BRUSSELS, Belgium - Sister Gertrude, once a mother superior, has been in court for seven weeks, listening to grim details about murder in the convent. She has barely moved except to bow her head, which is covered with the brown veil of the Benedictine order.
Sister Gertrude is a Hutu from Rwanda, one of the four accused in a highly unusual trial in Belgium.
She is here to answer charges that she collaborated with the killers during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Among her accusers are fellow nuns, blaming her for the deaths of more than 20 of their family members who were safely hidden in the convent until she summoned police.
Prosecutors have linked Sister Gertrude, 42, to other, even greater horrors at the sprawling religious compound in the southern hills of Sovu, near the city of Butare.
They cite the day more than 500 Tutsi refugees were locked in the convent garage, sprayed with gasoline and burned alive. As many as 7,000 refugees were hacked and clubbed to death by militia gangs, the indictment says, after the mother superior had driven the refugees from the convent grounds.
"The monastery, instead of a place of asylum, of safety, became a deadly trap," Alain Winants, the prosecutor, told the court with a forceful voice.
Sister Gertrude has spoken in near-whispers. "I never wanted anybody to die - I suffered with the people," she said in a recent session. If all the refugees had stayed packed inside the convent, "we were all going to perish," she said.
Sister Maria Kisito, 36, another Hutu nun, also in the dock, nodded. She is charged with similar crimes, as an alleged accomplice of her superior. The case at the Palace of Justice in Brussels also involves two other Rwandan defendants - a physics professor, Vincent Ntezimana, and a businessman, Alphonse Higaniro.
The "Rwanda Four" as they have come to be known, are being tried under Belgian laws that were adopted to comply with international human rights conventions, enabling the courts to try grave human rights violations committed anywhere. The trial is held in Belgium, Rwanda's former colonial master, because the four accused had come to live there.
The trial of the two nuns has embarrassed the Roman Catholic Church, which already had come under heavy criticism over its equivocal role during the Rwandan bloodletting. Influential Belgian Catholics, both politicians and clergy, tried for several years to block the trial.
The judge in charge of the investigations has complained that Catholic priests put "undue pressures" on some of the nuns who were important prosecution witnesses to get them to retract their charges against their sisters. They did not retract. About a dozen nuns have testified, for and against the accused.
The case also has reopened the debate about the role of Roman Catholic and Protestant church leaders, some of whom sided openly with the Hutu government.