January 16, 2020

French Court to Rule on Habyarimana Assassination Case a Day Before Liberation Day 2020


Ex-President Juvenal Habyarimana with ex-First Lady Agathe Kanziga, who lives in France. July 3 will mean Habyarimana’s ghost continues to haunt Rwanda or goes to sleep, at least for now

Liberation Day July 4 is by far the biggest national celebration in Rwanda, but a court decision due on July 3, 2020, will have huge impact on the magnitude and mood of the celebrations this year.

On July 4, some 26 years ago is when the RPF rebels led by Maj Gen Paul Kagame declared double victory; stopping the genocide against Tutsi and ousting the interim government which had taken over following killing of President Juvenal Habyarimana back in April that year.

Since then, July 1 which is Rwanda’s independence day, has been struck off the political calendar. It is a normal day and government offices work as routine. Instead, the national fete has been reserved for July 4.

As The Chronicles explains, the session held yesterday Wednesday in the Paris Court of Appeal has set in motion a chain of events that will determine how big the 26th Liberation anniversary party will be.

Families of the people killed in the plane including Habyarimana’s widow Agathe Kanziga and those of the French pilot, had appealed against a decision by a lower court to close the case completely. To understand what is at stake, you need to understand what has been happening in past 20 years.

Back in 1998, a judicial investigation had been opened in France after the complaint by the families of the plane’s crew. A controversial judge who seized of this file, Jean-Louis Bruguière, settled on the hypothesis that the attack was committed by the RPF and ordered by Kagame.

He indicted several Rwandan officials including former Defense Minister Gen James Kabarebe. The blame was put on President Kagame, but he couldn’t be indicted since his was Head of State.

The decision open a can of political worms that severely infected Rwanda-France relations, which are only now improving, following election of French President Emmanuel Macron.

Rwanda actually opened its own investigation into death of Habyarimana. It found his plane had been shot down by extremist members of his own government. Kigali also opened another probe into France’s role in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, eventually indicting more than 30 French political and military officials.

To calm the international fallout, France changed the French investigating judge. In January 2012, in the expert report of judges Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux, they ruled that the attack could have as well been perpetrated by Rwandan extremists to get rid of President Habyarimana deemed too lenient with the RPF. There were now two hypothesis that a court had to decide on.

In December 2017, judge Jean-Marc Herbaut, who succeeded Marc Trévedic, and Nathalie Proux decided to close the investigation. In the dismissal order issued on December 21, 2018, Judge Herbaut explain that he made this decision “in the absence of sufficient evidence” against President Kagame, Gen Kabarebe and the others.

Now, back to the Paris Court of Appeal session held behind closed doors yesterday January 15, the judges at the end of the hearing ruled that they will issue their verdict on July 3.

The Appeals Chamber could rule to reopen the investigation into the plane crash or otherwise.

The families of the French pilots hope for a relaunch of the investigation, and eventually apportion culpability on who is responsible for shooting down the plane. At the same time, the lawyer for ex-President Habyarimana’s widow, Agathe Habyarimana, hopes to reopen the investigation as part of the fight back of the former establishment against Kagame and the RPF.

With the July 3 verdict now in play, one of two scenarios will happen on Liberation Day 2020, according to observers.

First, going by previous liberation anniversaries which came at a time when Paris and Kigali were at loggerheads, should the Appeals Court rule that the investigation should be reopened, the theme and Kagame speech on July 4 are expected to feature France’s role in the genocide.

Liberation Day 2019 (Kwibohora 25) was big and President Kagame hosted several world leaders

Paris-Kigali relations will go back to confrontational. Even if President Macron has undertaken moves that show he favours good relations with Kigali, a reopened Habyarimana investigation will bring all his efforts to very minimal impact.

President Macron has designated April 7 as official memorial day in homage of the victims of the genocide – an unthinkable act a few years back. Macron also set up a team of experts to investigate role of France in the genocide. It is still working.

On the other hand as well, in the likely event the Appeals Court rules on July 3 that the previous investigating judges did a good job, and therefore no need to reopen the probe into what happened to the Habyarimana plane, then the parties in Kigali will be much bigger than would have been planned. There will be relief in the highest political corridors in Rwanda.

This scenario will also open a fresh new chapter in Kigali-Paris relations.

The 26th Liberation anniversary will be a celebration of the country’s successes.

The other issue at play is the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM 2020) which takes place two weeks earlier before the Appeals Court verdict. President Kagame will emerge from here with unseen-before buoyancy.

A positive court decision means more good years in Francophonie and with Macron, hoping the next French leader is as favourable. However, a negative appeals decision will mean that Rwanda will know the Commonwealth is the only home and the global war with the French establishment continues.

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