Two Rwandans convicted in Belgium for genocide

On Friday December 22, the Brussels Assize Court found two Rwandans guilty of war crimes and crimes of genocide

Two Rwandans convicted in Belgium for genocide

On Friday December 22, the Brussels Assize Court found two Rwandans guilty of war crimes and crimes of genocide. Séraphin Twahirwa, 66, was sentenced to life imprisonment and his immediate arrest was ordered. Pierre Basabose, 76, will be interned due to a state of mental deficiency. The sentencing sparked an incident, with one of the first defendant's lawyers attacking members of the jury.

Both men were close to the regime led at the time by President Juvénal Habyarimana. The trial demonstrated that they were at the heart of the genocidal machine set in motion after the attack of April 6, 1994 which led to the death of Mr. Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira.

The plane of the two leaders was shot down by a missile while approaching Kigali airport. An event which marked the outbreak of the Tutsi genocide and the massacre of Hutu opponents, and caused 800,000 to 1 million deaths.

This trial, the sixth of its kind in Belgium, was held under the law of universal jurisdiction for crimes under international law committed abroad by people residing in Belgium. Pierre Basabose had obtained political refugee status before a more in-depth investigation by the immigration services, Séraphin Twahirwa was staying illegally after several asylum requests were rejected.

The trial which ended will have, more than the previous ones, highlighted the importance of rape as another weapon of the genocidaires: Séraphin Twahirwa, alias “President”, “Raïs” or “Kihebe” – which means at the both terrorist and merciless – also had to answer for at least a dozen rapes. And this is the first time that some victims were confronted with their attacker.

Very violent and cruel

Women, mostly behind closed doors, gave chilling accounts of rapes committed in front of children and husbands before the victims were killed, pierced, sometimes buried alive. “These are testimonies that will haunt us forever,” comments Me Michèle Hirsch, one of the lawyers for the civil parties.

Witnesses said that Séraphin Twahirwa had in fact begun raping the wives of Tutsi considered accomplices of the Rwandan Patriotic Front after an attack carried out by that party from Uganda in 1990. During the genocide, the act of accusation, he asked Interhamwe militiamen, Hutu extremists whom he led in the Kigali region, to bring back Tutsi women to him. He thus raped a woman who was his colleague before the genocide, then killed her in cold blood when it began.

Son of a police officer, member of the family of President Habyarimana's wife, which offered him powerful protections, the accused was described as very violent and cruel. A former minister who took refuge in Switzerland, James Gasana, said he was forced to resign and flee by the presidency for refusing to interfere in legal proceedings targeting Mr. Twahirwa, suspected of a homicide.

From the morning of April 7, 1994, the militiamen under the orders of Mr. Twahirwa took action. The brother of his wife, a Tutsi (he always claimed that they were "the best in bed"), thought he would be protected by reuniting his family with a friend whose home was, on Twahirwa's orders, protected by the Interhamwe . It was in fact only a tactic to round up Tutsi: three weeks later “the President” arrived with armed men, not even sparing members of his family. A witness claimed that thirty people were murdered on this occasion.

The current Rwandan government, which had issued an international arrest warrant for Twahirwa – he left the country for the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1994 and arrived in Belgium in 2006 – has placed him back on the list of main genocidaires.

Assistance in the material realization of the genocide

Pierre Basabose, a former soldier who became a member of the presidential guard, then an entrepreneur, was a financier of the National Republican Movement for Development and Democracy, the presidential party, and the Interhamwe, to which he was accused of having delivered weapons.

This man, presented as Twahirwa's "superior", was also accused of having helped to materially carry out the genocide. He was, moreover, a shareholder of the Free Radio-Television of Mille Collines, also nicknamed “Radio-Télévision la mort” or “Radio machete”, recalled Me Maureen Lambert, another lawyer for the civil parties. The station was famous for spreading hatred against the Tutsi population and broadcasting calls for murder during the genocide.

Pierre Basabose had drawn up lists of people to be eliminated, organized checks, ordered grenade attacks, then gave the order to dig mass graves. His lawyer, who pleaded his client's dementia and refused outright all the arguments of the prosecution as well as all the testimonies designating Basabose as a kingpin of the genocide, failed to save him from prosecution. If he had not been interned, he would undoubtedly have been sentenced to a heavy sentence, the prosecutor having requested twenty-five years of detention.

The psychiatrists and the jury considered that the septuagenarian was, in any case, perfectly conscious at the time of the events. “He may not have killed with his own hands but he could only have been splashed by the blood of the victims,” argued Mr. Lambert.