France asks to drop Rwanda genocide case

Two decades after he was charged with genocide and torture, Paris prosecutors said on Wednesday they had asked for the case against a Rwandan priest to be thrown out, potentially souring ties between the two countries.

France asks to drop Rwanda genocide case
A file photo taken June 28, 1994 shows Roman Catholic priest father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka (L) speaking with an unidentified Rwandan soldier (R) in Kigali. Photo: AFP
Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka stands accused by authorities in both Rwanda and France of taking part in the mass slaughter of Tutsis that erupted in April 1994 following the death in a plane crash of Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana.
The Catholic priest has lived in France since 1995 after fleeing his country and has refused repeated calls to return to Rwanda, while French authorities have declined to extradite him.
“From our investigations, it appears the role of Wenceslas Munyeshyaka during the 1994 genocide raised a lot of questions,” Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said in a statement.
“But the probe was not able to formally corroborate specific acts pertaining to his active participation” as a perpetrator or an accomplice, he added.
It is now up to magistrates to decide whether to bring the case to court or not.
Munyeshyaka was charged by a French judge in July 1995 with genocide, torture, mistreatment and inhuman and degrading acts.
He is accused of having turned over Tutsis sheltering in his Saint-Famille church — where hundreds had sought shelter — to Hutu militiamen surrounding the building.
In 2006, a Rwandan military court sentenced him in absentia to life in prison for rape and helping extremist militias.
Judges ruled that Munyeshyaka had on several occasions raided church halls where Tutsis were hiding to pick out young girls and women who were raped in nearby buildings.
But Munyeshyaka, who is now a priest in the northern French town of Gisors, denies all the charges.
He says he is the victim of a political set up and always did his best to help civilians.
If his case is dropped, it could further strain ties between France and Rwanda.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has frequently accused Paris of complicity in the genocide through its support for the Hutu national government of the time, accusations which France has always rejected.
Dozens of legal proceedings have been launched in France against Rwandans suspected of  contributing to the genocide.
In the first trial of its kind in the country, genocide suspect Pascal Simbikangwa was last year convicted and sentenced to 25 years in jail.


Macron proposes day of commemoration for Rwanda genocide

French President Emmanuel Macron proposed an annual day of commemoration for the Rwanda genocide on Sunday as the African nation marked 25 years since the massacres of the minority Tutsi community.

Macron proposes day of commemoration for Rwanda genocide
African Union chief Moussa Faki, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at 25th Commemoration of the 1994 Genocide in Kigali, Rwanda on April 7. Photo: Y
The French leader expressed his “solidarity with the Rwandan people and his compassion for the victims and their families” in a statement that proposed April 7 as an annual remembrance day in France.
Macron drew criticism from some activists for failing to attend the start of commemoration events in Rwanda on Sunday, instead sending a personal envoy, a Rwandan-born MP Herve Berville who was orphaned in the 1993 violence.
A Rwandan victims' group, Ibuka France, hailed Macron's announcement of a national Rwanda genocide day and said it had suggested the idea during a meeting with the 41-year-old leader last week.
“My reaction is one of satisfaction,” the head of the group, Marcel Kabanda, said before adding that he hoped France would now introspect more about its role in the massacres.
“It's not the French population fundamentally, but the political elite that needs to talk about it more. It will take time but it's a new phase,” he told AFP.
The genocide has cast a long shadow over Franco-Rwandan relations. Rwanda's current President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, accuses France of having supported the ethnic Hutu forces behind most of the slaughter and of helping some of the perpetrators to escape.
On Friday, Macron announced the creation of a commission of historians and researchers that will delve into the French state's archives in a move intended to set the historical record straight.