- The genocide sentences against pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and his son were confirmed by the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) this week. This final confirmation beyond appeal was today welcomed by Rwandan rights groups, saying it "brings closure to the survivors' painful struggle for justice in what has been a difficult case."
Pastor Ntakirutimana of the Seventh Day Adventist Church and his son, Doctor Gerard Ntakirutimana, in February 2003 first were convicted by the special UN tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. The clergyman and his son however maintained they were innocent of the genocide charges and appealed the sentence. On Monday this week, the Appeals Chamber of the Arusha court confirmed the convictions and sentences against the two.
The Rwanda-based human rights groups Africa Rights today welcomed that the case finally had come to an end, more than ten years after the Rwandan genocide. "It took a long time, hard work and patience to prosecute Ntakirutimana in Arusha," commented African Rights director Rakiya Omaar, but now the survivors could finally rest.
- The decision does not, of course, diminish [the survivors'] grief and immeasurable sense of loss, the rights group commented. "But it does, at least, reflect an acknowledgement of their suffering and ensures that the victims have not been forgotten."
Mr Ntakirutimana, an 80-year-old Seventh Day Adventist pastor, and Dr Gérard, a medical doctor, committed genocide and crimes against humanity in the Rwandan prefecture of Kibuye. They were found to be complicit in the murder of thousands of unarmed Tutsi men, women and children who had looked to them for protection and assistance.
Many of the victims were other Adventists who worked with them, lived close to them and had known them most of their lives. Others had come to their compound confident that their church and hospital would shelter them against violence. The clergyman and his son however betrayed these refugees and sent thousands of them into their certain death.
Father Ntakirutimana instead led 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 and his son had plaid an active part of it.
According to African Rights, this week's decision by the ICTR Appeals Chamber is significant on several counts. Firstly, the process to bring Mr Ntakirutimana to justice had been particularly forbidding. Arrested for the first time in September 1996, but supported by his family and an active community of supporters in Laredo, Texas, the legal battle to extradite him to Arusha went as far as the US Supreme Court in February 2000.
Secondly, Mr Ntakirutimana was the first clergyman ever to be transferred to Arusha. This, says the rights group, was "an important indication that despite the reluctance of Church authorities to respond to allegations of genocide, the clergy could be held accountable." There are now three Catholic priests detained in Arusha awaiting trial. However, there are still some senior clergy accused of genocide crimes yet living in exile with the support of their churches, both Protestant and Catholic.
- It is to be hoped that the conviction of Elizaphan Ntakirutimana will encourage the relevant Church authorities to treat outstanding allegations against clergymen seriously and that they will cooperate fully in ensuring they are brought to justice, says African Rights in a statement.
In particular, the Rwanda-based group sent an appeal to the judicial authorities in France, which have been found to undermine the ICTR in a recent European human rights conviction. African Rights had "documented in great detail" a case against Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, which the group claims was participating in the genocide, but the French judiciary has been unwilling to prosecute the Catholic father.
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