December 2, 2019

French Appeals Court Prepares To Hear Habyarimana Assassination Case

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Ex-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed on April 6, 1994 in a plane crash with Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira

The Paris Court of Appeal has set January 15 to hear an appeal against decision to stop and scrap any further investigation into the assassination of ex-Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana.

On December 21, 2018, antiterrorism investigating judges Jean-Marc Herbaut and Nathalie Poux dropped their long-running investigation into the deadly attack on Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994. Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira also died in the plane.

The French prosecutors ordered the dismissal due to insufficient evidence against the seven suspects, all current and former government officials in Rwanda. President Paul Kagame was named in the original case, but could not be indicted due to Presidential immunity.

At the time, lawyers for Habyarimana’s widow Agathe Kanziga Habyarimana called the prosecutors’ move “unacceptable” and “largely politically motivated”. They filed an appeal, which has now been set for January 15.

“The civil parties hope that the French judiciary will be able to measure and overcome the political-diplomatic interferences that have polluted this file for years, and which have been manifested by many pressures on the witnesses and the disappearance of some of them,” Philippe Meilhac, lawyer for Habyarimana’s widow Agathe, told AFP news agency.

However, the lawyer for the accused Léon-Lef Forster said he expects the Paris Court of Appeal will “maintain” the “no case to answer” on his clients.

The judges in the previous instance “manifested total independence” in taking the decision to drop the case, said Forster.

This case has been a major source of tension between Rwanda and France after seven Rwandan officials including former Defense Minister Gen James Kabarebe were charged in the French investigation.

The first judge to lead the probe, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, backed the theory that it was the Rwanda Patriotic Front (FPR) rebels led by Kagame, who shot down the plane.

The French probe was closed but eventually reopened in 2016 before hitting a series of legal obstacles over the past four years.

The French probe into Habyarimana’s assassination was opened in 1998 on the request of relatives of French crew members killed in the attack on the plane.

Kigali has long accused France of complicity in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi by supporting the Hutu regime, training the soldiers and militiamen who carried out the killings.

A government of Rwanda-instituted commission led by former Chief Justice Jean Mutsinzi, in 2009 concluded that Habyarimana was killed by extremists in his inner circle, who were opposed to him signing a peace deal with RPF. Mutsinzi incidentally, died two weeks ago after long illness.

Current French President Emmanuel Macron has been sending signals of friendship with President Kagame. Macron has even set up a team of French experts to probe France’s role in the genocide.

Rwandan former foreign minister Louise Mushikowabo, is current head of the Francophone, a grouping of former French colonies – a position which observers say was curved out for Rwanda as part of strategy to appease it so that it keeps quiet about the French role in the genocide which killed over a million Tutsis in 100 days.

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