NAIROBI, Kenya - A United Nations war crimes tribunal convicted a Rwandan pastor yesterday who fled to Texas and his son of genocide for orchestrating the 1994 slaughter of hundreds of ethnic Tutsis who had sought refuge in the minister's church compound.
The Rev. Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, 78, former pastor of a Seventh-day Adventist complex, is the first church leader that the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has convicted. The judicial body was created in 1994 to try those suspected of ordering extremist ethnic Hutu militias to massacre 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutus who refused to go along with the extremists.
The Hutu pastor was sentenced to 10 years in prison - rather than longer - partly because of his frail health, the judges said. His son, Gerald Ntakirutimana, 45, a doctor at the church complex's hospital, was sentenced to 25 years. The maximum sentence that the tribunal, based in Tanzania, can hand down is life in prison.
Elizaphan Ntakirutimana's lead attorney, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, said both men would appeal the verdicts.
The convictions, only the ninth and 10th at the tribunal in more than eight years, were a much-needed victory for the judicial body. It has been dogged by allegations of mismanagement, bureaucratic inefficiency and an inability to bring justice.
But as with the previous convictions, the Ntakirutimanas are midlevel figures who know little about those who launched one of the 20th century's most horrendous crimes against humanity. The tribunal is holding 54 suspects, including senior military and political figures.
"This shows the ICTR is doing its job. But for the tribunal to play exactly the role the Nuremberg tribunal played ... it has to focus on cases that will actually provide all the answers," said Francois Grignon, Central Africa director for the International Crisis Group, a research group in Brussels, Belgium.