by Tony Iozzo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
PARIS, France – A French court began a genocide trial on Tuesday against a former Rwandan intelligence officer who fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.
In what has been promised to be the first of several prosecutions of former Rwandan officials, Pascal Simbikangwa appeared before a panel of judges in Paris to face the charges of complicity in genocide and crime against humanity. Simbikangwa, 54, had been sought under an international arrest warrant beginning in 2008. He had been in hiding on the island of Mayotte, a French territory in the Indian Ocean.
Simbikangwa could receive a sentence of life imprisonment if he is convicted. The initial indictment, drafted by Judge Olivier Leurent, stated that Simbikangwa had stashed a massive amount of weapons in his home, as well as harassing members of the minority ethnic group- the Tutsi. Simbikangwa is a Hutu, which was the ethnic group that constituted the majority of the government during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
The trial is expected to last seven weeks, and the panel of judges is expected to hear from 53 witnesses. The potential witnesses include Simbikangwa’s former neighbors back in Kigali, the Rwandan capital; French historians, and former Rwandan officials. The trial is scheduled to conclude with testimony from Tharcisse Renzaho, a former politician and prefect, who was sentenced to life in prison by the United Nations’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
France has widely been considered a refuge for Rwandan fugitives that participated in the country’s ethnic genocide, which killed over 800,000 people in 100 days back in 1994. Human rights groups see Simbikangwa’s trial an effort by France to shed this reputation, and end the protection of the fugitives.
France also has been accused of providing military training to the Hutus, and has never tried anyone accused of complicity in the Rwandan genocide. After restoring diplomatic relations with Rwanda in 2009, Paris appointed five judges to investigate the matter of the Rwandan fugitives and opened a police unit that specialized in genocide crimes.
In addition to the criminal case, five human rights groups have filed civil suits against Simbikangwa. On Tuesday, the civil plaintiffs included the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda, the group that first found Simbikangwa in Mayotte and filed a complaint against him.
In Europe, several countries including Belgium, a former colonial overseer of Rwanda, as well as Norway, have already brought Rwandans to justice in their countries.
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Landmark Rwanda Genocide Trial Opens in Paris – 4 February 2014
BBC News – Rwanda Ex-Spy Chief Tried in Paris on Genocide Charges – 4 February 2014
France 24 – 20 Years On, France Confronts Rwandan Genocide – 4 February 2014
NY Times – Former Rwandan Intelligence Chief Goes on Trial For 1994 Genocide – 4 February 2014