WASHINGTON, DC — The trial and conviction in Belgium of four Rwandans on charges of participating in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide was welcomed today by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) as a concrete step toward holding the perpetrators of genocide accountable and preventing future genocide.
On June 8th, a Belgian civil court, operating under a 1993 law giving Belgian courts universal jurisdiction over war criminals, convicted two Catholic nuns, a professor and a former government minister. The four had been accused of aiding Hutu extremists kill and burn over 5,000 Tutsi refugees who had sought refuge from the ethnic bloodletting. They were sentenced to between 12 and 20 years in prison.
As many as a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during a three month period in 1994. In its coverage of the trial, Reuters news agency reported that the Rwandan Genocide is “often described as the 20th century’s third worst genocide after the Jewish Holocaust in Nazi Germany and a massacre of ethnic Armenians in 1915.”
The chief prosecutor, who had called for life sentences for the accused, commented during the sentencing phase of the trial that this conviction will “show that Belgium is not, and will not become, a sanctuary for perpetrators of genocide.”
“We welcome the Belgian court’s decision as meaningful step by the international community toward holding the perpetrators of genocide accountable for their crimes,” said ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian. “We are especially encouraged that this measure of justice for the Rwandan Genocide has been served in a timely manner, unlike the Armenian Genocide, which after more than 86 years has yet to be justly resolved.”
This Belgian trial represents the first instance of a civilian jury in one country sitting in judgment on suspected war criminals from another. The trial was watched by human rights groups as a test case for future action to deter war criminals from seeking sanctuary abroad. The government of Rwanda congratulated Belgium on the trial and called on other countries to follow its example.
The trial in Belgium was separate from the United Nations war crimes tribunal in Tanzania, which has convicted eight people for their part in the genocide since it was set up in 1994.
“As a nation which has endured genocide and must continue, to this day, to confront the Turkish government’s ongoing denial of this crime, Armenians hold a special obligation to do all that we can to ensure that the horrors of genocide are never again visited upon any people, anywhere in the world,” said Hamparian.