The long arm of Universal Jurisdiction

11 November 2009 by Thijs Bouwknegt

As the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) prepares to close its doors in Tanzania, courts around the world are taking up the task of trying suspected Rwandan génocidaires. They do so under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction: a doctrine that allows prosecutors to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture, war crimes or genocide committed elsewhere. 

Several countries, including Finland, Belgium and Canada, have already brought cases against Rwandans for their part in the 1994 genocide while others, including the Netherlands, are revising their laws to allow them to do so in the future.

For the next three weeks, a twelve-member jury at the Assise Court in Brussels will hear the case against the former director of the Rwanda Commercial Bank (BCR), Ephrem Nkezabera. The 56-year-old Rwandan is charged with violations of international criminal law and war crimes.

He admits many of the charges alleged against him, including arming and financing the machete-wielding Interahamwe militia which spearheaded the three-month massacre. He also acknowledges providing funding for the extremist Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). Although he denies charges of rape and murder, he does admit that individuals from his immediate circle killed two people in front of him.

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