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Belgium drops charges against two Rwandan generals

Former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana

Former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana

In case you missed this, the BBC reported last week:

A court in Belgium has decided not to proceed with a prosecution against two Rwandan generals.

The two were accused of involvement in shooting down the plane carrying the Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, which triggered the 1994 genocide.

A French judge issued an arrest warrant for the pair in 2006.

Belgium had said it would deal with it under its law of global jurisdiction, but defence lawyers argued the indictment violated that principle.

The Rwanda government was infuriated when the arrest warrants for Lt Gen Charles Kayonga and Brig Gen Jack Nziza were issued and cut off diplomatic ties, accusing France of involvement in the genocide.

Large protests

The court’s decision, reached on Monday but not made public, was confirmed to the BBC by Serge Mourrau, a lawyer for the two generals.

Rwanda had convinced other African countries not to implement the indictment and the African Union had asked for the charges to be dropped.

It was the same indictment that led to the arrest of Rwanda’s Chief of State Protocol Rose Kabuye, who is now awaiting trial in Paris.

Her detention sparked anger in Rwanda, with large protests demanding her immediate release.

I wonder if the decision will be made public. It will be interesting to see if there is any discussion of Belgium’s understanding of universal jurisdiction. Universal jurisdiction is a well-established principle of prescriptive jurisdiction under international law. It allows any state the right to apply its laws to persons who have committed certain crimes recognized as universal in nature– crimes like piracy, slave trade, genocide, war crimes. Hence, under the principle, it does not matter if the alleged perpetrator was a national of the state exercizing jurisdiction or where the offense occurred.

(HT: Enzo le Fevre)

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.