11.09.07 - RWANDA/BELGIUM - NTUYAHAGA SENTENCED TO LARGE REPARATIONS

Brussels, 11 September 2007 (FH) - The Crown Court, in a judgment rendered Tuesday morning, granted a total of 540 000 euros (406 million Rwandan francs) of reparations to 21 Rwandan civil parties present at the trial of former Rwandan Major Bernard Ntuyahaga. Reparations should remain symbolic.
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Bernard Ntuyahaga was sentenced on 5 July to 20 years in prison for the death of ten Belgian peacekeepers in Kigali, 7 April 1994, and for the killing of several Rwandan families and of an "unspecified number of people", according to the indictment, between 6 April and 6 June in Kigali.

164 persons, including the family members of the Belgian soldiers, were represented as civil parties in this trial.

The judges, just as at the time of the second "Rwanda trial" in 2005, estimated that Rwandan law was to be applied for the calculation of the civil interests.

Similar provisions in the Belgian and Rwandan civil codes establish, argued the presiding Judge Karin Gerard, which the legal framework of the civil liability is the law of the country where the acts occurred.

A Rwandan jurisprudence sets compensation amounts ranging from 500 000 to 5 000 000 Rwandan francs, according to the family relation between the victim and the plaintiff. The amounts in euros are calculated according to the exchange rate of 1994.

Contrary to all the predictions, the court accepted a large number of constitutions of civil parties entering into the category of "unspecified number of assassinated people" in Kigali, without a causal link between these victims and the acts of Bernard Ntuyahaga having yet been proven. Establishing the place (Kigali) and the date (between 6 April and 6 June) of the death of a family member appeared to be sufficient for the court.

The magistrates, basing themselves on the conditions required by Rwandan law, were, however, strict on the evidence to be produced; thus a number of these civil parties were finally dismissed due to a lack, according to the judges, of documents attesting to a family link with the victims, absence of the death certificate, or due to death certificates not indicating where the death took place.

In this manner, Belgium, which requested one provisional euro for material damages; 2 412 525 Belgian francs had already been granted in 1994 to each family of the peacekeepers, "is not founded to act because it did not produce any evidence establishing the payment of this sum to the interested parties", it is written in the decision.

The Belgian families were, for their part, granted reparations totalling almost 90 000 euros, also calculated according to Rwandan jurisprudence.

Rwanda was granted a provisional euro for moral damages because of the "war crimes" committed by Ntuyahaga which "attacked its honour and its standing in respect to the international community", the judges estimated to be missing elements to evaluate the material damages. Rwanda, through its counsel Serge Moureaux, had in particular underlined the creation of an assistance fund for the victims. The court decided to postpone this decision.

It also postponed the request of Luc de Temmerman, lawyer for Bernard Ntuyahaga, to have Rwanda guarantee the payment to the victims. De Temmerman had indeed estimated that Rwanda should guarantee these sums because it was the employer of his client, soldier at the time of the events.

But it is a civil matter before a criminal court, estimated the judges who await more "explanations" on the basis of this request.

Lawyers estimate that it would be a means for the Rwandan civil parties of receiving money, the conditions to meet the requirements of the Belgian fund compensating victims of intentional acts of violence were not meet in this type of case.

In 2005, compensation had been granted. But no sum could ever be paid to the family members of the Rwandan victims, due to the insolvency of the persons convicted. At the time of the first "Rwanda trial" in 2001, the court did not rule on the civil interests.

These reparations also will remain symbolic for the Belgian families, for which some have already been compensated within the framework of other procedures.

The trial of Bernard Ntuyahaga, which opened on 19 April and lasted 11 weeks, was the third in connection with the Rwandan genocide for which Belgium applied its law known as "universal jurisdiction

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