Belgium still investigating murder of first Congolese Prime Minister
Wednesday, 01 July 2020
Patrice Lumumba's family near the Palace of Justice in Brussels. Credit: Belga
An investigation in Belgium to bring to justice those suspected of being involved in the murder of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 is still ongoing, Federal prosecutor Frédéric Van Leeuw said on Wednesday.
Lumumba was a Congolese politician who served as the first Prime Minister of what was then known as the Republic of the Congo and was murdered in January 1961.
“There are still two people who are alive,” Van Leeuw told LN24. “We are in the process of taking stock of the proceedings that could be initiated. The facts have been qualified as war crimes, which has been confirmed by the Brussels Court of Appeal. They are therefore not statute-barred,” meaning that the two surviving suspects can still be put to justice, even after nearly 40 years.
The Belgian judiciary had announced in December 2012 that it would launch an investigation into this assassination under the so-called “universal jurisdiction” law, which authorises the prosecution of people suspected of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide if the plaintiffs or the accused have a link with Belgium. The investigation was launched at the request of Lumumba’s family.
“It is symbolically important that the justice system takes an interest in that and characterises the facts correctly, because Belgium does not come out of that episode looking good,” he said. “And we’ve made progress. For example, a tooth of Patrice Lumumba was found in the family of one of the people who made his body and those of the two politicians executed with him disappear. A bit like a relic. It shows the mentality of these people.”
The investigating judge will request access to camera testimonies before the Lumumba Parliamentary Commission, which had concluded its work in 2001, Van Leeuw added.
Lumumba made history on 30 June 1960 with his speech against the colonists’ racism, in the presence of Belgian King Baudouin, during the official ceremony marking the birth of the Congo: “we experienced the ironies, the insults, the beatings we had to endure morning, noon and evening” because they were black, he said.
Six and a half months after this speech, on 17 January 1961, Lumumba was executed in the middle of the bush 50 km from Elisabethville (now Lubumbashi) by Katanga separatists and their Belgian henchmen. He was 35 years old.