The widow of one of the ten Belgian paratroopers slaughtered in cold blood by Rwandan troops in 1994 has threatened to leave Belgium if the government agrees to a request for asylum here from one of the officers in charge of the murders. Bernard Ntuyahaga (photo) was a major in the Rwandan army when the Hutu uprising, known as the interahamwe, started after the death in a plane crash of president Juvénal Habyarimana, like Ntuyahaga a member of the Hutu majority.
The incident led to a large-scale massacre of minority Tutsi Rwandans, with neighbour turning against neighbour, and a final death toll estimated at up to two million civilians.
Among the first to suffer were the ten paratroopers, members of the armed forces of Belgium, the former colonial power, in the country as part of a peace-keeping force. The ten men had been given the job of protecting prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, but instead were taken prisoner by Hutu forces. The prime minister and other senior figures were murdered, and the paras were later found unarmed and dead. Belgium immediately withdrew the rest of its forces from the country.
Ntuyahaga was found to be complicit in the slaughter, and was tried in Brussels and sentenced to 20 years in prison following the end of the war. He served half of his sentence before being detained in a closed refugee centre awaiting deportation.
However he has now requested asylum in Belgium, arguing his life would be in danger if he were sent back to Rwanda, where the Tutsi are now in power. That has raised the wrath not only of one widow, but also the sister of another para, Martine Debatty. She and others have complained they were never informed of Ntuyahaga’s release by the Office for Foreigners nor the court which granted his release.
Belgium, the Human Rights League pointed out, is under an international obligation to take the request seriously, to determine if Ntuyahaga’s safety is indeed in danger from revenge actions.
Meanwhile Theo Francken, federal secretary of state for asylum and migration, has appealed to the government of Denmark to take Ntuyahaga in. The man’s wife and daughter already live there.
“I understand the emotional reactions, such as those of the widow of one of the paras,” he told the news programme Terzake. “For the relatives this must be terrible news.” But he pointed out that Ntuyahaga was out of prison but remains in detention. “He is not out walking around,” he said. And although the request will initially be considered by an independent commission, there is little chance the application will be successful. “There’s a clear breach of Article 1f of the Geneva Convention. The man is a war criminal.”