Trial of Alleged Rwandan Genocide Participant Opens in Paris

The Nyanza Genocide Memorial Site, a monument over a mass grave, in the Kicukiro District of Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: Adam Jones for Wikimedia Commons.

The Nyanza Genocide Memorial Site, a monument over a mass grave, in the Kicukiro District of Kigali, Rwanda. Photo: Adam Jones for Wikimedia Commons.

On Tuesday, February 4, the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, an alleged participant in the Rwandan Genocide, opened at the Paris Criminal Court. The trial is a judicial first in France; many Rwandans have not looked upon France favorably, claiming that many exiles fled to the European country after murdering fellow countrymen in 1994.

Simbikangwa was arrested in Mayotte, a French island, for carrying false records. He will therefore be tried in Paris, even though he has previously been tried in Rwanda for carrying out acts of genocide. It is believed that Simbikangwa distributed arms to militia and supervised killings in the city of Gisenyi, in the Kigali region of western Rwanda. It was later determined that the weapons used were bludgeons and machetes.

Rwandan history is one of turmoil. The Belgians left the country in 1962, in a hasty decolonization that left Rwanda without a solid foundation for recovery and growth. The country was left unstable, with two ethnic groups vying for political power. A dictator rose to power and was challenged by a group of Tutsi exiles who claimed the country as theirs.

In the fall of 1990, an offensive was launched against the ruling party. The rebels were driven back, however, by Hutu forces supported by the French. The four years that followed saw a succession of massacres, culminating on April 6, 1994, when the Rwandan president’s plane was shot down in Kigali. Over the next 100 days, 8000 Rwandans were killed in a massive anti-Tutsi ethnic cleansing.

Last week, Paris welcomed experts as well as witnesses of the massacres. Fabrice Epstein, Simbikangwa’s lawyer, doubted the credibility of many witnesses, arguing that it is difficult for him to get his own witnesses from Rwanda to testify on behalf of his client. He explained that he and Simbikangwa do not have the benefit of the prosecutor, who has alleged agreements with the people in Kigali. His client “does not wish to involve his family, who live in both Rwanda and Canada,” Epstein argued.

To further complicate matter, it is nearly impossible to know whom Simibkangwa may have killed, given a lack of survivors to testify. Aurelia Devos, an expert in war crimes, asked, “Who were the people killed by Simbikangwa’s orders? I do not have their names…when there are dozens, hundreds of victims, the individual disappears. In the files, there are so many victims, that no individual victim exists.”

Simbikangwa himself denies ever having participated in one of the “death squadrons.” He did admit to being a member of Akazu, a close-knit circle of individuals limited to blood-relatives of the president, Juvenal Habyarimana. It is unclear what role this piece of information will play in the trial.

The verdict will be announced in mid-March, almost exactly 20 years after the genocide began. Over that time, France has been accused of housing exiles within its borders. The ruling will likely extend beyond the fate of a single man, and could be representative of Franco-Rwandan relations in the future.

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  1. […] Trial of alleged Rwandan genocide participant opens in Paris. On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, an alleged participant in the Rwandan Genocide, opened at the Paris Criminal Court. The trial is a judicial first in France; many Rwandans have not looked upon France favorably, claiming that many exiles fled to the European country after murdering fellow countrymen in 1994. Simbikangwa was arrested in Mayotte, a French island, for carrying false records. He will therefore be tried in Paris, even though he has previously been tried in Rwanda for carrying out acts of genocide. […]

  2. […] it. Many of those responsible for the genocide are suspected to be living in France, and the first trial in a French court was only recently held, of Pascal Simbikangwa (who was sentenced to 25 years in […]

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