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Dutch citizen in the dock for role in 1994 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: A Dutch woman of Rwandan origin went on trial in a Hague court 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 in “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 listened intently as the prosecutor read out six charges for her alleged role in the killings, committed by Hutu extremists against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Speaking from the dock, she maintained her innocence.

“I was given Dutch citizenship in 2004 because they [the government] did an investigation and found that I was innocent,” she said.

The genocide, carried out largely with just clubs and machetes, was sparked when the plane carrying Rwanda’s then-President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down on April 6, 1994.

His death was subsequently blamed on Rwanda’s minority Tutsi population, and over the next three months some 800,000 people, according to U.N. figures, died in the 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 under way in Rwanda.

Basebya is alleged to have incited others, including members of the Interahamwe Hutu militia, to kill Tutsis through “promises, abuse of authority, violence or threat of violence.”

She allegedly sang songs including “Tubatsembatsembe,” which means “exterminate them [Tutsis],” made 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 in the case 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 judgment existed. The prosecution cynically held back this judgment. My client’s right to a fair trial has been damaged beyond repair,” said Koppe, asking judge Rene Elkerbout to dismiss the case.

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.

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 trial is expected to last around two months, with a verdict expected about three months later. The judge adjourned it until Tuesday.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 23, 2012, on page 10.

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