2 min 13Approximate reading time

Brussels, April 19, 2007 (FH) – Twelve years after being accused by Belgium of the assassination on April 7, 1994 of ten Blue Helmets and of several Rwandan figures including Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Bernard Ntuyahaga, a former Rwandan officer, appeared Thursday before the Court of Assises in Brussels.   After Bernard Ntuyahaga, very calm and seated behind smoked glass in the accused box, had stated his identity, the Court, through the energetic chairmanship of Karine Gerard, began jury selection.  Twelve active members and twelve substitutes were named during a process which lasted all morning.  Numerous requests for excusal were submitted by the 200 people assembled by the Court.   The hearing opened in the absence of Luc de Temmerman, Bernard Ntuyahaga’s lawyer, who was in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he was trying to make a witness appear in Belgium.  More than 150 witnesses are already scheduled for this trial which should last at the least, two months.   The afternoon was devoted to the reading of the indictment.  Debates will recommence Monday with the reading of the defense’s brief and the start of questioning of the Rwandan officer.   On May 29, 1995, the Belgian investigative judge Damien Vandermeersch submitted an international arrest warrant against Ntuyahaga following a complaint by families of soldiers submitted starting April 1994.  Supposedly living in Zambia, he could not be located despite a diplomatic initiative seeking his extradition.   Three years later, on June 6, 1998, Ntuyahaga became a prisoner of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha.  He told investigators at the ICTR that he hoped to avoid arrest by Rwanda where he knew he was being sought, especially after the former Minister of Justice, Agnes Ntamabyariro, hiding like him in Zambia, had been kidnapped.  “One should choose the less of two evils,” he said.   On July 13, the Belgian Ambassador in Tanzania transmitted to the Tanzanian authorities an extradition request and on September 26, the ICTR prosecutor issued an indictment against him for “crimes against humanity.”   At the request of Belgium, which hopes to try persons implicated in the assassination of the Blue Helmets, the Prosecutor finally asked Trial Chamber I of the Tribunal, on February 23, 1999, to discontinue the indictment against the major of the former Rwandan Armed Forces (RAF).  The Chamber gave way to this request on March 18 and ordered Ntuyahaga’s release.  He left prison in Arusha on March 29, guaranteed with safe-passage, which angered Belgian and Rwandan authorities.  The same day, a few hours after his arrival in Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania’s capital, he was arrested for immigration violations and on the basis of international arrest warrants delivered against him by Belgium and Rwanda.   After many years of judicial efforts and secret political negotiations during the course of which extradition requests from Belgium and Rwanda were rejected, the Kisutu Tribunal of Dar es-Salaam itself released Bernard Ntuyahaga on March 26, 2004.  He decided to surrender himself to Belgium where he was arrested the next day and incarcerated.   On September 7, 2006, the Indictment Chamber decided to send Bernard Ntuyahaga before the Court of Assises in Brussels on the basis of the Belgian law known as “universal jurisdiction.”  This will be the third trial tied to genocide to take place in Belgium, and the first involving Belgian victims.  The major has continued to deny any responsibility for the acts of which he is accused.   BF/PB/KD   © Hirondelle News Agency