France opens country’s first Rwanda genocide trial

A French court opened trial Feb. 4 against former Rwandan intelligence chief Pascal Simbikangwa in the country's first trial of a suspect in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Simbikangwa, 54, is charged with arming and directing Hutu extremists in the violence that claimed the lives of an estimated half a million ethnic Tutsi. He was arrested in 2008 while in hiding on the French island of Mayotte. A paraplegic since 1986, Simbikangwa faces a potential life sentence for complicity in the genocide and crimes against humanity. The current president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, has accused France of supporting the Hutu militia and harboring fugitives who fled to France in the years following the genocide. This trial is seen as an important first step in repairing relations between the embittered nations.

France has only recently joined the US and other European nations in trying and extraditing individuals found to have aided or been complicit in the Rwanda Genocide. A French appeals court in November agreed to extradite two genocide suspects, one of whom had been a French citizen since 2010. In September a French court refused to extradite a Hutu ex-colonel, citing the statute of limitations preventing extradition for crimes committed more than 10 years ago. In April, French law enforcement arrested a former Rwanda leader in the same week that Simbikangwa was ordered to stand trial. Rwanda genocide suspects have also been arrested in 2013 in New Hampshire, the Netherlands and Norway.

From Jurist, Feb. 4. Used with permission.


  1. France delivers first-ever Rwanda genocide conviction

    A Paris court on March 14 convicted former Rwandan intelligence chief Pascal Simbikangwa of genocide and crimes against humanity for his participation in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. After a six-week trial, in which Simbikangwa maintained his innocence, the court delivered a sentence of 25 years in prison. (Jurist)

  2. Quebec upholds conviction of Rwanda war criminal

    The Court of Appeal of Quebec upheld the conviction of Rwandan Hutu Desire Munyaneza for war crimes committed during the 1994 genocide. Munyaneza was convicted in May 2009 and sentenced the following October for seven counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act (PDF). An appeal was filed almost immediately after his conviction, alleging poorly defined charges, irregularities by the trial judge and non-credible witnesses. The high court dismissed these arguments, finding that they had no merit. Munyaneza will serve life in prison, with eligibility for parole after 25 years. (Jurist, May 8)

  3. UN court for Rwanda upholds sentence of ex-military chief

    The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) on June 1 unanimously affirmed a 30-year jail sentence for former army chief Augustin Bizimungu for his role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Bizimungu was found guilty in May 2011 on six counts of genocide and crimes against humanity for murder, extermination and rape in addition to violations of Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions. The court found that Bizimungu, who is among the most senior figures to be tried by the ICTR, had called for the killing of ethnic Tutsis a few days before he was made army chief, and that he had complete control over the men he commanded who were involved in the massacres. Despite claims from Bizimungu that he had "urged military discipline and respect for the dignity of human life," prosecutor Abdoulaye Seye has expressed a desire for a heavier sentence.

    From Jurist, July 1. Used with permission.