Rwandan genocide suspect Félicien Kabuga appeared before a French public prosecutor yesterday, three days after police swooped on his hideout in a Paris suburb and ended a 26-year manhunt.
The 84-year-old is accused of funding and arming militias that massacred about 800,000 people. He was indicted in 1997 on seven criminal counts including genocide, all in relation to the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Mr Kabuga arrived at the Paris Appeals Court complex under heavy police protection. Outriders flanked the convoy and armed officers guarded the entrance. The hearing began about three hours later, a judicial source said.
The prosecutor was to set out the legal process before the case is passed to investigative judges who will decide whether to transfer him to a UN court handling alleged crimes against humanity.
At least one French-based genocide victim support group said it was considering legal action to unearth how Mr Kabuga was able to go underground in France and what help he had received.
"He was our Klaus Barbie, our [Adolf] Eichmann," said Etienne Nsanzimana, president of Ibuka France, referring to two prominent Nazi war criminals.
"How did he stay on the run for 26 years? For how many years was he in France and receiving help to live comfortably. I don't think it was just his family."
French lawyer Emmanuel Altit, who will be defending Mr Kabuga, did not respond to a request seeking comment from his client.
Some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in 100 days of killing from April 6, 1994, orchestrated by the Hutu-led government and its ethnic militia allies.
Mr Kabuga, a Hutu businessman, is accused of bankrolling the militia.
It is not known when or how Mr Kabuga, who had a $5m (€4.5m) bounty on his head, entered France.
France's justice ministry has said he lived under a false identity in Asnières-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris.
Separately Rwanda's current president has pardoned and ordered the release of 50 young women who were jailed for having or assisting with abortions.
Justice Minister Johnston Busingye said the women released were the last to be freed. Last year, President Paul Kagame ordered the release of 52 women.
Mr Kagame also informed the cabinet that a total of 3,596 inmates had been granted "conditional release" from prison.
The government is trying to reduce the number of prisoners to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last month, 1,182 people were freed.
Previously, abortion was illegal in Rwanda with a prison sentence for anyone who had an abortion or helped in terminating a pregnancy.
The new law says abortion is allowed in cases such as rape, forced marriage, incest or instances where the pregnancy poses a health risk.
It requires that abortions be carried out only after consultation with a doctor.
But Sylvie Nsanga, a prominent women's rights advocate, said the requirement to consult a doctor and seek a parent's consent remains a challenge because it's not easy to get support for an abortion in Rwandan culture.
There are no doctors in rural areas and travelling far from a village to look for one can carry a stigma, she added.
"It means girls will continue to get pregnant, abort, be imprisoned and then get pardoned by the president," Ms Nsanga said.
"There should be more conversation about the penal code that prohibits health professionals such as midwives from providing abortions."