First Dutch citizen charged with genocide
Yvonne Basebya Ntacyobatabara (65) is accused of leading a group of young men in the mass murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in 1994. Her trial began on Monday 23 October in a court in The Hague, The Netherlands.
Ntacyobatabara has had Dutch citizenship since 2004 and, according to the Public Prosecutor’s office, she is one of a number of Rwandans living in the Netherlands who may be guilty of war crimes. She denies all charges.
“We are traumatized,” says Jeanne Basebye. "In their house, my parents’ conversations are being tapped. You can’t say anything because you know that someone is listening." Jeanne’s mother, Yvonne Ntacyobatabara Basebya, is on trial this week on genocide charges. The alleged crimes have been committed in Rwanda in 1994.
Jeanne is sitting in the public gallery of the court in The Hague with her father and other members of her family. “After mum’s arrest, the police would call us all the time: ‘We want to interrogate you.’ We are kept in suspense; we can’t plan anything.” The discomfort is physical too, she says. In the weeks preceding the opening of the trial, her sisters suffered from headaches and were vomiting from the pain. Her father suffered from hypertension.
Jeanne, who is in her thirties but won’t disclose her age, remembers the day her mother was arrested. “We were in shock, it felt like a bomb exploding.” The explosion came at a moment when the family was trying to quietly rebuild their lives. They had arrived in the Netherlands in 1998.
Their neighbours, in a peaceful Limburg village in the south of the Netherlands, said that policemen came to ask if they could set up cameras in their houses, presumably to spy on the Basebye family. Yvonne doesn't know whether that really happened.
Television people also knocked on the neighbours’ doors. “Our neighbours said good things about my mother,” Jeanne says. “The accusations against aren’t minor. It’s a heavy subject, this genocide. Having to bear such a stigma as a family is painful.”
Her mother, she says, is well known in the village because of her involvement with the church. “She is known as a good and sociable woman. But it’s still not easy to go out on the street. Because eyes can speak, even if people don’t say anything. You have the feeling that you have to justify yourself every time you meet someone. It feels as if we’re on probation. We’re not free, because all the time we’re being watched one way or another. Even in our own house we can’t talk.”
Relations with their former neighbours in Kigali have become more tense, however. Back in Africa, neighbours were almost friends. “Not like here in Europe.” The fact that people who used to call her parents “mum and dad” could have accused their mother of genocide came as another shock to the Basebya family. Also because their mother has never appeared on a list of genocide suspects in Rwanda, she insists.
“In the beginning it was very difficult to understand and to forgive them, but because we were raised as practising Christians, we tried to put ourselves in the hands of God. Mother asked us to forgive them. And I can assure you that if I meet these people I will greet them, because I am praying that God will change them.”