A former colonel in the army of Zaire went on trial Wednesday in a Dutch court for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the rule of former dictator Mubutu Sese Seko in the 1990s. It is the first trial in the Netherlands of a foreign national for crimes said to have been committed abroad.
His nickname is King of Beasts, and he is charged with torture, rape and cruel treatment of prisoners under his control.
The defendant, whose name is Sebastien Nzapali, told the presiding judge his own men gave him the nickname because of his strict ways when it came to training other officers.
But the judge did not accept that explanation. She told Mr. Nzapali he got the nickname because he treated people like animals and enjoyed abusing them.
There were no witnesses present in court in the city of Rotterdam Wednesday. Judges relied on written testimony from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly known as Zaire.
The three main witnesses, whose testimony was taken by Dutch investigators in Congo, are two men who say Mr. Nzapali abused them, and a woman who says he raped her. In her written statement, the woman described being forced into sexual slavery by Mr. Nzapali, who she says injected her with drugs and caused her husband to leave her.
Prosecutors say Mr. Nzapali was an important member of an execution squad operating under then-dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Prosecutors are asking for a five-year prison sentence. But Mr. Nzapali told the judges that all the information they were hearing is completely wrong. He told them, I am not an animal.
Mr. Nzapali sought political asylum in the Netherlands six years ago. His request was denied by Dutch immigration officials, who suspected him of war crimes. But he was allowed to live here freely until his arrest last September.
This case is being prosecuted under the United Nations Convention Against Torture. In trying Mr. Nzapali, Dutch prosecution spokesman Wim de Bruin says his office is hoping to send an important message, that the Netherlands, widely regarded as a world leader in humanitarian law, will not simply sign treaties and host international courts but will actively investigate and prosecute suspects. He said the country will not be a safe haven for war criminals.
Five years ago, the Dutch government set up a special prosecution office to deal with war crimes. Although Mr. Nzapali's is the first such trial here, prosecution spokesman de Bruin says there are currently ten other investigations in progress.
A verdict in the Nzapali case is expected in two weeks.