A Belgian court handed down a life sentence on Friday to Seraphin Twarhirwa, a Rwandan former militia leader, for his role in numerous murders and rapes committed during the 1994 genocide. Twarhirwa, 66, was found guilty of actively participating in or overseeing the brutal atrocities carried out by Hutu Interahamwe militiamen in Kigali, targeting both Tutsis and moderate Hutus three decades ago.
The court also delivered a guilty verdict to a second defendant, Pierre Basabose, a former close associate of the late President Juvenal Habyarimana. Basabose was convicted of “genocide” and “war crimes” for financially supporting the militia. Despite his conviction, the 76-year-old, afflicted with incurable senile dementia and unable to attend hearings, was spared jail on health grounds.
The trial of both men took place in Belgium, where they were arrested in 2020 while living in exile. This marked the sixth trial in Belgium related to the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Belgium, having ruled over modern-day Rwanda during the colonial period, maintains a significant Rwandan diaspora.
In just 100 days, the genocide that began with the downing of Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994, resulted in the ruthless killing of an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The recent sentencing in Belgium follows a similar case in neighbouring France, where former doctor Sosthene Munyemana was sentenced to 24 years for his involvement in the genocide.
Both Twarhirwa and Basabose vehemently contested the accusations throughout their two-month trial. The lawyers for the defendants announced their intention to appeal the verdict.
Michele Hirsch, a lawyer representing the relatives of the victims, expressed satisfaction with the outcome. “The judges considered that the mass rapes perpetrated by Twarhirwa were part of the genocide,” she told AFP.
However, defence lawyer Vincent Lurquin raised concerns about the judicial cooperation between Belgium and the Rwandan government under President Paul Kagame. During the trial, Lurquin raised concerns by pointing out that Belgian investigators heavily relied on reviewing witnesses from a process that Rwandan authorities started in Kigali in the early 2000s.
The Belgian court’s decision comes a couple of days after a French court also sentenced a former Rwandan Doctor, for his role in the genocide.