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Genocide trial of Pastor and Doctor opens

The joint trial of Elizaphan Ntakirutimana (77), former senior Pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in the Rwandan region of Kibuye and his son Gérard Ntakirutimana (43), former Medical Doctor in Kibuye, opened today with the Prosecutor telling the court that the two were not helpless witnesses to genocide. In response counsel for the accused said that the charges against these men made no sense.

Mr. Charles Adeogun-Phillips (Nigeria and UK), leading the Prosecution team, explained how the two allegedly betrayed their Tutsi colleagues to the killers, refused to provide sanctuary to those hunted and participated in widespread killings of Tutsis in Kibuye. The accused jointly face five counts charging them with genocide, or in the alternative complicity in genocide, as well as conspiracy to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Prosecution said that 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 behavior of people such as the accused persons in whom they had trusted and thought of as ‘good Christians’.” Anticipating violence, the Tutsis decided to take the women and children and seek refuge at the Mugonero Church and Hospital complex. Instead the accused, are alleged to have betrayed them and organised and participated in killing them in Mugonero, and later at Murambi Church and on the hills of Bisesero.

Several witnesses, the Prosecution further said, would testify that they expected and believed that Elizaphan Ntakirutimana would use his influence to protect them from attacks. Seven Tutsi Pastors even wrote a letter to Ntakirutimana pleading for his intervention. “We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. We therefore request you to intervene on our behalf and talk to the Mayor.” However, said the Prosecutor, Ntakirutimana’s response was contained in a brief, heartless letter, which 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, defence counsel Mr. Ramsey Clark, former US Attorney General for Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and Mr. Edward Medvene of the California Bar on behalf of Mr Gérard Ntakirutimana, said that the accused had not participated in any kind of violence and that they were God fearing people who could not even contemplate doing what they were accused of.

The case is being heard by Trial Chamber I composed of Judges Erik Møse (Norway) presiding, Navanethem Pillay (South Africa) and Andrésia Vaz (Senegal).

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