Pascal Simbikangwa

It was recently reported that a court in France has begun the hearing of a former Rwandan intelligence chief charged with complicity in the 1994 genocide.

Pascal Simbikangwa, is a paraplegic after a car crash in 1986 and has used a wheelchair ever since. He joined the secret service and in 2008 and was arrested in Mayotte – a French Indian ocean island.

His legal team are defending the fact that he has been made a scapegoat for the killings. He is accused of personally torturing people. But as France has been slow to prosecute others allegedly linked to the genocide, it can be seen in their favour; despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Rwandans died over a course of 100 days in 1994.

Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye told the BBC that the the trial against Mr Simbikangwa was a “good sign”.

It had been reported that a large number of Rwandans fled to France due to the close diplomatic relations. Mr Simbikangwa, 54, is currently being accused of helping to arm an ethnic Hutu militia who manned roadblocks in the capital, and instructed them to slaughter innocent civilians. If he is found guilty, he could face life in jail, even though the charges against him have been downgraded from genocide crimes, and crimes against humanity to complicity.

The trial is set to last for around six to eight weeks.

When questioned, Mr Simbikangwa has acknowledged the fact that he was close to President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu whose assassination in 1994 led to the outbreak of violence that killed some 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.

There will be a large number of journalists, historians, farmers, security guards and former intelligence officials expected to take the witness stand in the trial.

However, Rwanda’s government has long accused France of having supported the genocidal regime. Paris denies this but the two countries have fallen out.

According to the BBC, the trial has been well received in Kigali and may lead to a diplomatic rapprochement. One of Mr Simbikangwa’s lawyers argued that the case could not be fair because of the “inequality of power” between the prosecution and defence. The defence team said they did not have the “means” to represent him properly and had not even been able to visit Rwanda to verify prosecution evidence. They also attacked the prosecution’s case as being based purely on unchallenged witness accounts.

“We’ll do what we have done from the start – plead for a not guilty verdict,” defence lawyer Fabrice Epstein said.

Meanwhile, many of the victims’ families have eagerly waited for this trial. Dafroza Gauthier, who lost more than 80 members of her family in the genocide, told reporters the trial was “an important moment for the victims who have been waiting for this trial for 20 years – for them, for their families, but also for French people who were certainly misinformed at the time of the events during the genocide”.

It is going to be interesting to see how this trial will turn out; as France is currently denying accusations that it did not do enough to stop the genocide in Rwanda, as well as delaying the extradition of genocide suspects. It is only a matter of time the truth will finally come out, and the role France played during this period of history will be revealed.

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