Elizaphan Ntakirutimana and his son Gerald Ntakirutimana in December 2005 lost their appeal against conviction handed to them by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda , based in Arusha, Tanzania.
Judges at the ICTR confirmed that 47 year old Gerald Ntakirutimana would serve twenty five years in jail for the crime of genocide, while his father, eighty one year-old Elizaphan Ntakirutimana will serve ten years for the crime of aiding and abetting extermination.
The Ntakirutimanas were tried in 2001 on charges of planning and participating in massacres of thousands of Tutsi refugees who sought refuge at the Seventh Day Adventist Complex in Kibuye. This comprises a hospital, a nursing school and a church. Elizaphan was also tried for transporting killers to Bisesero, ten kilometres from Mugonero.
Before the 1994 genocide, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana was a pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church , and the regional church leader for the provinces of Kibuye and Cyangugu. His son Gerald was a medical doctor at the Mugonero Hospital . Throughout their trial, both men insisted they were innocent and claimed testimonies against them were fabricated.
“I am still mourning my friends, my school teachers and the pastors who died in Mugonero”, a weeping Ntakirutimana told judges at the appeal.
“I tell you, I have no blood on my hands and neither does my son. There is no blood on my car, never did I take any attackers to Bisesero, or on my mouth because I betrayed their hiding place to someone. I never did anything like that. I never did it! My son never did it!”
Today, Mugonero is a peaceful place where people go about their activities unhindered.
But Vincent Usabyimfura will never forget the massacres he survived there. He says Elizaphan Ntakirutimana brought and supported attackers whilst his son Gerald actively participated in the killings. A student at the time, Vincent survived by fleeing to Bisesero, where he is now a local councilor.
“My three sisters and three brothers died here, as well as my mother. My dad survived, he left but he ended up dying in Bisesero,” Vincent Usabyimfura says.
Tutsis killed at the complex were often thrown into septic tanks. Some of the bodies were burnt or cut into pieces. Today most of the bodies have been exhumed and reburied at a nearby memorial.
At the small memorial building, some of the weapons used by the attackers are still on display. One, a club studded with nails to inflict maximum injury, was called ‘Ntampongano’, meaning ‘the one without mercy’ .
Gerald Muhayimana was a teacher at the Adventist School during the genocide. Although not a survivor, he witnessed what happened during that time. He says others involved in the attack included Obed Ruzindana, a businessman convicted by the ICTR for his role in the killings.
“Elizaphan was a leader of the Adventist church here and in the larger Cyangugu and Kibuye area, but he lacked the courage to help the people. At the same time his son, Gerald Ntakirutimana was a doctor at the hospital here in Mugonero. How Gerald came to agree with Obed Ruzindana to participate massacring people is hard to understand. It is something very shameful,” Gerald Muhayimana says.
Samuel Nsangwa was one of the attackers. He is currently imprisoned in Rwanda . He says he and other young men were rounded up by the mayor, Charles Sikubwabo, and brought to the complex.
“When we got to the hospital the soldiers who were there showed us how to place ourselves, the people had been herded into the church. There were no Tutsis outside. To be honest, I never saw Ntakirutimana or his son. We were many, but I did not see them there. The soldiers and gendarmes launched the attack by shooting through the windows, into the church,” Nsangwa says.
In his final statement before the court, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana said he was innocent and pleaded with the court to release him, citing his old age and illness. “I pray that you will have compassion and release me so that I can go home and bid farewell to my family,” Ntakirutimana pleaded.
“I thank God I had such good children, but now it seems one of my sons risks to die in jail like me. It seems I will die like a homeless dog. Yet I did nothing. I have lost all my friends, my sisters have been killed, oh… this is so painful,” the former pastor said, breaking down into tears.
But the judges were unmoved by that statement. “I turn now to Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. This sentence is maintained”, the presiding judge ruled.
So what do people in Mugonero think of Elizaphan’s sentence? “No one can give him the sentence that he deserves. The court gave him a light sentence. But the court and the world acknowledged the Rwanda genocide, acknowledged that Ntakirutimana had a role in what happened and convicted him. However, I don’t think any sentence is enough for him. Even the death sentence would never atone for the crimes he committed.” Vincent Usabyimana says.
But not everyone agrees. ” Frankly, I think their case and the allegations against them were made because they managed to survive, while other colleagues they worked with died. I do not know of any role they had in what happened, or in killing”, Samuel Nsangwa reckons.
Rwanda ‘s Prosector General, Jean De Dieu Mucyo however says the sentences should have been stiffer. “Ten years is too little. One must bear in mind the job he had, its prominence and influence over the people as well as the consequences. He was a role model; people acted using him as an example. When people saw a pastor doing these things they joined. That sentence is too low,” he says.
“Even his son’s sentence is too low, especially if you bear in mind what he did. He was a doctor, a highly placed person. When villagers see him do these things what happens?” Jean De Dieu Mucyo asks.
Inside the memorial at Mugonero, lies a wreath of flowers, recently laid. The message reads: “Dear mother, your children remember you always. May you be at rest.”