Five Rwandans will go on trial in Belgium over their alleged role in war crimes and genocide in Rwanda in 1994, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.
“This is the first time that a Belgian (criminal court) will have to deal with facts qualified as genocide crimes,” the prosecutor’s office said.
Four trials linked to the massacres in Rwanda were held in Belgium between 2001 and 2009, although the defendants faced only charges of war crimes.
But the prosecutor’s office said the criminal court in Brussels will “also have to rule on the crime of genocide” in the new cases.
“The five accused still benefit from the presumption of innocence,” it said in a statement.
It said pre-trial authorities last week ruled that the five appear in the criminal court “for acts committed in 1994 in Rwanda in connection with the genocide of Tutsis and the massacre of moderate Hutus.”
The five were divided into two cases.
In the first, one defendant is referred to the court for murders and rapes; another for murders, attempted murders and rape; and a third for murders and attempted murders.
In the second case, one individual is referred for murders, and another for murders and attempted murders.
All the defendants are only identified by their initials.
In 1993, a law was adopted that allows courts in Belgium — the former colonial power in Rwanda — to try Belgian residents, whatever their nationality, for crimes allegedly committed abroad.
In 2001, four Rwandans, including two nuns, were convicted by a Brussels court.
In 2005, a Brussels court sentenced two Rwandan businessmen to 10-12 years in prison after they were found guilty of war crimes and murder linked to the genocide.
Then, in 2007, a former Rwandan army commander, ex-major, Bernard Ntuyahaga, was also convicted.
In 2009 a Brussels court sentenced Rwandan Ephrem Nkezabera, dubbed the “genocide banker”, to 30 years in prison for war crimes including murders and rapes during the bloodbath.
UN figures said 800,000 people were killed, most of them from the Tutsi minority.
Trials have also been held in other European countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Finaland, and Norway as well as in Canada and Rwanda itself.
Cases have also been heard in Tanzania, whose northern city of Arusha hosts the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.