After eight weeks of debates and 12 hours of deliberation, the jury of the Brussels ‘Cour d’Assises’ [Crown Court] in Belgium declared four Rwandans guilty or partially guilty of war crimes committed during the 1994 genocide.
The announcement came at 0230 (local time) on Friday morning. The sentences will be pronounced on Friday afternoon. The four - Vincent Ntezimana, 39, a former professor at Butare university; Alphonse Higaniro, 52, the former director of a match factory; and two nuns Consolata Mukangango, 42, and Julienne Mukabutera, 36, known as sisters Gertrude and Maria Kisito - face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The defendants originate from Butare prefecture in southern Rwanda and were accused of having “voluntarily,
with the intention of premeditated killing” committed one or several
homicides against specific people as well as against “an indeterminate
number of people whose identity is not known to this day” in the Butare
region. They all pleaded not guilty and were standing trial freely. The two male defendants have been in preventive detention in Belgium for over a year. All four have been living in Belgium since the 1994 genocide in which at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered.
The 12 members of the jury had to answer to 55 questions asked by the
President of the Court, Luc Maes. Facing an overcrowded hall full of Rwandans from all sides, they replied “yes” to all the questions regarding Higaniro and the two nuns. Ntezimana was found guilty of five out of the nine counts against him.
“I feel satisfaction, but not happiness,” Gasana Ndoba, head of the
Human Rights Commission in Kigali, told IRIN at the end of the trial. “I would have been happy if my family members had not been killed.” Gasana Ndoba was plaintiff claiming damages
against Ntezimana, found guilty of the murder of Gasana’s brother Pierre
The trial has been described as “historic”, because this was the first time that defendants were tried in Belgium under a 1993 law which allows Belgian courts to judge war crimes and human rights violations committed by foreigners on foreign soil, including armed conflict within a country. “The verdict is an encouragement for surviving victims who hesitate to lodge complaints”, Gasana Ndoba added.
“The Belgian jury took its job seriously,” Allison Des Forges of Human Rights Watch told IRIN.
“We have seen that people from another culture can understand what happened in Rwanda in 1994.
International justice has reached a new stage in Belgium and that should encourage other countries to go forward in this way.”
Some 180 witnesses testified at the trial, including dozens who travelled from Rwanda.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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