As prime minister Charles Michel visits Kigali for the official ceremonies to mark the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, the justice committee of the federal parliament has approved a proposal to make it illegal to deny the historical fact of that massacre and another at Srebrenica in Bosnia. The genocide in Rwanda was triggered in April 1994 when the plane carrying the country’s president was shot down and rebels from the Tutsi population exiled at that time in Uganda, blamed. That was the start of a mass murder spree by Hutu Rwandans in which at least one million people died, mainly Tutsis but also Hutu sympathisers.
The July 1995 genocide in Bosnia was carried out by Serbian troops, and led to the deaths of 8,000 people, mainly men and boys. At the same time as the killings, up to 30,000 women, children and elderly people were forcibly removed from the territory.
The new law, which justice minister Koen Geens said he expects to be passed by parliament after the Easter break, does not apply only to those two events, however. The proposal makes it a criminal offence to “deny, minimise, justify or approve of genocides, crimes against humanity or war crimes recognised as such by an international tribunal”.
Both of the genocides mentioned have been the subject of proceedings by special UN tribunals and by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The law would also apply in the event of future genocides.
The genocide of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire during and after the First World War is not covered by the new law. Officially, the reason is because it has never been dealt with by an international tribunal. Unofficially, the subject is a bone of diplomatic contention with the government of Turkey, which has always denied the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians took place.
Holocaust denial, meanwhile, is already outlawed in Belgium, Geens said. “The negationist law of 1995 will not change,” he said. “That remains reserved for the very exceptional, horrific nature of the Holocaust, so that there might not be the slightest impression of putting things into perspective.”