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Charged with genocide, father and son go on trial at UN tribunal for Rwanda

Charged with genocide, father and son go on trial at UN tribunal for Rwanda

The joint trial of a Rwandan pastor and his son opened today in Tanzania at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which has charged the two men with committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes during the tragic events in Rwanda in 1994.

In a statement issued in Arusha, the Tribunal said the trial of 77 year-old Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, former senior Pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Kibuye, and his son Gérard Ntakirutimana, 43, a former medical doctor, began with a statement by the Prosecutor that the two men were not helpless witnesses to genocide. In response, the counsel for the accused said the charges against them "made no sense."

Leading the Prosecution team, Charles Adeogun-Phillips explained how the two allegedly betrayed their colleagues of Tutsi ethnicity to the killers, refused to provide sanctuary to those hunted, and participated in widespread murders of Tutsis in Kibuye. They jointly face five counts charging them with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Prosecution said witnesses would describe the accused as predators who delivered thousands to their deaths and actually committed murders themselves. "They will testify to their shock and bewilderment at the behaviour of people such as the accused persons in whom they had trusted and thought of as 'good Christians,'" Mr. Adeogun-Phillips said. Anticipating violence, the Tutsis decided to take the women and children and seek refuge at the Mugonero Church and Hospital complex, the Prosecutor said. However, the accused are alleged to have betrayed the Tutsis and participated in killing them in Mugonero, at Murambi Church and on the hills of Bisesero.

Several witnesses would testify they believed that the elder Ntakirutimana would use his influence to protect them from attacks. Seven Tutsi pastors even wrote a letter to Mr. Ntakirutimana pleading for his intervention. "We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our families," the letter stated. "We therefore request you to intervene on our behalf and talk to the Mayor." However, the pastor's response was contained in a brief, heartless letter that stated "there is nothing I can do for you. All you can do is prepare to die, for your time has come."

In opening statements for the two accused, the defence counsel for Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and the defence counsel for Gérard Ntakirutimana, Edward Medvene of the California Bar, said the accused had not participated in any kind of violence and that they were "God-fearing people" who could not even contemplate carrying out the acts with which they were charged.