the hunt on Tutsis seeking church refuge. Mr Musabyimana is said to have registered the refugees by ethnicity and having handed these registration lists to the militia. He also ordered his employees to assist the militia, according to the charges against him. Mr Musabyimana was immediately excluded from the Anglican church as the charges against him were known.
Many African, and in particular Rwandan, church leaders in the years after the genocide have admitted the church institutions to a large degree failed in its duty when it was mostly needed during the genocide, although many individual Christians and clergymen acted as heroes by hiding thousands of escaping Tutsis. While in particular the Anglican and Lutheran church societies have made unequivocal apologies to the Rwandan people, the Catholic Church has not wanted to admit any guilt at all.