Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | ANN

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) sentenced a former Seventh-day Adventist administrator, Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, to 10 years in prison and his son, Gérard, to 25 years in prison for their roles in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

In a statement about its February 19 decision, the United Nations tribunal said that Gérard Ntakirutimana, 45, a medical doctor practicing at the Mugonero Adventist Hospital was convicted of genocide and of crimes against humanity (murder) and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, 78, was convicted of aiding and abetting in genocide.

“The Rwandan tragedy—the senseless loss of thousands of lives—cannot be forgotten,” says Ray Dabrowski, Communication Director at the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters. “Christians should reject violence as a means of conflict resolution. The heart of the Christian message is reconciliation, compassion and love, which transcend any differences of language, race or nationality.”

“We are saddened by the outcome of this trial,” Dabrowski adds. “The great complexity of this case, the vast quantities of often conflicting evidence, and the continuing bitterness of many who have been caught up in this tragedy, has made the tribunal’s task a difficult one. As a church, we extend our deepest sympathies to all those whose lives have been shattered by this terrible experience.”

“We acknowledge with sadness that some of our church members turned against their fellow members and their neighbors. We are saddened that the accused did not act in harmony with the principles of their church. We offer an apology,” Dabrowski says.

Since allegations against Ntakirutimana first surfaced, Adventist officials have urged a resolution of the charges through appropriate legal forums. The church has cooperated fully with both the United Nations tribunal and with defense lawyers for Ntakirutimana and his son.

Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Rwandan national who had lived in retirement near Laredo, Texas, since 1994, was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in June 1996. He was arrested in September of that year and extradited from the United States in early 2000 to stand trial in Tanzania. At the time of the Rwandan war, Ntakirutimana served as president of the church’s South Rwanda Field.

According to the ICTR, the Ntakirutimanas jointly faced two indictments, the “Mugonero” indictment with five counts and the “Bisesero” indictment with seven counts. The indictments charged the accused with genocide, in the alternative complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide as well as crimes against humanity. The father and son allegedly participated in killings and attacks against “a large number of men, women and children” who sought refuge in the Mugonero Adventist complex as well as in the area of Bisesero, both located in Kibuye Prefecture.

The statement said that the tribunal judges “examined in detail all of the Prosecution’s allegations against the accused and found that there was insufficient evidence against either of them on the counts of complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, crimes against humanity (extermination), crimes against humanity (other inhumane acts) contained in both Indictments, and the count of serious violations of to the Geneva Conventions contained in the Bisesero Indictment.”

Throughout the 12-month-long trial in Arusha, Tanzania, Ntakirutimana and his son have argued their innocence.

The ICTR said that the judges delivered a unanimous verdict, and, subject to any appeal, the father and son will serve their sentences in the prisons of one of the countries with which the tribunal has an agreement for the enforcement of sentences. The tribunal has now convicted 10 accused and acquitted one.

Adventist world church leaders and the church in Rwanda have made reconciliation—both within the general community and among church membership—one of their highest post-civil war priorities. In March 1998, a series of major “reconciliation conferences” were sponsored by the Adventist Church, and were aimed at promoting frank discussions and rebuilding trust between rival tribes. Adventist minister Esdras Mpyisi, once advisor to the former king of Rwanda, led out in the talks in which representatives from warring factions determined to work together toward mutual tolerance and understanding.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has some 350,000 members in Rwanda and operates three schools, one hospital and nine clinics around the country. An estimated 10,000 Adventist Church members lost their lives in the inter-tribal conflict of 1994.

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