A high profile genocide trial opens Tuesday at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). A clergyman and his son allegedly arranged for thousands of Rwandans to be massacred inside a church.
Elizaphan Ntakirutimana is the first church leader to stand trial for the genocide in Rwanda. In 1994, ethnic Hutu extremists massacred some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the tiny central African country.
Mr. Ntakirutimana, a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, is being tried jointly with his son, Gerard, a doctor. Kingsley Moghalu, spokesman for the U.N. tribunal, says the two stand accused of bringing Hutu death squads in to kill thousands of people seeking refuge inside a church. "It's alleged that during the genocide, he lured people who were fleeing from the massacres into a church," he explained, "and later on left the place, came back with a group of armed men in a convoy, and participated in attacks against several women and children."
Prosecutors say the two men actively participated in the massacre, and later hunted down and killed survivors. Father and son have pleaded not guilty. They face life imprisonment if convicted.
Mr. Moghalu says it has taken several years for the case to come to trial because the 76-year-old pastor fled to the United States after the genocide. "Elizaphan Ntakirutimana was arrested in the United States in 1996, and he was transferred to the tribunal in March, 2000. While he was in the United States under arrest, he launched a number of legal challenges to his ultimate surrender to the tribunal, up to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was arrested in March last year, it's basically 18 months. Now of course we wish it would be quicker than that, but there are a lot of other trials going on," said Mr. Moghalu.
Human rights groups say church leaders from various denominations played a leading role in the genocide, and used their authority to encourage the killings. A number of clergymen are facing trial for genocide, including a former Anglican archbishop who was arrested in Kenya earlier this year.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established in November 1994. So far it has convicted eight people for leading the Rwanda genocide.