Brussels, July 22, 2008 (FH) –Belgium is finalising several new trials of persons accused of having taken part in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, according to Philippe Meire, Belgian Federal Prosecutor. The Belgium attorney has represented the prosecution during the three previous trials in 2001, 2005 and 2007.

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A trial is already scheduled for the beginning of next year that of Ephrem Nkezabera, former banker and leading member of the Interamhamwe militia, he told Hirondelle Agency.
In the coming autumn, four letters of request are planned in Rwanda within the framework of other cases.
Asked on the possibility that Belgian justice will try cases coming from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the federal prosecutor reiterated: "we could only try cases from the ICTR within the framework of the completion strategy of the Tribunal if the criteria of extra-territorial jurisdiction envisaged in Belgian law were met. If such was the case, we would certainly accept”.
Only one ICTR case would currently meet these conditions and discussions on this subject are currently on going, he hinted.
These conditions of connection for "universal jurisdiction” exist since 2003. Before several modifications, the law of 1993, first in the world, had led to a surge of complaints before Belgian courts against leading personalities of the entire world. “Following the modification of the law on universal jurisdiction in 2003, some could say: we regressed. But this modification enabled us to focus our activity on cases in which our legitimacy cannot be questioned. ”
Today, a criterion of connection in Belgium is necessary to exert prosecution, either that the victims are Belgian or resided in Belgium during the facts, or that the authors of the crimes are present on the territory.
“This step was inevitable”, said Mr. Meire, adding that insofar as this law allowed sometimes for an instrumentalization of justice within the framework of political conflicts. And repeated diplomatic incidents were difficult to assume for a small country.
This law of universal jurisdiction showed its greatest effectiveness in connection with the Rwandan genocide, allowing for the opening of investigations that led to trials, some very high profile. Not without questions about their place in law and symbolism of the genocide, so far from the location of the crime.
“From the echoes that we have heard in Rwanda, the trials here were much followed. In particular, I suppose, because of the important Diaspora presents in Belgium. It is certainly a cornerstone of justice. It is in any case a strong signal to those who committed these types of acts and believe themselves to be safe abroad”, said Meire.
The magistrate recalled, nevertheless, the scepticism which accompanied each one of these trials. “In 2001, for the first, we were awaited at the corner. We had heard that the witnesses were not going to come, that the jury was not going to follow, that it was too far, that we were going to take a wipe out, etc. And then the witnesses came, inspiring much dignity and respect. That made it possible to show the need for this justice, even far from Rwanda”, he underlined. Then, he continued, “the second trial was surprising: because it was said, after all, Belgium had had a trial, it accomplished its duty. And then there was the third, in connection with the murder of the Belgian peacekeepers, which also raised many doubts, in particular because it was thought that it was going to stir up too many things on the level of the Belgian authorities of the time”.
In connection with the Nkezabera trial, referred on 22 May before the Assize Court of Brussels, the Court of Criminal Appeal, by invalidating a previous decision from the Court Chambers, however, refused that he be tried for crimes of genocide. None of the seven persons convicted in the preceding trials were done so for this charge, but for war crimes or crimes against humanity; which the victims have always regretted. To which the federal prosecutor answers that the choice of these qualifications was due in part to considerations of legal strategy, the crime of genocide having only been introduced into Belgian law in 1999, that is to say after the facts.
“It is true that in 2001, we made the strategic choice not to prosecute for genocide to avoid that a legal debate superseded the facts. But, that being said, it would not have changed the sentences. With Nkezabera, we find ourselves in the situation where someone admitted to their participation in the acts. Also we have considered that, this time, the situation was appropriate to prosecute for this charge”, explained Meire.
The official of the prosecution reminded that international customary law, the integration of the ICTR statutes into Belgian law, the content of parliamentary decisions of 1999 (“where he expressly underlined the possibility to prosecute this charge for acts prior to 1999”) and the jurisprudence of the ICTR (“which convicted Rwandans for genocide whereas the concept did not yet exist in Rwandan law”) should have allowed for this indictment. “But the court did not lead our way and strictly applied criminal law [the principle of non-retroactivity of criminal law]. It is not, however, excluded that the debate will again be raised before the Assize Court and that the question is posed to the jury”, he outlined.