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Dutch Court Sentences Former Congolese Colonel on Torture Charges - 2004-04-07


A Dutch court sentenced a former Congolese colonel to two-and-a-half years in prison for torture in what is the Netherland's first case against a foreign national convicted for crimes committed abroad.

In convicting Sebastien Nzapali of torture and handing down his two-and-a-half-year sentence Wednesday, the presiding judge said the former army colonel's nickname, the King of Beasts, was no accident. Your acts, she said, showed an absolute lack of respect for your fellow human beings.

Nzapali was in charge of a military training camp in the west of the country, then ruled by dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. The judge described how the former colonel had his subordinates torture a customs official who refused to help one of his friends illegally import a car. Nzapali, she said, watched the torture from a balcony.

Prosecutors had also charged Nzapali with rape and asked judges to impose a five-year sentence. But judges acquitted him on the rape charge, saying they could not convict him on the basis of only one victim's statement and no corroborating evidence.

No one testified during Nzapali's one-day trial last month in a Rotterdam district court. Prosecutors relied on written testimony their investigators assembled in the Congo.

Nzapali sought political asylum in the Netherlands six years ago, but his request was denied by Dutch immigration officials who suspected him of war crimes. But he was allowed to live in the Netherlands until his arrest last September.

The case against him was brought by three Congo residents and was prosecuted under the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

Dutch prosecution spokesman Wim de Bruin says his office is satisfied with the jail term. But what is more important, he says, is that the court found the U.N. convention applicable and allowed the case to go to trial.

He says it sends a message that the Netherlands will not be a safe haven for war criminals.

Nzapali's lawyer said he will appeal the conviction.

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