Rwandan victims in court in The Hague

Posted: April 19, 2011 in News
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By Thijs Bouwknegt and Sophie van Leeuwen, The Hague Published on: 18 April 2011

1994 – Blood is being shed on the thousands of hills of Rwanda. On 27 April of that year, Jacqueline decides to flee the country, together with her partner Wolfgang Blam and their baby Friedrich. They leave in an ambulance but are stopped by Hutu militia in Mugonero.

Jacqueline doesn’t have any ID anymore – she tore it, which angers the Interahamwe militia, She did it because it said “Tutsi” on it and in 1994 “Tutsi” meant death penalty. The militia decides then to refer the case to their influential leader named Joseph, the son of a rich businessman in Mugonero. They drive to his shop and on the way there – armed with machetes and clubs – they shout “Tutsis are cockroaches” and “All Tutsis should die”.

Special case

But, this is a special case. Joseph has a problem- Wolfgang is a German doctor and he says that if he dies, this will cause trouble with Germany. First, Joseph decides that Jacqueline has to stay behind. She is insulted, yelled at and humiliated and she is told how they would kill her. Her two-month old son will also be killed, because his mother is a Tutsi.

Eventually, the mayor of Mugonero steps in and the couple is allowed to leave. Till now, the couple is traumatized by the event.

Almost seventeen years later, Joseph enters the courtroom in The Hague, carrying two sets of files. He reservedly greets the judges and sits down next to his lawyer. He looks impassively straight ahead of him. One of the judges asks him if it is him the Joseph from Mugonero, “Joseph from the shop”, like people used to call him.

“No, my name is Mpambara”, he says. “Why have the witnesses pointed you out then?” the judge asks him. “Sir, I don’t know”, he replies without even looking at Jacqueline or Wolfgang.

For Joseph, the couple’s testimonies concludes his appeal case, which took place during the past three weeks in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Criminal case
After many travels here and there, Joseph arrives at the Dutch airport Schiphol in 1998. A false passport in his pocket, he tells the Dutch immigration service how he fled Rwanda fearing revenge by Tutsi-rebels. And that he also fears persecution for having defended his brother at the Rwanda Tribunal.

Mpambara doesn’t get asylum in the Netherlands. In 2009 he’s sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for murdering Tutsis and for torturing, amongst others, Jacqueline. 5 of the 7 charges against him are dropped, due to a lack of proofs, including the massacre at a church and the rape of the 17-year old Tutsi-girl Consolata. A decision against which the Dutch prosecutor made an appeal.

The German doctor and his wife are awarded 680.67 euros as compensation. In a higher appeal they are now demanding 2042.01 euros. Lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld believes they’ll get the money, because the Dutch judicial system is quite similar to the Rwandan one.

Adrien Harorimana is also in The Hague. He witnessed the rape and murder of his niece Consolata. Joseph was there, he says. “I heard that in the Netherlands, one witness means no witness”, he tells the judges. “It gets to me that I was the only one to have witnessed this. That makes me sad.” He asks the judges: “Find someone to prove my story.”

At one point, Wolfgang Blam, who since the genocide suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, addresses himself directly to Joseph, in French. “I ask you to please be honest to the victims and to the Higher Court”, says the German doctor. “I am prepared to help you.”

Case closed
But Mpambara seems unmoved. He’s busy cleaning his table, after he accidently knocked over a glass of water. The judge in charge throws a bag of tissues in his direction. He then begins to talk about his personal situation. He has a young daughter who is still attending school. “She misses her father”, Joseph tries to play on the weakness of the judges. He does see her and her mother regularly.

The Mpambara case is now closed. The Public Prosecutor wants him to be condemned for rape and for war crimes. The Blam family is searching for recognition and Adrien wants justice for his niece.

Mpambara says he is innocent. He says he didn’t even know people were murdered in Mugonero in 1994. The judges reply that he should have at least noticed something. During the genocide, Joseph visited his brother, Obed Rizundana. The latter is currently in jail in Benin serving a 25-year sentence.

Within two weeks the judges will listnen to the final pleas. On the 30the of Juin, there will be a judgement.

Closing arguments are scheduled for in two weeks time, while the verdict is expected on 30 June 2011.


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