Rwandan woman becomes first ever Dutch genocide convict

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A court in the Netherlands on Friday jailed Dutch-Rwandan woman Yvonne Basebya for inciting genocide in the central African nation in 1994, the first such conviction ever of a Dutch national.

"The court orders the suspect jailed for six years and eight months," judge Rene Elkerbout said, acquitting her of other charges including war crimes and genocide perpetration.

Basebya, 66, faced a total of six charges before The Hague's district court for her role in the slaughter of almost a million people, committed by Hutu extremists against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. She could have been jailed for life.

"She incited unfortunate youngsters to commit murder against Tutsis during meetings, as evidenced by the song she sang, 'Tuba Tsembe Tsembe', which means 'let's exterminate them all'," judge Elkerbout said.

"The fact that she called for hatred is not sufficient to call her a co-perpetrator," of the slaughter of 110 Tutsis hiding in the Pallotines Church, the judge said.

The infamous killings at the church just south of the capital Kigali were widely regarded as the first proof that a genocide was under way in Rwanda.

The judge quoted a witness as saying that those attending the anti-Tutsi meetings were "like bulls being goaded before being released".

But, "there is no proof that during the meetings, preparations were made," for genocide, Elkerbout said.

Two of Basebya's daughters were in court and one of them called out "Be brave mummy" before the judgement was read.

When it became obvious their mother would go to prison, the daughters started crying.

Elkerbout said there were no extenuating circumstances.

"She could have and should have made other choices," he said.

"As the wife of an MP... she enjoyed enormous prestige, a moral authority, she was not unnoticed," he said.

"Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were massacred in a horrible way, this genocide did not come from nowhere, Hutus were systematically incited to hate the Tutsis," he said.

Basebya, wearing a pink jacket, black trousers and with her hair pulled back, was impassive during the sentencing, as was her husband, Rwandan former MP Augustin Basebya.

Dutch courts can try Netherlands citizens for genocide, or foreign suspects if the genocide was committed after October 1970, following a recently changed law to broaden prosecution possibilities for the most serious of all crimes.

A Dutch appeals court in July 2011 sentenced Rwandan citizen Joseph Mpambara to life in prison for war crimes committed in Rwanda in 1994, before the new genocide clause went into effect in April this year.

Basebya's lawyer Viktor Koppe said he would advise his client to appeal.

"Despite the fact that the sentence is relatively low, given the fact that the prosecution had requested a life sentence, we are quite unhappy with the reasoning of the judges," Koppe said.

"Their reasoning does not represent the complex reality going on at the time in Rwanda, therefore my advice would be to appeal."

Basebya's husband declined to comment on the judgement.

Prosecution spokesman Patist Jirko said a decision on whether the prosecution would appeal would be taken in two weeks.

The case saw defence and prosecution interview over 50 witnesses in Rwanda, Belgium, Malawi, Kenya and France.

Basebya was accused of being a prominent extremist in her neighbourhood in the years leading up to the genocide who, together with other extremists, formed a militia that was later responsible for murdering Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The militia was largely recruited from poor youths who worked as porters at the market and then attended extremist gatherings "at which people spoke of and sang songs about the killing and extermination of Tutsis", the prosecution said.

"The accused did not use a machete or bat herself," the prosecution had argued.

"Her actions were much more dangerous and destructive. In a period of war she instigated young boys with machetes and bats by teaching them hate, fear and violence and by urging them to kill Tutsis."

"Through these actions she was a thriving force behind the massive violence in her local community and therefore can be held accountable as one of the most responsible for these crimes."

© 2013 AFP

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