Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a 76-year-old former Pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Mugonero, Kibuye Prefecture, today pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide and crimes against humanity when he made his initial appearance before Judge Asoka de Zoysa Gunawardana from Trial Chamber I. Ntakirutimana is the first religious leader to appear before the Tribunal in connection with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Ntakirutimana, who was transferred from the United States of America to the UN Detention Facility in Arusha on 24 March 2000, is alleged to have been involved in the killing of Tutsi men, women and children at the Mugonero Church Complex and in the Bisesero area. The accused is charged on the basis of two indictments which refer to facts alleged to have occurred at those two locations.
In the first indictment amended on 27 March 2000 Ntakirutimana and two other accused including his son, Gerald, along with members of the Gendarmerie, the Communal police, militia and civilians, are alleged to have taken part in attacks against men, women and children who had sought refuge in Mugonero Complex. The victims sought refuge in the Complex, which included a hospital, an infirmary and a church, following the beginning of killings in Kibuye Prefecture, on instructions from the accused.
Many of those who survived the massacre at Mugonero Complex are said to have fled to the surrounding areas including Bisesero, which spans the two communes of Gishyita and Gisovu in Kibuye Prefecture. According to the second indictment, the accused and his son, in company of a large number of individuals armed with various weapons and members of the National Gendarmerie, communal police, militia and civilians, went to Bisesero where they participated regularly in the killing of refugees over several weeks.
During the hunt for survivors, Ntakirutimana is alleged to have ordered attackers to destroy the roof of a church in the Murambi area in Bisesero so that it could no longer be used as a hiding place by the Tutsis.
Ntakirutimana was first arrested in the US on 29 September 1996. However he was released 14 months later and re-arrested on 26 February 1998. After more than three years of legal procedures the American Secretary of State Ms Madeleine Albright signed the decision authorising Ntakirutimana’s transfer earlier this month.