Brussels, September 16, 2010 (FH) - Belgium should not hide behind the United Nations, the lawyers of two Rwandan plaintiffs who launched a suit against Belgian soldiers and the Belgian state for "failure to render assistance to a person in danger" said in their opening statement on September 9.

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The commander of the Belgian forces during the 1994 genocide is facing prosecution for causing deaths of 2,000 persons after he ordered his troops to withdraw from a technical school in Kigali (ETO) where the victims had sought refuge.

On September 9 and 10, a court in Brussels heard the arguments of both parties in this landmark case.

One of the plaintiffs is Florida Mukeshimana, the widow of then Foreign minister Boniface Ngulinzira, who was killed with others while trying to escape from the ETO.

The other plaintiff is Marie-Agnès Umwali, who survived the killings. Her lawyer, Luc Walleyn, told Hirondelle News agency that Belgian authorities hold the wrong position: "They claim that the entire contingent was under the responsibility of the UNAMIR (the UN mission in Rwanda) which gave the pull out order, so they can wash their hands of the case".

Actually, he asserts, it was proven in former trials that "it was in fact the Belgian authorities which gave the pull-out order, pretending that the UN agreed that the troops took only care of the expatriates before withdrawing".

On his side, Belgian soldiers' attorney Emmanuel Degrez stated that his clients always lined up under General Romeo Dallaire's command, the chief of the Blue Helmets in Rwanda at the time.

"I'd like to recall that Roméo Dallaire paid tribute in 1995 to Belgium and the UN mission in Rwanda", Emmanuel Degrez insisted. "They fulfilled their duties. The orders they were given were not illegal, even though it is now admitted that they had tragic consequences."

Belgium had the best trained and equipped force in UNAMIR in 1994. However, after ten of their paratroopers were killed by Hutu extremists along with Prime Minister Agathe Unwilingiyimana on April 7, 1994, they decided to withdraw their expatriates and their troops.

On April 11, 1994, about 97 Belgian soldiers based at the ETO, in a Kigali neighborhood, took the order to withdraw to the airport, leaving the refuges in the technical school compound where they were slaughtered few days later by Interahamwe.

Florida Mukeshimana Ngulinzira and Marie-Agnès Umwali are suing the Belgian state for "failing to act", a crime prescribed under the Geneva Convention.

Mrs Ngulinzira is also suing three soldiers including Unamir number 2 Colonel Luc Marchal, the chief of the Belgian force in Kigali, Colonel Joseph Dewez and the ETO contingent's chief, Captain Luc Lemaire.

Captain Lemaire said to the court that he did not realize genocide was going on, his hierarchy having informed him of "limited riots".

Colonel Marchal, who gave the order to pull-out, expressed regrets but said he had done all he could do: "It was not our mandate and we had just lost ten men", he recalled.

The court will render a verdict in two months.


© Hirondelle News Agency