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Belgium officials accused in murder of former Congo leader

A team of Belgian lawyers on Monday filed a complaint in a Brussels court against 12 Belgian officials accused of planning the 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba [advocacy profile], the first democratically-elected leader of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The complaint was filed only one week before the DRC celebrates its fiftieth year of independence from Belgian colonial rule. Lumumba was placed under house arrest in September 1960 after Colonel Joseph Mobutu [Biography profile] gained power through a military coup. The Belgian legal team, hired by Lumumba's sons, hold that Lumumba escaped house arrest in January 1961 only to be recaptured, beaten and killed by Mobutu's soldiers with the assistance of Belgian officers. The lawyers claim that Belgian officials did nothing to stop the death of Lumumba and their alleged actions were war crimes [Der Standaard report, in Dutch]. The team filed the legal complaint against accomplices in the killing, although many of the alleged actors are now deceased. The identities of the accused officials have not been released but include police officers and politicians [GVA report, in Dutch] who worked during the 1960s. The legal team expects the case will go before a Belgian judge in October.

Belgium has been active in seeking justice for war crimes committed in Africa. Last year, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] denied [JURIST report] Belgium's request to compel Senegal to extradite former Chadian president Hissene Habre [BBC profile] under Belgium's universal jurisdiction [AI backgrounder, PDF] statute. In 2008, Congolese former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba [case materials; JURIST news archive] was arrested in Belgium and transferred [JURIST reports] to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. He is set for trial this summer [JURIST report]. In 2002, the Belgian government apologized for playing a role [AP report] in Lumumba's death after a Belgian investigation found evidence of the country's involvement in the political overthrow.

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