Belgium: Rwandan official found guilty of genocide | News | DW | 20.12.2019
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Belgium: Rwandan official found guilty of genocide

Fabien Neretse will be sentenced on Friday, with a possible life sentence in the offing. According to the indictment, Neretse set up a militia that killed members of the Tutsi community.

Rwandan official Fabien Neretse became the first person to be convicted on charges of genocide, a Brussels court ruled on Thursday.

According to Belgian newspaper De Standaard, the 71-year-old, who had pleaded not guilty, will discover his fate on Friday, with a life sentence expected.

Read more: Rwanda tribunal isn't spotless — but remarkable

The agricultural scientist was accused of having ordered the massacre of 11 people in the Rwandan capital of Kigali and two more civilians in a rural area north of the country's largest city in 1994.

Fabien Neretse (AFP/J. Thys)

Fabien Neretse, who has been found guilty of genocide in Rwanda, is seen here at the beginning of his trial in front of the Palace of Justice

After two days of deliberation, the jury cleared him of two of the Kigali murders but found him guilty of 11 war crimes under Belgium's code of universal jurisdiction for the most serious offences.

To demonstrate the more serious charge of genocide, the prosecutor highlighted the Rwandan official's attendance of public rallies, encouraging fellow members of the Hutu ethnic group to slaughter the minority Tutsi community.

The jury concurred with this narrative, based on multiple witnesses, despite Neretse's defense being based on discrediting those witnesses.

Belgium has previously held four trials and convicted eight perpetrators of killings in Rwanda, but Neretse is the first defendant to be found guilty of genocide.

 "I will never stop insisting that I neither planned nor took part in the genocide," Naretse said at the trial's conclusion on Tuesday.

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Lengthy pursuit of justice

70-year-old Martine Beckers, whose sister, brother-in-law and 20-year-old niece were shot dead by a group linked to Naretse, instigated a formal complaint with the Belgian federal police in 1994. In the years that followed, working with witnesses and human rights groups, she believes she has traced the people behind the murder of her relatives.

Magistrates have been compiling evidence in the case for 15 years and the fact that it came to trial "owes a lot to her determination," her lawyer Eric Gillet said prior to the hearings.

Talking to news agency AFP from her Belgian home, Beckers described her struggle as a "joint combat" on behalf of all of the victims.

Read more: France and Rwanda: Re-examining France's role in the genocide

"I was in an excellent position, being Belgian, with my family and my life here. It's very different for the refugees," she said.

"There needs to be justice," she continued. "Those who planned, organized and executed this genocide must be punished. If not here, then where?"

Under Belgian law, courts enjoy universal jurisdiction to prosecute genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, no matter where they took place.

According to UN statistics, the genocide resulted in the deaths of more than 800,000 Rwandans, primarily Tutsis but also moderate Hutus. The UN also estimate 150,000 - 250,000 women were raped.

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