Radio Netherlands Worldwide

SSO Login

More login possibilities:

  • Facebook
  • Flickr
  • Twitter
  • Google
  • LinkedIn
Saturday 20 December  
International Justice Tribune
Arusha, Tanzania
Arusha, Tanzania

Fathers and Sons

Published on : 17 September 2001 - 11:00pm | By International Justice Tribune
More about:

On September 18, 2001, Ramsey Clark delivered a surprisingly apolitical defense at the trial of Seventh Day Adventist Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and his son Dr. Gérard Ntakirutimana. Pastor Ntakirutimana is the first cleric to go to trial at the Tribunal. Like the two Rwandan nuns recently convicted in Belgium for providing petrol to immolate Tutsis, the pastor and the doctor stand accused of betraying their callings and their charges. Pastor Ntakirutimana's trial also forms the denouement of his three-and-a-half year battle to prevent his extradition from the United States. As the trial opened, Ramsey Clark, the former Attorney General and political gadfly, shifted tactics from a political assault on the Tribunal's legitimacy to a legal defense of his client's innocence.
Pastor Ntakirutimana, shrunken inside his dark suit and wearing over-sized glasses, looks all of his 77 years as he shuffles in and out of the courtroom. As President of the Seventh Day Adventists in Kibuye and Cyangugu prefectures from mid-1993 to mid- 1994, he oversaw approximately 200 churches and 50,000 followers from his headquarters at the red-bricked Mugonero church campus and medical center in Ngoma commune, Kibuye prefecture. A full head taller than his father, Gerard Ntakirutimana, 43, takes an active role in his defense, consulting with his Los Angeles attorney Edward Medvene. In 1993, after completing graduate studies in America, Dr. Ntakirutimana returned to practice medicine at the Adventist hospital at Mugonero.

The Prosecutor's Allegations
In a rolling baritone, lead prosecutor Charles Adeogun-Phillips described the allegations in damning detail to the new line-up of Trial Chamber : Presiding Judge Erik Mose, Judge Navanethem Pillay, and Judge Andresia Vaz.
Shortly after the genocide began on April 6, 1994, Pastor Ntakirutimana encouraged Tutsis to seek refuge at the Mugonero church complex and thousands came. The conditions for the refugees quickly changed for the worst: on April 13, Dr. Ntakirutimana closed the medical store and main ward at the hospital; on April 14, he cut off the water; on April 15, he denied medical treatment to wounded Tutsi who arrived with the Red Cross and he separated Tutsi and Hutu patients so the Hutus could leave. On April 15, Dr. Ntakirutimana attended a meeting at the Kibuye gendarmerie camp which included several genocidaires already convicted by the Tribunal: Clement Kayishema, the Kibuye prefet, Alfred Musema, the director of the Gisovu Tea Factory, and Obed Ruzindana, a prominent Mugonero businessman.
On the morning of Saturday, April 16, the Adventist Sabbath, Dr. Ntakirutimana collected 30 gendarmes at the Kibuye camp and brought them back to Mugonero. They were joined by interahamwe [Hutu militia] and armed civilians. The massacre, which began about nine in the morning and lasted into the night, left about 5000 Tutsis and 50 Adventist pastors dead. « Dressed in his customary suit and tie, Pastor Ntakirutimana watched as people were shot or beaten to death, encouraging the killers to ensure that no one survived. His son, Gerard Ntakirutimana took a more active role in the attacks. Indeed, a prosecution witness will testify to Gerard Ntakirutimana's presence during the rape of three women inside the hospital... Two other witnesses saw Gerard Ntakiruitmana kill Charles Ukobizaba, the hospital accountant. »
Some of the survivors fled to the Adventist church at Murambi, about a mile away. At some point, Pastor Ntakirutimana ordered attackers to remove the church roof, saying « Let's take off the roof of this church so it cannot be used anymore as a hiding place for these dogs. »
The Ntakirutimanas pursued the survivors of the Mugonero and Murambi attacks to the Bisesero hills « determined to wipe out every Tutsi in the commune. » They transported attackers and personally led attacks. Pastor Ntakirutimana shot and killed the wife of Witness DD and two of his children. Dr. Ntakirutimana fired a gun at Tutsis and « chastised attackers for sparing women and children during the attacks. »
To support its allegations, the Prosecutor plans to call two prosecution investigators, one expert and 21 witnesses (including 18 survivors of the Mugonero, Murambi and Bisesero attacks) between now and November 9 - the judges' deadline for the prosecution to finish its case.

The « Gourevitch » Letter
The night before they were massacred, seven Tutsi pastors at the Mugonero church complex sent Pastor Ntakirutimana a plea for intercession: « How are you? We wish you to be strong in all these problems that we are facing. 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 with the Mayor. We believe that, with the help of God who entrusted you the leadership of this flock, which is going to be destroyed, your intervention will be highly appreciated, the same way as the Jews were saved by Esther. We give honor to you. » Allegedly, Pastor Ntakirutimana sent back a chilling response to the effect: « There's nothing I can do for you. All you can do is to prepare to die for your time has come. »
The pastor's letter has followed Pastor Ntakirutimana like a curse: it traveled with him from Mugonero to exile in Laredo, Texas, where he handed it over to New Yorker journalist Philip Gourevitch, who passed it on to the Tribunal, whose prosecutor read it in court so the dead could finally confront the man who hadn't - or couldn't - save them. And the pastors' words had already come to symbolize the Rwandan genocide thanks to Gourevitch's acclaimed book, We wish to inform you that we have heard that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. There, Gourevitch juxtaposed the letter, so formal and so deferential, against the Pastor's angry and aggrieved self-righteousness in American exile: « in my whole life, there is nobody I tried to help more than Tutsis. »
In his opening statement, Ramsey Clark spent several minutes discussing the letter « we'll hear so much about. » According to Clark, the letter « stunned » Pastor Ntakirutimana and he immediately went to see the bourgmestre Charles Sikubwabo (who was indicted with the Ntakirutimanas but is still at large). Sikubwabo told him that nothing could be done. When he returned to Mugonero, he wrote a note to the pastors saying « he had been told the bourgmestre could do nothing and that they must act to save themselves. » He couldn't get through the angry crowd to the pastors so he sent the note through a gendarme. Shortly thereafter, some gendarmes came to his house and warned him that, if he didn't leave, he would be killed. Pastor Ntakirutimana didn't return to Mugonero until the end of April.

Christianity on Trial?
Inextricably linked to the Ntakirutimanas' guilt or innocence is the larger - and ultimately unanswerable - question: why did so many church leaders and faithful participate in genocidal killing? Rwanda may be the most Christian country in Africa: more than 90% of Rwandans are baptized (65% Catholic, 20% Protestant and about 5% Adventist).
In his opening remarks, Adeogun-Phillips surmised: « It is no surprise that more Rwandans died in churches than anywhere else. The Church has always exalted the virtue of obedience. » He then accused the churches: « The Church hierarchies were at best useless and at worst accomplices in the genocide. This must be seen in the context of a long history of political compromise. » Adeogun-Phillips also made the dramatic claim that church leaders, like Pastor Ntakirutimana, deliberately turned their church sanctuaries into Srebenica-style « safe havens »: « this genocidal plan included the use of well-respected individuals perceived by the local population as possessing high moral authority such as the *Ntakirutimanas+ to encourage Tutsi civilians to gather at these preconceived safe havens. »
To make his case, the prosecution is calling an expert witness: Hugh McCullum, a former staff member of the World Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches and the author of The Angels have left us, The Rwanda Tragedy and the Churches. Thus, this trial will lay the groundwork for prosecuting other religious leaders indicted by the Tribunal: Anglican Bishop Samuel Musabyimana, Catholic military chaplain Emmanuel Rukundo, and Catholic priest Athanase Seromba.

Musema Revisited
Two legal issues raised in the Musema case will be revisited during the Ntakirutimana trial: the applicability of command responsibility and war crimes to civilians. The Prosecutor has charged Dr. Ntakirutimana with command responsibility for the crimes committed by three subordinates (the hospital's chief of personnel and two teachers at the nursing school) because « he failed to take reasonable and necessary measures to prevent them *from attacking the refugees+. » In his opening, Adeogun-Phillips admitted that Dr. Ntakirutimana had « no formal appointment as medical director » - a retreat from the indictments. Rather, he made the vague claim that Dr. Ntakirutimana « manifested all the powers and functions of the medical director » from April 9 to April 30. However, as defense attorney Medvene pointed out in his opening, the medical director and his wife, who were expatriates, fled Rwanda at the outbreak of the genocide, leaving Dr. Ntakirutimana behind as the only doctor at Mugonero.
In Musema, the judges found that a tea factory director had command responsibility for his employees, in part because he had the power to fire them. In the recent Bagilishema acquittal, Judge Mose didn't quote Musema, but rather Celebici, a decision from the UN Yugoslavia Tribunal holding a prison camp warden guilty under the doctrine of command responsibility: Command responsibility « extends to civilian superiors only to the extent that they exercise a degree of control over their subordinates which is similar to that of military commanders. » Under that legal standard, it seems unlikely that the Prosecutor will be able to prove Dr. Ntakirutimana's command responsibility.
The Prosecutor has charged the Ntakirutimanas with war crimes. In Musema, the judges dismissed the war crimes count because the prosecution failed to link Musema's crimes to the war between the interim government and the RPF. In his opening, Adeogun-Phillips recognized that « this Tribunal is reticent to convict civilians of war crimes for the Rwandan genocide » but pointed to two recent cases where courts did just that: the June conviction of two nuns in Belgium and a Swiss Military Court's 1999 conviction of former bourgmestre Fulgence Niyonteze.

A Political Defense
Ramsey Clark is tall and lanky and puts one in mind of Gary Cooper. With his soft voice, Texas drawl and self-deprecating manner, he doesn't sound like what one would expect from this famous scourge of American foreign policy.
Back in February, Clark and Medvene filed a motion to dismiss that read more like a political harangue than a legal brief. First, they asserted the Rwandan government would not permit witnesses to testify for the accused « with impunity » and offered several examples: the 1998 assassination of former Minister of Interior Seth Sendashoga in Nairobi, who allegedly could have testified about the government's manipulation of witnesses; the imprisonment of the former Gitarama prefet who testified at Jean-Paul Akayesu's trial; the execution of Froduald Karamira who had been noticed as a defense witness before the Tribunal; and the killing of Colonel Theoneste Bagosora's brother in Cameroon. Second, they argued that the UN Security Council acted illegally in creating the Rwanda Tribunal. Third, they presented a tu quoque (« you too ») defense: the ad hoc Tribunals punish Serbs and Hutus while America goes scot-free for « the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Iraq, Libya, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Sudan, Yugoslavia in 1994 and 1999. »
Finally, Clark and Medvene deployed historical revisionism, arguing that the real genocide occurred against Hutus not Tutsis: « the international media and major powers including primarily the U.S. have conducted an unrelenting media campaign to persuade world opinion that the majority Hutu population planned and targeted the annihilation of all Tutsis, nearly a million people ... while ignoring or denying violent acts by Tutsis against Hutus intended to destroy them in whole, or in part, and that hundreds of thousands of Hutus were killed in Rwanda and neighboring states in and since 1994 because they were Hutus. » They further contended that the Tribunal was « a weapon to continue war on the Hutu people » and to establish US-backed « Tutsi hegemony from Uganda to Zaire. » Not surprisingly, the judges summarily rejected these arguments.

A Shift in Defense Tactics
In their opening statements at trial, Clark and Medvene took a different tack: they largely shied away from political arguments and focused on how the Prosecutor's charges « make no sense » given their clients' personal histories. Clark appealed to the judges to focus on the Ntakirutimanas as individuals and not « get swept up in bloody generalities. » Clark portrayed his client as man of God who, in keeping with Adventist policy, avoided politics and abhorred violence: « he couldn't so much as wring the neck of a chicken. » Pastor Ntakirutimana was « elected by a ... congregation that was predominantly Tutsi » and he worked closely with Tutsis: « they were his friends, his associates, his co-religionists. » According to Clark, some Hutus even accused Pastor Ntakirutimana of being « partial to Tutsis. » Similarly, Medvene claimed that Dr. Ntakirutimana « never saw people as Hutus and Tutsis, he saw people in a beautiful way, he saw people as people. » And he further argued that Dr. Ntakirutimana had saved Tutsis during the genocide.
Clark delved into politics briefly when he offered explanations for why witnesses would come to Arusha to testify against the Ntakirutimanas. Without mentioning the Rwandan government by name, he argued: « Those who are seeking power, seeking to consolidate and maintain their positions, seeking to write the history of the epoch as essential to their survival, their standing in the international community.... And these prosecutions both there and here have to be a main part of a struggle for what you might call writing the fiction that they want history to agree upon. » Alluding to Witness DM's recent testimony in the Media trial, he accused Ibuka, the Rwandan genocide survivors' organization, of coercing witnesses to give false testimony. He further suggested that some witnesses « are angry at the survivors because they survived, and people want to believe they could have saved others. Who did the Belgians save? Who did the French save? Who did my own government - which might have made a difference - save? ... How does one lonely pastor, respected, loved perhaps, stop the whirlwind? » At one point, Clark suggested that the prosecution's theory of the Rwandan genocide perpetuates the racist notion of « savage African tribalism » - an odd charge for a white American to make against African prosecutors before two African judges.


Post new comment

Please be reminded all comments must be in English, short and to the point - guideline 250 words. Abusive and inappropriate comments will be removed.

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <p> <br>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.

More information about formatting options

RNW Player

International Justice

From the former Yugoslavia to Rwanda, Cambodia and Lebanon, Radio Netherlands Worldwide reports on international justice. We offer background news and reporting on war crimes, human rights abuses and genocide.