28-03-2018- Kampala: A Rwandan national goes missing again
Today, Friday March 2nd, the Brussels Court of Appeal is handling the responsibility of the Belgian state, accused of "non-assistance to people in danger", during the rwandan tragedy, the genocide against Tutsis. On April 11th 1994, more than 2,000 Rwandans who thought they could find refuge in the ETO Kicukiro, Kigali were massacred.
From March 2nd, today, this case of the ETO massacre is back in the Belgian courts, 24 years after the events. Three families of Rwandan survivors accused three Belgian army officers of failing to act.
Like elsewhere across the country Kicukiro, south-eastern Kigali, was a scene of massacres on April 11th 1994, just five days after the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana by plane crash, on April 6th ,.
Tutsis and moderate Hutus were targeted, and several hundred people rushed to ETO Kicukiro, hoping to find refuge, in this missionary-run Don Bosco Technical School (ETO). There, were the Belgian soldiers of UN mission in Rwanda, UNAMIR, in charge of ensuring compliance with the peace agreement signed in Arusha, Aug.4th, 1993.
Around 1.00 pm, the Belgian soldiers were ordered to leave the school, evacuating the expatriates present. The instructions come from Colonel Luc Marchal, "number two" of the UN mission, in agreement with Colonel Joseph Dewez, head of the Belgian contingent in Kigali. Luc Lemaire (now dead), the Casques Blues commander in ETO had no objection to implement hierarchal orders.
The few dozen Belgian troopers got into jeeps and left the school, where Hutu militia armed with machetes, were ready to kill hundreds innocent of refugees.
The same day, more than 2,000 abandoned to death were perished inside the school, while some others were trying to flee uphill to Nyanza.
Boniface Ngurinzira, a Hutu targeted by Hutus
According to Jeune Afrique, this former Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs (1992-1993) and MDR member, was one of the architects of the Arusha peace agreement, which included the repatriation of Tutsi exiles to Rwanda and the integration of the opposition, including former rebels of RPF INKOTANYI(today on power), in state institutions.
This made Ngurinzira, the Hutu from Ruhengeri (northern Rwanda, cradle of the regime Habyarimana), a prime target for fellow Hutus, extremists. He was also cruelly executed the same day, Ap. 11th, 1994, despite protection of UNAMIR over him and his family.
Among the survivors, Florida Mukeshimana-Ngurinzira, the widow of Boniface Ngurinzira.
But, who ordered withdraw? UN or Belgium?
In April 2004, Florida Ngurinzira brought legal action over Belgian State and the three officers to recognize the responsibility in implementing evacuation order. This was the beginning; followed by the initiative of Marie-Agnès Umwali, in 2007. This is one of the few survivors too.
December 8th , 2010, the Brussels Primary Court rendered its judgment. The prescription of the facts invoked by the lawyers of the Belgian State, was rejected on one key point: "The decision to withdraw from ETO Kicukiro was taken under the auspices of Belgium, not the UNAMIR", consider the judges, against what the defense pleaded.
As the matter of facts, on Apr.7th 1994, in the early hours of the genocide, and on the evening of the massacre of ten Belgian paratroopers by Hutu soldiers; the Belgian authorities had decided to withdraw their troops from UNAMIR and shift this contingent under the Belgian High Command. Troops are then sent to evacuate foreign nationals.
While leaving ETO, the Belgian military therefore took the direction of the airport to support Silver Back Operation, in progress since April 10, to evacuate foreigners - mainly Belgians and French - present in Rwanda. Those refugees, were even lying in front of the vehicles, attempting to prevent the departure of their protectors, but in vain.
"When they arrived, they were obviously fed up, having seen Hutus entering the school and through mirrors of their jeeps, assisting them killing", says Jean-Loup Denblyden, a Lt Col of Silver Back Operation at Kanombe airport.
"The ETO Kicukiro event reveals the concrete consequences of the abandonment of the international community. People who came there, did so because UN troops were there, and they trusted in them, but were betrayed, "says Helene Dumas, a historian specializing in Rwanda, a CNRS researcher.
During primary hearing, the Belgian justice had held that "the defendants could not ignore the fate awaiting the refugees after the departure of the Belgian peacekeepers, hence the immediate role of withdraw from ETO on the massacres was therefore undoubtfull", said justice.
"We had tangible evidence that the order came from Belgium," said today Philippe Lardinois, one of the lawyers of Marie-Agnès Umwali. The civil parties will be the first to speak this Friday in Brussels Court of Appeal, the defense will deliver its argument next week.
Translated and adjusted from Jeune Afrique story