Trial opens on genocide of 800,000 in Rwanda
Published 05/02/2014 | 02:30
A wheelchair-bound former army captain yesterday became the first Rwandan to be put on trial in France for complicity in the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 dead.
The trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, follows persistent criticism that France made every effort to stall the landmark proceedings for 20 years, as they risked highlighting its failure to rein in the Rwandan regime at the time of the 100-day killing spree.
Mr Simbikangwa (54), who denies all charges, appeared in court in a wheelchair after a 1986 car accident that left him a paraplegic. He faces life in prison at the end of the trial, due to last six to eight weeks.
Arrested under a false identity in 2008 on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, he is accused of inciting, organising and aiding massacres during the genocide.
Prosecutors accuse him of supplying arms and instructions to militia who were manning road blocks and killing Tutsi men, women and children.
He was also head of the domestic intelligence service up until the genocide and one of the principle shareholders of Radio des Milles Collines, dubbed "radio machette" for its notorious role in exhorting Hutus to take up arms to massacre Tutsis.
"I was a captain in the Rwandan army then in the intelligence services," Mr Simbikangwa, a small, bald man wearing a brown jacket and white tracksuit bottoms, told the court in a brief opening statement.
After his arrest, France had refused to extradite him to Rwanda, as it has done in previous cases – instead choosing to try him under laws that allow French courts to consider cases of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in other countries.
The Rwandan government, whose relations with France are still frosty, welcomed the trial.
Mr Simbikangwa acknowledges being close to the regime of Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana, whose assassination on April 6, 1994, unleashed the genocide, in which most of the victims were members of the minority Tutsi community.
But he denies participating in or organising massacres.
He was initially charged with genocide and crimes against humanity but the charges were downgraded to complicity.
His lawyers have said they intend to argue the prosecution's case is entirely based on unchallenged witness accounts.
Before the trial, Alexandra Bourgeot and Fabrice Epstein said Mr Simbikangwa was being made a "scapegoat" for the genocide, on the approach of its 20th anniversary.
"We get the impression that Pascal Simbikangwa must be convicted because he is the first to be brought before the courts and that he must be made an example," they said.
On the contrary, said Michel Tubiana, lawyer for the Human Rights League, a civil plaintiff. Up until now, he insisted, "there was a political desire not to see these cases come to court". (© Daily Telegraph, London)