Etienne Davignon

17.04.2023 ( Last modified: 03.04.2023 )
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Ongoing investigation in Belgium for the murder as a war crime of Patrice Lumumba in 1961 in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Type of jurisdiction

Active personality


Ten people were initially targeted by the complaint, but only two are still alive: former Belgian diplomat and former vice president of the European Commission, Etienne Davignon; and Belgian former senior civil servant, Jacques Brassinne de la Buissière

Country of residence of suspect



As the case is at the investigation stage, the suspect has not yet been formally charged. The investigation focuses on murder as a war crime.

Current status

Under investigation


On 30 June 1960, a the DRC gained its independence from Belgium. Lumumba, an important figure in the DRC’s struggle for independence, was appointed as the first prime minister after winning the elections. The new government faced an army mutiny and a Belgian-supported movement of secession in the strategic mineral- rich province of Katanga.

In December 1960, Lumumba was arrested by the military. On 17 January 1961, he was transferred to the Katanga region, where he was beaten allegedly by both Belgian and Congolese forces. He was murdered on the same day, and his body dissolved in acid.


In 2010, a Belgian parliamentary commission of inquiry was set up to investigate Lumumba’s murder. After 18 months of investigation, the commission revealed that the Belgian government supported Lumumba’s arrest and transfer to the Katanga region. It stated that, while there is no evidence that the Belgian government gave the order to physically eliminate Lumumba, Belgium bears responsibility for not having taken action to prevent the murder. The Commission therefore concluded that “by not considering the possible risks of the transfer, not asking guarantees for his physical safety or insisting on humane treatment and a trial,the Belgian government and especially the Minister of African Affairs showed a lack of forethought and a lack of respect for the constitutional state.”

In 2011, Lumumba’s son filed a complaint for the murder of his father. He argued that an international armed conflict was going on between Belgium and the DRC, and that this targeted killing was constitutive of a war crime.

In 2012, a criminal investigation was opened.

Developments in 2022

On 6 October 2022, the Brussels Indictment Chamber decided on the inclusion in the investigation file of the findings of the parliamentary commission of inquiry on Lumumba’s death. All the testimonies collected by the commission were therefore included, except the transcription of the interviews of the two suspects who are still alive, due to the fact that they had not been heard in the presence of their lawyers.

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