On Monday, a former high-ranking Rwandan official was charged in Paris with taking part in the 1994 genocide in that African country. He is the highest-ranking person to face justice in France for the atrocities of that year.
Laurent Bucyibaruta’s case is the fourth from the Rwandan genocide to reach a court in France, which has long faced pressure from activists to prosecute accused perpetrators who have sought sanctuary in the country. In 1994, Hutu militiamen killed Tutsis who were hiding in churches and schools. They are thought to have killed about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
Bucyibaruta is on trial for genocide, involvement in genocide, and crimes against humanity. If convicted, he risks a life sentence. The 78-year-old, who has health issues, approached the courtroom in a wheelchair, holding a walking stick. Bucyibaruta begged, hoarsely, if he might remain seated, as the court’s president had promised. Several “security” meetings, either ordered by Bucyibaruta or attended by him, are at the heart of the issue. They were allegedly slaughter-planning sessions, according to the accusation.
Thousands of people were persuaded to take refuge in the Murambi Technical School by offering them food, drink, and protection, according to the former prefect of Gikongoro’s southern province. However, tens of thousands of Tutsis were executed days later, in the early hours of April 21, in one of the genocide’s most horrific events. The court will also talk about Bucyibaruta’s role in the killing of about 90 Tutsi students at the Marie Merci School in Kibeho on May 7 and the killing of Tutsi prisoners in Gikongoro jail, including three priests.
Bucyibaruta disputes the allegations and claims he had nothing to do with the murders. His lawyers will first ask for the case to be dismissed due to excessive delays, as the case has been ongoing for 22 years. Bucyibaruta’s defense told AFP that if that fails, they will seek his acquittal. During the two-month trial, more than 100 witnesses, including Rwandan survivors who have flown here or will join via videoconference, are expected to testify.
Bucyibaruta, who has been in France since 1997 and is under judicial supervision, suffers from a variety of health issues, so hearings should be limited to seven hours a day. In three cases, French courts have already found four people guilty of genocide: a former hotel driver was sentenced to 14 years in prison; an army officer was sentenced to 25 years in prison; and two mayors were sentenced to life in prison.