Nkezabera, 56, is accused of war crimes and infringements to international humanitarian law (murders, attempted murders and rapes) for his participation in the 1994 genocide, which resulted in approximately 800 000 death, according to the UN, primarily Tutsis.
In May 2008, the court of criminal appeal rejected the count of "crimes of genocide" requested by the federal prosecution. This crime was introduced into Belgian law only in 1999. The facts having taken place in 1994, the judges pointed out the principle of non-retroactivity of criminal law in support of their decision.
Mr. Vanderbeck, Nkezabera's lawyer, confirmed to the Hirondelle Agency that his client, in waiting for his trial, had been released on 27 August 2008, an information which was revealed only in Wednesday's edition of the "Le Soir" newspaper. "Preventive detention must remain an exceptional measure, and the judges accepted my release motion in waiting for the appearance - a decision which I endeavoured not to spread", he stated. He refused to say anymore, in particular on the location where Nkezabera has since been.
No particular measure to limit his freedom of movement was taken by the court of criminal appeal, he added, which was confirmed by the federal prosecution; which specified that an order of capture was still in force against him if the former banker did not present himself to his trial.
In 1994, Nkezabera was president of the commission of economic affairs and finances within the national committee of the Interahamwe, the main militia which took part in the massacres. An official of the Commercial Bank of Rwanda (BCR), he was also a member of the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND), the party of President Juvénal Habyarimana.
Arrested in Brussels in 2004, following an agreement concluded with the prosecutor from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), he had been renowned for several years, with other former Interahamwe leaders, to be an informer of the UN Tribunal.
Called as a witness during preceding trials which took place in Belgium, in 2005 and 2007, he had during the 2005 trial provided many indications on the financing circuits of the genocide.
Nkezabera has admitted to the majority of the facts which are charged against him. He admitted, during the judicial investigation, to have armed and financed the Interahamwe in order to exterminate Tutsis and moderate Hutus. He added to have publicly "encouraged" many Interahamwe to massacre at a public meeting in 1993. Lastly, he admits to having taken part in the financing of the Radio libre des mille collines, created the same year and which openly supported the massacres on its airwaves.
He rejects, on the other hand, the rape charges, speaking of "consenting partners" - which the counsel for the civil parties disputes; he estimates that the alleged victims had no other choice but to give in or be kill.
The judges also retained, in addition to the identified crimes, the open incriminations of "murder or rape of an unspecified number people in unspecified places on unspecified dates between on 6 April and on 2 July 1994". Mr. Vanderbeck criticized this choice which caused, according to him, some "drifting" during the preceding "Rwanda trials" by authorizing the constitution of many very distant civil parties, even foreign to the cause.
Eleven alleged victims have to date been constituted as civil parties.
They, for their part, declared themselves to be very disappointed with the decision of the judges not to retain the count of genocide. "The victims do not understand, explained Philippe Lardinois, one their lawyers. Nkezabera is a genocidaire and undoubtedly the biggest fish which, until now, Belgium will have tried. It is not easy to understand this decision based on technical legal considerations, moreover debatable ones. "
According to the civil parties, in agreement this time with the federal prosecution, Belgium could have based itself on international law, and in particular on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment. of the Crime of Genocide (1948), which was ratified in 1951 by the kingdom. The victims, during the three preceding trials, had indeed criticized the prosecution for not having used this count - then inappropriate, according to him.
During these trials, in 2001, 2003 and 2007, Belgium sentenced seven people to lengthy sentences. Two of them, Maria Kizito, a nun sentenced in 2001 to 12 years in prison, and Vincent Ntezimana, an academic sentenced to 12 years in prison during the same trial, benefited from an early release, respectively in 2007 and 2006.
Belgium is one of the rare European countries to have brought to a successful conclusion a trial in relation to the Rwandan genocide, under the terms of a law known as "universal jurisdiction" from 1993, revised in 2003. The trial of Ephrem Nkezabera should last approximately a month.
© Hirondelle News Agency