Survivors hail Belgium House vote to outlaw Genocide denial

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel delivers a speech during a Genocide commemoration event in Kigali on April 7, 2019. Sam Ngendahimana.

Genocide survivors have welcomed Belgian parliament’s vote to broaden the country’s law that punishes genocide denial to include the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Thursday’s endorsement by the country’s Chamber of Deputies came a fortnight after Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel first announced the move during a commemoration speech in Kigali.

Michel, who was in Rwanda to take part in the events to mark the 25th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, pledged that Belgian lawmakers would be voting to criminalise denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi before this month ends.

“We thank Belgium for having responded to our appeal to all countries to punish denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi, especially since Belgium is one of the countries where many cases of denial and revisionism have manifested,” Naphtal Ahishakiye, the Executive Secretary of Ibuka, the umbrella of Genocide survivors, told Saturday Times on Friday.

This is an important step forward that will help in preserving the truth and deterring genocide ideology, he said.

Ahishakiye called on other countries around the world to borrow a leaf from countries that have decriminalised denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi to do the same.

Genocide is a crime against humanity and humankind must do everything necessary to stop genocide ideology, distortion and denial, he said.

France, Switzerland, and Italy are among the countries that have instituted laws that criminalise denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi.

In 2014, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2050 (2014) condemning any denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi and called upon member states to recommit to prevent and fight against genocide and other serious crimes under international law.

The Council also called on nations to develop educational programmes to help prevent similar events in the future, and urged countries that had not yet ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to consider doing so as a matter of high priority.

The United Nations designated April 7 as the International Day of Reflection on the Genocide against the Tutsi. More than a million people were killed in a space of 100 days, by the then national army (FAR) and Interahamwe militia with the support of the then regime. The slaughter was brought to a halt by the RPA forces – that were under the command of now-President Paul Kagame – in July 1994.

The new Belgian legislation will also cover the massacre of Srebrenica of July 1995 in which more than 8,000 Bosniaks – mainly men and boys – in and around the town of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War were killed.

‘Genocide denial is no free speech’

Reacting to the development on Friday on Friday, Jean-Damascene Bizimana, the Executive Secretary of the Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), said the legislation will play a key role in efforts to curtail denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Belgium.

“This is one of the countries where deniers of the Genocide against the Tutsi would do anything without any fear because there was no law to stop them,” he said. “We thank everyone who played a role in the effort to put this law in place.”

The Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe, described the development was “good news”.

Nduhungirehe, a former Rwandan envoy to Belgium, added: “Genocide denial is not a freedom of speech, it’s not a separate crime, it’s the continuation and ultimate phase of genocide, as Gregory Stanton well explained.”

Stanton is a professor in Genocide studies and prevention at George Mason University in the United States, and has detailed the 10 stages of genocide which starts with classification of people, with denial as being the last stage.

He listed the stages as: Classification, symbolisation, discrimination, dehumanisation, organisation, polarisation, preparation, persecution extermination and denial.

A source familiar with the Belgian legal system said the draft law will now be forwarded to the King for assent before it is published in the “Moniteur belge” (offical gazette), effectively coming into force.

Many countries around the world have laws that punish denial of the Holocaust.

Claver Irakoze, a Genocide survivor and author of a new book ‘That Child is Me’, welcomed the move by Brussels to outlaw denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi.

“It’s a milestone,” he said. “I hope the law will be enforced accordingly.”

He added: “If the law is enforced to the letter, and consistently, it will be a relief for survivors because nothing really hurts like people who deny facts on purpose for their political or personal interests.”

Associations of deniers

He observed that Genocide deniers in Belgium especially use publications to distort and minimise Genocide against the Tutsi, adding that these will be catered for once the law comes into force.

A Genocide scholar and former journalist, Tom Ndahiro, told this publication recently that Genocide deniers in Belgium are “grouped in associations, run radio stations, and organise conferences, all aimed at distorting the facts of the 1994 Genocide.”

He cited such groups Jambo asbl, “which describes itself as a human rights organisation but is run by sons and daughters of genocidaires and deniers”.

Belgium is also home to a group that calls itself Centre against Injustice and Impunity in Rwanda (CLIIR), owned by one Joseph Matata; SOS Rwanda-Burundi, run by Martine Syoen De Beule and her partner; and radio stations, such as Itahuka and Ikondera.

Ndahiro also pointed at Belgian priests such as Serge Desouter and Peter Verlinden, who he said have for long been at the heart of denial of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Belgium is said to host a significant number of fugitives even as it has previously tried nine suspects.

Belgium needs such a law, Ndahiro said earlier this month in response to Premier Michel’s announcement that his country would soon enact legislation that punishes denial of Genocide against the Tutsi.

Ten Belgian soldiers who were part of the protection unit of then Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who opposed ethnic cleansing, were among the first victims – along with Uwilingiyimana and her husband – as the genocidal regime set its killing machinery in motion.