A court in Belgium on Friday slammed life imprisonment on a former Rwandan militia leader, Seraphin Twarhirwa, for dozens of murders and rapes committed during the 1994 genocide in the East African country.
Twarhirwa, 66, was found guilty of directly participating in or overseeing the atrocities by Hutu Interahamwe militiamen in Kigali during the slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus nearly 30 years ago.
A second defendant Pierre Basabose, a one-time close associate of former President Juvenal Habyarimana, was also found guilty of “genocide” and “war crimes” for funding the militia, an AFP report says.
Habyarimana, 76-year-old, who suffers from incurable senile dementia and was unable to attend hearings, was spared jail for health reasons.
The trial of the two men, who were arrested in 2020 in Belgium where they were living in exile, was the sixth held in the country over the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered during 100 days of mass killings sparked by the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994.
The sentencing in Belgium came after a court in neighbouring France on Wednesday jailed former doctor Sosthene Munyemana for 24 years for his involvement in the genocide.
Both Twarhirwa and Basabose contested the accusations during their two-month trial.
Lawyers for both men said they would appeal.
The guilty verdict was welcomed by Michele Hirsch, a lawyer who represented relatives of victims at the trial.
“The judges considered that the mass rapes perpetrated by Twarhirwa were part of the genocide,” she told AFP.
But defence lawyer Vincent Lurquin said the trial had raised serious issues over the judicial cooperation between Belgium and the “authoritarian regime” of President Paul Kagame in Rwanda.
He said that Belgian investigators had relied on re-examining witnesses from a procedure opened in Kigali by Rwandan authorities in the early 2000s.