The 1994 genocide of nearly a million persons in Rwanda will be the subject of a trial beginning today before 6 jurors and 3 judges in the Paris Cour d’assises, or criminal court.
Charged with taking part in killings as part of an escadron de la mort, or death squad, is Pascal Simbikangwa, a 54-year-old man said to have been head of central intelligence and part of the inner circle of Juvénal Habyarimana, the Rwandan President whose April 6, 1994, death in a plane crash precipitated the genocide. The trial will involve testimony by historians, among other witnesses, and is set to be filmed in its entirety.
Le Monde‘s Stéphanie Maupas reported yesterday that this marks the 1st such trial in France, a country whose own behavior in Rwanda has been questioned. (And see here.) French authorities arrested Simbikangwa for trafficking in false papers in 2008 and subsequently refused the Rwandan government’s extradition request. A similar trial in Canada of another defendant ended last year in an acquittal; meanwhile, Belgium has convicted several such defendants in a series of trials.
Maupas’ report (available here and here) ended on a reflective note:
Le verdict devrait tomber mi-mars, juste avant les 20 ans du génocide. Vingt années durant lesquelles la France a été accusée d’offrir un exil confortable aux acteurs du génocide. Au-delà de l’histoire d’un homme, passible de la perpétuité, ce procès sera aussi le miroir des relations franco-rwandaises.
The verdict could come in mid-March, just before the twentieth anniversary of the genocide. Twenty years during which France has been accused of offering comfortable exile to génocidaires. In addition to the story of one man on trial for his life, this trial will also serve as a mirror of French-Rwandan relations.