A Dutch court sentenced a Rwandan-born woman to six years and eight months in jail on Friday for inciting genocide two decades ago.
Judges said 66-year-old Yvonne Besabya, now a Dutch citizen, had stoked hatred against her ethnic Tutsi neighbors before Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.
The conviction, which was secured under universal jurisdiction – the principle that countries have the right to try the most heinous crimes wherever they were committed – was the first for genocide in a Dutch court since World War Two.
District court judges said Besabya, the wealthy Hutu wife of a Rwandan lawmaker, had used her influence to incite her Hutu neighbors to violence against Tutsis.
“In the years leading up to the genocide, Hutus were systematically incited to violence against Tutsis,” Presiding Judge Rene Elkerbout said, reading the verdict.
“The accused embraced and propagated this extreme racist ideology and used her influence to contribute to an atmosphere of violence,” he said. “(She) repeatedly committed the crime of publicly calling for …genocide.”
The court acquitted Besabya of all other charges, including perpetrating genocide, murder and war crimes.
The Rwandan genocide has increasingly become the focus of court cases in Europe, despite the existence of a dedicated U.N. tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania that has tried those suspected of masterminding the killings.
Judges said Besabya, who fled Rwanda in 1994, arriving in the Netherlands four years later, had led crowds of supporters in song outside her house in an upmarket district of the Rwandan capital Kigali.
“They sang: ‘Tubatsembesembe’, meaning ‘We will kill them all,’” the ruling said. “Her Tutsi neighbors spent several years in deathly fear as a result.”
Sitting in the public gallery, her daughter shouted to her to be strong as a stooped Besabya was escorted from the room.
Describing the verdict as a “disappointment,” Besabya’s lawyer, Victor Koppe, said he would advise his client to appeal.
Koppe had argued that Besabya had been set up and that supposed victims fabricated testimony – a claim judges rejected.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has convicted dozens of suspects, including former senior cabinet ministers, military commanders, journalists and businessmen.
In December, Augustin Ngirabatware, the former Rwandan minister of planning, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the genocide.
But this has not stopped European prosecutors from taking on cases against suspects now living on their soil. In November, Swedish prosecutors charged an ethnic Hutu, who is now a Swedish citizen, with taking part in the genocide.