Tags: France | Rwanda | genocide

France Convicts Simbikangwa in Rwandan Genocide Trial

Monday, 17 March 2014 10:30 AM

France’s first Rwandan genocide trial ended less than a month short of the 20th anniversary of the slaughter with the conviction of Pascal Simbikangwa.

The Paris criminal court on March 14 gave the 54-year-old defendant a 25-year prison sentence. French prosecutors had sought life imprisonment. Simbikangwa was the director of Rwanda’s intelligence service in 1994.

Rwandan Justice Minister Johnson Busingye said today that he has been told that Simbikangwa will appeal the verdict. The defendant should be repatriated to Rwanda to serve his sentence, the minister said. Simbikangwa’s lawyers Fabrice Epstein and Alexandra Bourgeot were not immediately available to comment.

About 800,000 people were killed between April and June 1994 when Hutu extremists massacred Tutsis and moderate Hutus. France provided military training to Rwanda before the genocide as the country’s government sought to repel an invasion of rebel Tutsis from neighboring Uganda. Rwanda’s current government has said this support has contributed to the delay in prosecuting genocide suspects on French soil.

Judge Olivier Leurent said in the ruling that the defendant’s claims that he hadn’t seen a single corpse during the genocide were designed to hide his participation.

Rwanda has claimed that France blocked the advance of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in June 1994 and allowed extremist Hutus to escape to the Democratic Republic of Congo. France has said its mission was humanitarian.

French Lawsuits

The case against Simbikangwa was originated by the Collectif des Parties Civiles Pour Le Rwanda, an association based in Reims in northern France, before being taken over by French prosecutors. The association has filed 25 suits against Rwandans. Justice Minister Busingye said that he hopes the Simbikangwa verdict will be followed by more trials.

Any further trials would likely take place in France. The highest French court, the Cour de Cassation, on Feb. 26 reiterated its long-held stance by refusing to extradite three of those who face suits to Rwanda.

Simbikangwa, confined to a wheelchair since a car accident in 1986, was arrested on the French island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean in 2008. He has been in French prisons ever since. He told the court he fled to Mayotte because he felt safer on French soil.

Among the witnesses against him was Valerie Bemeriki, who wore a pink convict’s uniform as she spoke by video link from prison in Kigali. Bemeriki is serving a life sentence for incitement to genocide.

Radio Broadcasts

Bemeriki was a journalist at the RTLM radio station set up in Rwanda in August 1993. Simbikangwa’s lawyers acknowledged that their client was one of the station’s shareholders. By the time Bemeriki joined in December 1993, she told the court, the station was already broadcasting messages of ethnic hatred against Tutsis.

The death of Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, was the catalyst for the genocide. The judge said that there were “particularly close intellectual and emotional ties” between Habyarimana and Simbikangwa, who held the RPF responsible for shooting down the plane. The president represented a “symbolic ideal father” for the defendant, Leurent said, citing examinations by psychologists for the trial.

Bemeriki said she saw Simbikangwa on the morning of April 7 at the RTLM radio station and that he told the station’s director to broadcast messages urging the population to hunt down Tutsis.

The journalist said she saw Simbikangwa again on or after April 17 at a roadblock in Kigali giving food, water and weapons to those manning the barrier. Simbikangwa congratulated her on her work as a journalist, she said. Many Tutsis were killed at roadblocks as they sought to escape.

Common People

Simbikangwa said that Bemeriki’s account was false and was motivated by her hopes of having her life sentence reduced. He said he was taking food supplies to Tutsis who were hiding in his house in Kigali. Bemeriki, who asked the judge if she would be paid for her testimony, said that her account was intended as a contribution to national reconciliation.

Ordinary Rwandans had been imprisoned as a result of the genocide, she said, while the planners had been able to flee.

“The common people didn’t know that it was genocide,” she said.

Rwanda broke ties with France in 2006 when a French judge issued arrest warrants for associates of current Rwandan President Paul Kagame for shooting down the plane carrying Habyarimana. Kagame has always denied any role. France and Rwanda resumed relations with the visit of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.

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France’s first Rwandan genocide trial ended less than a month short of the 20th anniversary of the slaughter with the conviction of Pascal Simbikangwa.
Monday, 17 March 2014 10:30 AM
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