How significant is Belgium’s move to criminalise Genocide denial?

Belgian officers pose near a 10-stone monument erected to honour the 10 Belgian peacekeepers who were killed in Kigali in 1994. Sam Ngendahimana.

Belgium will later this month criminalise denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi, the country’s Prime Minister, Charles Michel, announced this week in Kigali.

“I would like to announce that before the end of this month, the Belgian parliament will take a decision about the proposal to bring into penal code the denial of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi,” Michel said during the commemoration of 10 Belgian peacekeepers killed in Kigali during the Genocide.

The development has widely been described as a step in the right direction.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel speaks during the commemoration of 10 Belgian peacekeepers killed in Kigali during the Genocide. Sam Ngendahimana

“Principally, Belgium needs this law more than any other country,” Tom Ndahiro, a genocide scholar, said.

“There is a difference between individual deniers and organised deniers.”

Genocide deniers in Belgium are organised in associations, they run radio stations, and organise conferences, all aimed at distorting the facts of the 1994 Genocide, he said.

Ndahiro cited groups of Genocide deniers such as 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 like Serge Desouter and Peter Verlinden, who have for long been at the heart of denial of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Belgium hosts a significant number of fugitives but has previously tried nine suspects.

Jean Bosco Mutangana, Rwanda’s Prosecutor-General, said that genocide denial is the final stage of a genocide process and attempts to erase the memory of the victim group.

“Memory is all that is left and is targeted as the last victim following the physical destruction of the members of the targeted group,” he said. “Criminalising such a stage of genocide is a step that contributes toward justice and accountability.”

According to Jean Damascene Bizimana, the head of the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, Belgium’s move follows sustained efforts by Rwanda to pursue Genocide fugitives with view to bringing them to book.

“We have requested several countries to enact laws that criminalise denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi, in the same way it is a crime to deny the Holocaust in many countries across the world,” he notes.

Bizimana said that France, Switzerland, and Italy are among the countries that have laws that criminalise Genocide denial – partly enacted on the basis of the 2014 UN Security Council’s Resolution no. 2150.

The resolution concluded, among others, that it was a “fact of common knowledge” that there was genocide in Rwanda against the Tutsi and warned against any form of denial of that genocide.

Bizimana said that United Kingdom is one of the countries that continue to provide safe haven to Genocide fugitives. Five notable fugitives were set free without trial in the UK, which triggered outrage among Genocide survivors.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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