Trial of Genocide suspects, Basabose and Twahirwa begins in Belgium

On 5 October 2023 at 07:11

The court of assizes in Brussels, Belgium, has commenced proceedings in the trial of two individuals accused of being involved in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Pierre Basabose and Séraphin Twahirwa are facing charges of genocide and war crimes, marking a significant step toward accountability for one of the darkest chapters in Rwandan history.

Pierre Basabose, born in 1947, has a complex background that includes military service, business ventures, and connections with former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana.

His association with the presidential guard and his role as the driver for Colonel Elie Sagatwa, Habyarimana’s brother-in-law and private secretary, have placed him at the center of the allegations.

Additionally, Basabose’s financial success, fueled by a foreign exchange office in Kigali, led him to become a major shareholder in Radio-Television Libre des Milles Collines, notorious for its role in inciting hatred against Tutsi. He fled Rwanda in April 1994, embarking on a journey through several countries before ending up in Belgium.

Meanwhile, Séraphin Twahirwa, known as "Kihebe," was born in 1958 and served as an Interahamwe leader in Kigali’s Gikondo sector.

He is also a cousin of Agathe Kanziga, the wife of former President Habyarimana. Twahirwa’s proximity to the customs depot of MAGERWA further implicates him in the events of the genocide.

After its conclusion, he fled to Zaïre and eventually found his way to Belgium via Uganda. He currently holds no legal status of residence in Belgium.

The charges against both suspects include their involvement in genocide due to political and ideological affiliations, their participation in arming and training Interahamwe militias, their role in creating lists of targeted individuals, and their presence at roadblocks used for filtering victims. Furthermore, they face accusations of war crimes, including multiple counts of murder and, in Twahirwa’s case, rape.

A noteworthy fact is that 40 Rwandan witnesses will travel to Brussels to testify before the court, in a coordinated logistical effort by the Belgian Justice department, the Embassy of Belgium in Kigali and the Rwandan Witness Protection Programme.

The Belgian Development Cooperation also contributes financially to the work of RCN Justice & Démocratie, a non-profit organization that will send two Rwandan journalists to Brussels to cover the assize trials. Their aim is to make sure that the news about the trials of Basabose and Twahirwa reaches local media outlets and radio stations in Rwanda, with the cooperation of the Pax Press media network.

“It is important that justice is not only done, but also seen to be done”, commented Belgian ambassador Bert Versmessen on the start of the court proceedings in Brussels on 4th October 2023.

“The legal cooperation between the prosecution in Rwanda and Belgium is a cornerstone of our relationship. It is driven by the desire that there should be no impunity for serious violations of international humanitarian law. Belgium’s penal code allows our judges to prosecute every person living in Belgium who committed crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture, irrespective of whether these crimes took place on Belgian soil,” he added.

Belgium was the first country outside of Rwanda to convict perpetrators of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. In 2001, the trial against the “Four of Butare” in 2001 resulted in four convictions for war crimes. The last trial dates to December 2019, when Fabien Neretse aka Nsabimana was sentenced for crimes of genocide and war crimes in Kigali and Mataba. In total, the court of assizes organized 5 trials against 9 persons.