Facing the testimony of some 100 witnesses, Francois Bazaramba, a former Baptist pastor, goes on trial Tuesday in Finland for his alleged organization of the murder of 5,000 Rwandans in the 1994 rampage of Hutu-led genocide.
Bazaramba, a Hutu, obtained asylum in Finland in 2003 after having sought safety in several African nations. Finnish authorities placed him in detention in 2007 and refused earlier this year to extradite him to Rwanda, fearing he would not receive a fair trial, according to Reuters. His case will be heard in a Finnish district court outside of Helsinki.
BBC identified Bazaramba as the “head of the Union of Baptist Churches of Rwanda (UEBR) in Nyakizu,” where the massacre took place.
Bazaramba was charged with the crime of genocide and with 15 murders.
“It is obvious according to the pre-trial investigation that the man has committed a crime of genocide in the municipality of Nyakizu in April and May 1994 with intent to destroy the Rwandan Tutsis partly or totally,” said Finland’s Prosecutor General’s Office, according to the Daily Monitor, an African newspaper Web site located in Uganda.
UEBR, the Association of Baptist Churches in Rwanda and the Community of Christian Churches in Africa are listed as 2009 member bodies of the Baptist World Alliance.
More than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutus in three months in 1994 while the United States, European nations and the United Nations stood by.
In August, Bazaramba became the second Rwandan in the news for genocide.
Two weeks ago, GrÃ©goire Ndahimana was arrested in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Quoting Rwanda’s minister of justice saying that Ndahimana was “one of the big ones,” the New York Times said he was identified by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) “as a Category 1 suspect, a rank reserved for the chief planners and executers of the genocide.”
Ndahimana, former mayor of Kivuma, was accused of orchestrating the murder of some 2,000 Tutsis with a Catholic priest, Athanase Seromba, who was convicted of genocide in 2006 by the ICTR.
Tutsis had sought refuge in Seromba’s church, where many were hacked to death over several days before the church was bulldozed.
Another 4,000 Tutsis were killed in Kivuma while Ndahimana was mayor.
Other Christian leaders found guilty of genocide were Emmanuel Rukundo, a Catholic priest, and Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor.
Writing in April for BBC, Gerard Prunier, author of From Genocide to Continental War: The ‘Congolese’ Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa, said, “The ghosts of Rwanda refuse to be buried.”
He identified the ghosts as those who still walked the land—the women who had abortions after being raped by Hutu militia, the parents who saw their children slaughtered and the children who saw their parents butchered.
Then Prunier added, “The ghosts are also the bystanders who pretended there was nothing they could do.”
How many global Baptist bystanders are there? Were two in the White House? Was one at the Baptist Center for Ethics? Were others the well-informed Baptist pastors and global mission leaders around the world? Sadly, most Baptists said little during those three months in 1994.
Not all Baptists are continuous bystanders, however.
In a 2004 interview with EthicsDaily.com, Etienne Lhermenault, general secretary of the Federation of Evangelical Baptist Churches of France, spoke about the guilt of the governments in France and Belgium, nations with deep involvement in Rwanda.
“Both governments armed the differing sides. They knew something was happening, but they closed their eyes because it was more comfortable,” he said. “France and Belgium refused to take a firm position on tribal factions because they would have had to expose their own military, economic and moral involvement.”
Recognizing their moral accountability, French-speaking Baptists banded together to fight AIDS and work for reconciliation in Rwanda.
Still the questions linger as a former Baptist pastor accused of genocide goes to trial: Why did global Baptists do nothing? Will we respond differently to the next eruption of genocide?
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.