Belgian parliament on Thursday adopted a new law that broadens the repression of genocide denial to include the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
The vote comes weeks after Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel first announced the plan during a visit to Rwanda.
Michel, who was in the country early this month to take part in the events to mark the 25th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, pledged that before the end of April, the Belgian lawmakers would be voting to criminalise denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
More than a million people were killed in a space of 100 days. The slaughter, which was carried out by the then national army (FAR) and Interahamwe militia with the support of the then government, 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 law 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.
Speaking to The New Times on Friday, Jean-Damascene Bizimana, the Executive Secretary of the Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), described the development as “a very good step forward” that will curtail denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi in the European country.
“This is one of the countries where deniers of the Genocide against the Tutsi would do whatever they wanted 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, said 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.
The President of Genocide Watch listed the 10 stages as: Classification, symbolization, discrimination, dehumanization, organization, polarization, preparation, persecution extermination and denial.
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.”
He observed that the worst thing is that deniers in Belgium have been distorting the history of the Genocide against the Tutsi through their writings and publications, adding that the new law will help reverse the trend.