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Dutch citizen in the dock for Rwandan genocide

Yvonne Basebya, 65, (R) arrives with two unidentified persons at the court house in The Hague, The Netherlands, on October 2012. AFP PHOTO/ANP BAS CZERWINSKI

THE HAGUE, Netherlands: A Rwandan woman turned Dutch national went on trial in a Hague court on Monday charged with genocide for her alleged role in the 1994 massacre of almost a million people in the central African nation.

Yvonne Basebya, 65, is accused of involvement with "killing and raping Tutsis with the aim of the extermination of the Tutsi population group," prosecutor Ward Fernandusse said as the case opened at the court in The Hague.

Dressed in a pink blouse and cream jacket, Basebya, 65, listened intently as the prosecutor read out six charges for her alleged role in the killings, carried out by Hutu extremists against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The murders, carried out largely with just clubs and machetes, were sparked when then Rwandan Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana's plane was shot down at Kigali airport on April 6, 1994.

His death was subsequently pinned on Rwanda's minority Tutsi population and over the next three months some 800,000 people, according to UN figures, died in an orgy of violence.

Basebya, maiden name Ntacyobatabara, is accused of playing a central role in the genocide including at the Pallottines Church where she "intentionally had killed... members of the Tutsi population group," the charge sheet said.

In the days following Habyarimana's death, some 110 Tutsis were slaughtered while hiding in the church just south of the capital Kigali, in what is widely regarded as the first proof that genocide was underway in Rwanda.

Basebya allegedly incited others, including members of the so-called Interahamwe Hutu militia, to kill Tutsis through "gifts, promises, abuse of authority, violence or threat of violence."

She allegedly sang songs including "Tubatsembatsembe", which means "exterminate them (Tutsis)", kept lists of Tutsis marked for death and kept track of their murders, prosecutors said.

Basebya, who was arrested on June 21, 2010, has denied the charges against her "from the very beginning", her lawyer Victor Koppe told AFP ahead of the trial, blaming a "small group of witnesses conspiring against my client".

In court, Koppe accused prosecutors of withholding knowledge of a 2003 acquittal by a Kigali court of a man accused of carrying out genocidal killings after witnesses were deemed unreliable.

"These are the very same witnesses who gave evidence in the trial of my client," Koppe told the court.

"We only found out at the very last moment that this judgement existed. The prosecution cynically held back this judgement. My client's right to a fair trial has been damaged beyond repair," said Koppe, asking judge Rene Elkerbout to dismiss the case.

The judge was to hear the prosecution's rebuttal on Monday afternoon.

Basebya, who is married to a former Rwandan MP who also worked as an investigator at the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, has been living in the Netherlands since October 1998 and received Dutch citizenship in December 2004.

She was tried in absentia by a Rwandan Gacaca community court for her role in the genocide in 2007 and given a life sentence.

Dutch courts can try Netherlands' citizens for genocide or foreign suspects if the genocide was committed after October 1970, following a recently-changed law to broaden prosecution possibilities for the most serious of all crimes.

A Dutch appeals court in July 2011 sentenced Rwandan citizen Joseph Mpambara to life in prison for war crimes committed in Rwanda in 1994, before the new genocide clause went into effect in April this year

Basebya's case will run until the end of the year. A verdict is expected about three months later.

 

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