Trial on genocidal killing of Belgian-Rwandan family kicks off in Brussels

Trial on genocidal killing of Belgian-Rwandan family kicks off in Brussels
The building where ten members of a Belgian military regiment were killed during the Rwandan genocide was preserved as a memorial. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A Rwandan national will be tried in Brussels for his role in the killing of a Belgian-Rwandan family during the 1994 genocide, marking the first-ever trial on genocidal crimes to be held in a Belgian court.

A jury will be tasked with establishing the responsibility of Fabien Neretse in the death of Claire Beckers, a Belgian national, and her Rwandan husband Isaïe Bucyana.

Bucyana was executed alongside Beckers and their daughter Katia Bucyana on 9 April 1994 as they attempted to escape the country just days after the start of the mass killings of Tutsi, Twa and moderate Hutu populations.

Members of the jury will additionally seek to establish whether Neretse's actions were motivated by a desire to exterminate the Tutsi population, of which Bucyana was a member.

Neretse, who denies the war crime and genocide charges against him, settled in France after the genocide, where he lived using a fake name until he was arrested there and brought to Belgium in 2011.

According to non-profit TRIAL International, Neretse was a former military lieutenant and prominent businessman who held close ties with the Hutu political elite.

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He is suspected of playing a key role in the formation and financing of the extremist Hutu militia who slaughtered between 500,000 to a million Rwandans, around 70% of whom belonged to the Tutsi population.

The 71-year-old defendant is thought to have planned a number of killing campaigns and of causing the deaths of several Tutsi families by denouncing their attempts to flee the country — and is namely thought to have denounced the escape of the Bucyana-Beckers family.

The family decided to flee their home following news that Tutsis were being targetted and that ten members of a Belgian military regiment had been killed as well. They managed to contact a United Nations' Blue Helmet base, which they set out to reach.

On their way to the base, accompanied by other fleeing families, they were stopped by armed men and summarily executed, according to VRT.

The trial is expected to draw significantly from the oral testimonies of around 120 witnesses set to address Belgium's highest criminal court, with some among them flown in from Rwanda while others, currently imprisoned in the country, are expected to testify via video conference.

The proceedings, set to kick off on 4 November with the jury selection hearing, were halted after a suspicious package found inside the court triggered the evacuation of the hundreds of people come to attend the hearing.

The DOVO explosives unit was called onsite following the discovery of the package at around 3 P.M., and the bomb alert triggered was lifted some two hours later, La Libre reports.

Following the jury selection, the trial hearings are expected to begin on 7 November, BX1 reports. If found guilty, Neretse risks being sentenced to prison for life.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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