A trial in France opened Tuesday for the 54-year-old man who faces charges in the Rwandan genocide that killed more than 500,000 people.
Pascal Simbikangwa, a former intelligence chief for Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, is being tried for his alleged participation in a 100-day killing spree that killed Tutsis and Hutus people in Rwanda, AP said.
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France had close ties with the country, and has been criticized for failing to act when the genocide occurred about 20 years ago and for failing to prosecute those involved.
The European Court of Human Rights fined France for “dragging its heels on cases filed since 1995,” Reuters said
. Other European countries like Belgium and Germany have already had trials for suspects living in their countries.
“Today's trial in Paris ... will be an important moment in the global fight against impunity,” Leslie Haskell, the international justice counsel for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement quoted by The Associated Press
. A special war crimes unit was established in France in 2012.
“France now has the tools it needs to ensure (that) perpetrators of the world's most serious crimes don't escape justice or find a safe haven in the country,” Haskell said in the statement.
Simbikangwa’s case is expected to pull in 50 witnesses or more for the prosecution. Many will say that he was in the Rwandan president’s "inner circle" and that he pushed the country’s military to kill Tutsis, according to the AP.
The trial is expected to be just the first of more than 27 cases that are linked to Rwanda’s genocide.
Reuters said the trial is a “major step” in realigning France with Rwanda, which has been critical of the European country’s harboring of fugitives from the genocide.
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