• France's news in English

French court sentences Rwandan over genocide

AFP · 15 Mar 2014, 08:31

Published: 15 Mar 2014 08:31 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Pascal Simbikangwa, a 54-year-old former member of the Rwandan presidential guard, was found guilty of perpetrating genocide and of complicity in crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors in the trial -- the first of its kind in France -- have asked for life imprisonment for Simbikangwa, branding him an ethnic "cleanser" who was "radically committed" to his work and a "man capable of the worst".

The defence had requested he be acquitted, saying the trial was politically motivated and describing witnesses as unreliable and guided by spite, indoctrination or fear.

The defendant himself, who denied all charges against him, took the stand one last time on Friday morning, calling on the court to recognise his "innocence".

"In a few moments you will be alone with your conscience, you are called upon to decide my fate," he told the jury.

"To all Tutsi victims, I am thinking of them. Sorry for the weaknesses of my condition that did not allow me to help you like I would have wanted to," he said.

The jury then retired to deliberate their verdict on events that took place two decades ago in the small central African country, some 6,000 kilometres (3,700 miles) away.

The trial was being closely watched in France, which has long been accused of failing to rein in the Rwandan regime at the time of the genocide between April and July 1994 that left 800,000 dead.

And in a rare case for France, it is being filmed, with recordings due to be available once the case is concluded.

Simbikangwa, who is in a wheelchair after a 1986 car accident left him paraplegic, was accused of inciting, organizing and aiding massacres during the genocide, particularly by supplying arms and instructions to Hutu militia who were manning road blocks and killing Tutsi men, women and children.

He was arrested in 2008 on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, after which Paris refused to extradite him to Rwanda and decided to try him under laws that allow French courts to consider cases of genocide.

Over the past six weeks of trial Simbikangwa systematically minimized his role and his understanding of the massacres that were committed in 1994.

To general amazement, he said on the third day of trial that he had never seen a single corpse during the genocide, unleashed mainly on the minority Tutsi community after Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana was assassinated on April 6th, 1994.

Pressed on the subject, he responded that his disability forced him to "lie down a bit" when he went out in cars.

Lawyers for the former army captain have sought to discredit witnesses, saying some had been coerced or that they were prisoners hoping to win shorter sentences.

Story continues below…

They have also said that they did not have the means to properly defend Simbikangwa and had not even been able to visit Rwanda to verify prosecution evidence.

And the defendant was found to have saved a certain number of Tutsis.

But witnesses -- even those he saved -- have painted a picture of a man who was closely involved in the genocide, playing a lead role in checkpoints that identified Tutsis, stockpiling weapons at his home and distributing them.

Prosecutor Bruno Sturlese had asked the jury to declare him guilty of genocide, and not only of complicity.

"We will ask ourselves the question of whether or not we will appeal," said defence attorney Fabrice Epstein, denouncing what he called a "political trial".

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
What Paris 'squalor pit' Gare du Nord will look like in future
All photos: Wilmotte et Assoicés

IN PICTURES: The universally accepted 'squalor pit of Europe' is finally getting a facelift.

Halloween: The ten spookiest spots in Paris
Is there really a ghost on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower? Photo: AFP

Read at your own peril.

Halloween holiday in France: Traffic nightmares and sun!
Photo: AFP

But it's great news for the country's beleaguered tourism industry.

French MPs vote to make Airbnb 'professionals' pay tax
Photo: AFP

Do you make a lot of money through Airbnb in France? You'll have to pay a share to the taxman in future.

France and Britain accused of abandoning Calais minors
Photo: AFP

Scores of young migrants are forced to sleep rough for a second night.

France given wake up call as it bids for Brexit business
The business district 'La Defense' in Paris. Photo: AFP

France clearly has some work to do if it really wants to pinch business from the UK post-Brexit.

Mouth fun? French words you just can't translate literally
Do you know the French word for throat-support? Photo: AFP

Word of warning: Don't translate French literally.

How France plans to help its stressed-out police force
Yellow smoke rises around French police officers in Paris holding a banner reading "Solidarity with our colleagues, police angry". All photos: AFP

Could these measures stop the cops from protesting?

'3,000 migrants dispersed' after 'Jungle' clearance
Photo: AFP

While thousands of migrants have been bussed out around France, new ones are arriving all the time and thousands of others have simply been dispersed aid agencies say.

Fifteen of the most bizarre laws in France
Photo: Matthew Powell/Flickr

A must read for anyone who wants to stay on the right side of the law in France.

The annoying questions only a half French, half Brit can answer
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Forget Brangelina's chateau - here are nine others you've got to see
The must-see French films of the millennium - Part One
How life for expats in France has changed over the years
Why Toulouse is THE place to be in France right now
Video: New homage to Paris shows the 'real side' of city
The 'most dangerous' animals you can find in France
Swap London fogs for Paris frogs: France woos the Brits
Anger after presenter kisses woman's breasts on live TV
Is France finally set for a cold winter this year?
IN PICS: The story of the 'ghost Metro stations' of Paris
How to make France's 'most-loved' dish: Magret de Canard
Welcome to the flipside: 'I'm not living the dream in France'
Do the French really still eat frogs' legs?
French 'delicacies' foreigners really find hard to stomach
French are the 'world's most pessimistic' about the future
Why the French should not be gloomy about the future
This is the most useful French lesson you will ever have. How to get angry
Why is there a giant clitoris in a field in southern France?
French pastry wars: Pain au chocolat versus chocolatine
Countdown: The ten dishes the French love the most
Expats or immigrants in France: Is there a difference?
How the French reinvented dozens of English words
jobs available