Séraphin Twahirwa (L) and Pierre Basabose (R)- finally on trial in Brussels after decades of enjoying a comfortable ‘retirement’ in Belgium. Has justice finally caught up with them?
Update 22 December – GUILTY!!!
On Tuesday evening, 20 December, at around 8.20pm, after several days of deliberations on dozens of different questions put to them, the jury returned verdicts of GUILTY on the two defendants. For two hours the reasons for the guilty verdict were read to the court in chilling clarity. On Wednesday and Thursday the court heard the prosecutor and two defence lawyers plead, and on Friday, to the relief of all but the killers and their legal team and supporters, they were both sentenced to life: Twahirwa in prison, Basabose in secure accommodation given he is suffering from dementia.
During the two month trial in Brussels, witnesses, often women, heard necessarily ‘in camera’ gave gruelling and highly distressing evidence of how Twahirwa had raped them in front of children and family, had butchered children and relatives, smashed heads of babies and infants, shot women in the genitals after raping them as a way to show his sexual prowess and buried victims alive. Twahirwa, 66, has been living ‘happily’ in Belgium since arriving in 2006 from the DRC – despite several applications for asylum having been refused. Justice has taken a long while to catch up with him. As a relation of President’s wife Agathe Habyarimana – another leading genocide suspect currently living a happy ‘retirement’ in Paris – Twahirwa’s terror started years before the genocide, where he was protected for his infamous crimes of rape and murder by his highly placed friends and relatives. At the trial ,Twahirwa was also accused of witness intimidation and manipulation – having made over 1,000 calls to his wife to make her change her evidence on his behalf. She had first accused him of being a mass rapist at the start of the trial, only to later quite incredibly switched her view to defend him as being a sweet, innocent, misunderstood man!
Pierre Basabose, 76, was unable to take part in the court proceedings due to advanced senile dementia. Had he been able to, he could have heard how, as Twahirwa’s superior, this businessman and ‘Akazu’ stalwart had funded and supported Hutu Hate radio RTLM and the interahahmwe. He drew up lists of people to be killed, ordered interahahmwe attacks and arranged mass graves to hide to stacks of bodies.
The trial bore similarities to that in Paris of Sosthene Munyemana which ended two days earlier, also with a guilty verdict. All accused pleaded innocent – constantly shouting that witnesses were either deluded, lying, or had been coached by the Rwandan government as part of some great political plot by the government in Kigali against opposition dissenters.
In fact, as both courts found in cold, methodical, precise investigations, all three men, Pierre Basabose, Seraphin Twahirwa and Sosthene Munyemana were vile, depraved and cold-blooded killers. Nothing more, nothing less. These were crimes they can blame on no one but themselves.
Hopefully they will now have many, many years in prison/secure accommodation ahead. Whether it will manage to make them human is quite another thing. They are animals all – and no amount of feeble shouting and denials by their defence lawyers will restore their humanity. They should only celebrate that the Belgian and French states have given them decades of happy, pleasant retirements as the wheels of justice took so long.
Their victims and survivors of their monstrous crimes had no such relief from life-long pain as their testimonies showed.
The trial verdict and action against Basabose is in stark contrast to that of the UN Mechanism which ordered that Felicien Kabuga’s trial be first halted and then terminated and the accused released after he too was judged to have dementia.
Update 19 December
The jury at Brussels Assize Court, which retired to a hotel on Tuesday 12th December to begin deliberations, are expected to return with a verdict very soon. They have around 100 questions to answer about the accused and whether they are guilty of genocide, war crimes and rape as the prosecutor and numerous witnesses have alleged. There is an addition issue to be resolved – is Pierre Basabose (76) mentally competent at present, given his diagnosis of suffering from a form of dementia. It’s the same condition that recently saved Felicien Kabuga at the UN tribunal from facing justice. Basabose was not questioned during his trial, and was absent for a part of it due to his health condition.
Update 6 December
Lawyers for the prosecution have begun summing up their argument to a packed courtroom in Brussels. Two of the prosecution team, Michele Hirsch and Maureen Lambert, made clear the case against the accused and the horrific crimes for which they are alleged to have committed. Lambert told the court “People were massacred without any aid and some of those who planned and implemented the killing are those who stand before you, Tawahira and Basabose. They planned and implemented the genocide without hesitation, I ask you to give them what they deserve.”. Hirsch, in her address said that ‘”Basabose and Twahirwa applied for asylum in Belgium and lied that their own family were killed… There is evidence against them. Tawahira killed people himself, encouraged others to kill, took women by force, while Basabose also used his wealth to pay the killers of Tutsis, to organize murders and to encourage the killers through the newspaper RTLM [Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines] in which he had shares’. Twahirwa was accused of being a sexual predator, who preyed on girls – raping and abusing them as he pleased knowing he was effectively immune from prosecution. At least ten witnesses, according to Justiceinfo.net’s court recording, have said they were raped.
The prosecutor Kathleen Grosjean dismissed the usual lines of defence – used in this trial and the one of Sosthene Munyemana currently also drawing to a conclusion in Paris – namely that prosecution witnesses are somehow ‘stooges’ of the current Rwandan government, are doing it for money, have misremembered facts after so many years, have some personal animosity against the accused or are just plain wrong! “I have rarely seen so much manoeuvring to distract us from the substance of the case,” she told the court. “Lawyers have grilled witnesses on details. They have tried to distract them from what they were saying, made them repeat certain statements several times so that they contradicted themselves, and tried to irritate the witnesses. These are attempts to poison the trial. Accusing Rwandan witnesses of lying is a cliché in all trials relating to the genocide in Rwanda. I call it low-level racism.”
Twahirwa and Basebose seemed unfazed by the horrific charges levelled at them, even taking time to smile at those watching proceedings in the courtroom. It is planned the two accused will have a chance to address the court directly in the coming days. The judgement will happen in several weeks time after the trial is concluded.
13 November 2023
Brussels: A series of witnesses have been heard so far by the court accusing Pierre Twahirwa, 65, of ordering and taking part in the horrific butchery of numerous families and the rape of Tutsi women. According to Twahirwa’s neighbour, called Ernestine G., two months before the genocide of the Tutsi that began on 6 April 1994, the interahamwe leader was already plotting wide scale genocidal attacks in the Karambo and Gikondo districts of Kigali. In the latter area Ernestine told the court that Twahirwa had led interahahmwe militia who has butchered a certain Jean-Marie Vianney R. and his wife and children with machetes. Testimony last week from survivors told how Twahirwa had led militia during the killings of thousands at the ETO (technical School) in Kigali, as well as raping countless girls and pregnant women. One witness noted ‘If you like, Twahirwa was the king of the evil, he was a monster. He once killed a woman who was pregnant with twins while saying: when you kill mice you don’t spare pregnant ones as per the Kinyarwanda saying.”
Twahirwa has continued to deny during questioning: He was not part of the interahahmwe either before 1994, or during the genocide against the Tutsis in the months April to early July 1994. In fact, according to him, there were no roadblocks where he orchestrated the killings of dozens of Tutsis and personally raped more than a dozen Tutsi women. Why? he had already moved to the Presidential heartland in the north west of Bushiru, where he was from, and where hetold the court he led a quiet, blameless life until fleeing across the border into the DRC (then Zaire) as the RPF moved northwards. As for roadblocks – there were none. Accusations he was very close to the alleged genocide instigator and controller, Agathe Kanziga, the wife of the president Juvenal Habyarimana, (now living a happy ‘retirement’ in Paris) were also dismissed by Twahirwa. His nickname of ‘the President’ was. he claimed, not to do with his control position over Interahamwe in Kigali but due to his prowess at basketball!
During the investigation into Twahirwa, his phone was seized and showed communication with other interahahmwe such as Aloys Ngurabatware as well as the controversial Paul Rusesabagina.
Brussels: The trial of two alleged genocidaire, 76 year old Pierre Basabose and Séraphin Twahirwa, 65, finally began on 9 October – only to be suspended within hours for medical tests on the health on Basabose. In the event, it was ruled on Wednesday 11 October that the trial could continue with Basabose represented by his lawyer, Jean Flamme. Basabose is likely to remain in hospital for at leats two weeks where he is said to suffer from skin ailments and dementia-related issues. Both men, close to the Habyarimana power clique, are charged with genocide related to support for the interahmawe militia in Kigali. Basabose was a leading share-holder in Hutu hate radio RTLM.
Day one of the trial heard from Twahirwa’s former wife who recounted her husband’s role with the interahahmwe, returning home drunk, having ‘gone to work’ carrying a gun and confessing to many raping Tutsi women.
The trial for genocide of Pierre Basabose will go ahead alongside co-accused Séraphin Twahirwa. That was the conclusion reached in a pre-trial hearing by judge of the Brussels assize court. However it was a far from straight-forward call. Basabose had been arrested on 30 September 2020 along with two other prominent genocide suspects – Seraphim Twahirwa and Christophe Ndangali. However, within a year it was said that Basabose was suffering from senile dementia and that a trial was not possible. Yet on 21 June the assize court prudent, giving heard both defence and prosecutor put forward the view, based on medical and psychological tests that the accused was suffering from ‘a serious deterioration is of a degenerative dementia type […], rendering Mr Basabosé incapable of discernment or control of his actions, his capacities having been reduced.” The neurological examination also confirmed “the presence of memory difficulties, particularly long-term memory”.
Prosecutor Kathleen Grosjean arguing that Basabose should instead of standing trial be sent to a medical establishment ‘to receive supervised care. It is a measure for the protection of society, but also for him.’ However in stark contrast to the August decision by the UN Mechanism decision to abandon the trial of Felicen Kabuga due to the alleged dementia the suspected genociaidre is said to be suffering from, Basabose will still face justice. His trial, possibly lasting two months under the remit of universal jurisdiction, is set to commence in October.
For more on this story see justiceinfo.com ‘ Pierre Basabose is ‘mentally absent but will stand trial.’
Belgium is home, like France to dozens of suspected genocidaire and the pace of justice has been slow. That it has taken more than twenty years for this case to come to trial is the real issue. The country has hosted five previous trials (2001, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2019) with nine people convicted The country continues to host Seraphim Rwabukumba, a prominent genocide suspect who though investigated by police has so far avoided official sanction.
Background – who are Basabose and Twahirwa?
Pierre Basabose was a flamboyant businessman and a mainstay of the informal ‘Akazu’ (‘Little House’) network around the family of Rwandan President’s wife, Agathe Habyarimana – who still lives freely in Paris, despite allegations by the French council of state that she was ‘at the heart of the genocide’. Basabose was a former sergeant in the Rwandan army, who later used his connections with the powerful “Monsieur Z’ – Protais Zigiranyirazu and Presidential intelligence chief Colonel Elie Sagatwa to gain notoriety for suspected corrupt money dealings. It was alleged by the journal Isibo that Basabose, who became Sagatwa’s official driver, was key to moving Sagatwa’s illicit money into safe havens. When, in 1993, the CER (a saving and credit institution – Caisse d’Epargne du Rwanda) felt in bankruptcy and was closed by the government, Basabose owed 25 456 000 RwF to that institution. Basabose was said to have been involved in smuggling money in the lucrative supplying of food to refugees and internally displayed people. Initially jailed, Basabose gained release after the intervention of President Juvenal Habyarimana and Sagatwa. In reprisal, Basabose’s supporters organized a grenade attack against the Procureur General Alphonse Marie Nkubito on 14 November 1993. Basabose purchased 600,000 shares in the Hutu hate radio RTLM allowing it to be set up in 1993 – becoming the second highest shareholder after Habyarimana himself. During the genocide against the Tutsi in summer 1994, it is alleged Basabose, among other crimes, assisted the funding of the interahahmwe militia that was responsible for much of the slaughter of more than one million.
Séraphin Twahirwa was a leader of the interahmwe militia – the youth wing of the presidential MRND political party of Juvenal Habyarimana. IThe interahahmwe was the leading exponent of genocide in 1994, and had been involved in massacres of the Tutsi population in the preceding two years as well as moderate Hutu opposition. It relied on financial support from private individuals such as Felicien Kabuga and, as alleged, Pierre Basabose. Twahirwa, who wears a false leg, was described as a powerful ‘animal-like’ individual with alcohol problems.