James Arthur Photography

First Rwandan genocide trial in Belgium starts

For the first time a Belgian court of assizes will try a case of suspected genocide.  Fabien Neretse stands accused of crimes of genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

An estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during the Rwandan genocide in that year. The present trial for which a jury is being selected today is the fifth trial on the events in Rwanda in 1994 in Belgium, but the first in which there is mention of genocide as the crime the suspect is charged with.  In the earlier trials the suspects were accused of war crimes.

The jury will have to decide whether Fabien Neretse had the intention of eradicating an entire group of the population. Evidence will be brought relating to the Belgian woman Claire Beckers.  She is one of twelve Belgian civilians who were killed in the genocide in addition to ten Belgian UN blue berets.

Claire married a Rwandan engineer and made her home in Rwanda. As the killings start Claire and her husband make for a nearby UN base, but they never get there.  Together with their daughter and ten friends and neighbours they are shot dead in a garden.  Two children, aged 11 and 15 at the time, survive the slaughter and will bear witness at the trial.

Belgian investigators suspect Fabien Neretse, a Hutu, of tipping off the Hutu militias that were responsible for the killings.  The Belgian jury will have to decide whether this is the case.   

Neretse also stands accused of heading a Hutu militia, part of the Interhamwe that was responsible for the death of Joseph Mpendwanzi, a moderate Hutu.  His son too will give evidence at the trial.