Those who deny or downplay the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda while living in France will be risking both imprisonment and financial fines following an amendment made last month to the French law on media freedom.
The amendment, made to France’s Act of 29 July 1881 on Freedom of the Press, was published in the country’s Official Gazette of January 28, 2017.
It provides, among others, that those who deny or minimise crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity which have been judged as such by French or international courts will be punished.
Article 24 of the press freedom law which was modified on January 27, 2017 by law no.2017-86 published in the country’s Official Gazette of January 28, 2017 states that those who will be convicted of denying the crimes of genocide or crimes against humanity, among others, while they were ruled on by courts will attract penalties that include a one-year imprisonment and a fine of Euro 45,000 (about Rwf38 million).
The amendment was well received by human rights activists and survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, among other observers.
Richard Gisagara, a French-Rwandan lawyer based in France and who has been helping members of the Rwandan community in France to file cases against Genocide denial in the country’s courts, has welcomed the amendment.
He told The New Times in an email yesterday that he and other activists have spent the last three years since 2014 asking the French judiciary to include denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi on the list of punishable crimes as was the case with the denial of the Holocaust.
“We have been to different tribunals and courts since 2014 to oblige the Government to extend the law concerning the genocide committed against the Jews to the one committed against the Tutsi. We won the case in Constitution Court in October 2015 but we were still waiting for the Government to implement the decision. It’s now done and we are now very satisfied,” he said.
Haven for suspects
France is considered a safe haven for Genocide deniers and fugitives after it received many notorious suspects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi as they joined their friends and family in the country while the French government was a key ally of the genocidal regime that committed the Genocide.
In December, officials at the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide in Rwanda (CNLG) urged governments across the world to outlaw denial of the Genocide against the Tutsi and arrest its architects, singling out France as an example of countries that need to respect their international obligations and send Genocide suspects and deniers to courts.
Gisagara said the amendment to the Freedom of the Press law is a step in the right direction because it gives basis for prosecuting those who deny the Genocide in France.
“We hope that the new law will cut down significantly the cases of denial and trivialisation in France,” he said.
Analysts say that since French courts have already convicted some people in France of genocide crimes in relation to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, such as Pascal Simbikangwa’s 25-year jail sentence, among other cases, French courts might be ready to try those denying the Genocide.
Among other convicts of the Genocide who were tried in France include Octavien Ngenzi and Tito Barahira, the former mayors in eastern Rwanda who were last year both sentenced to life in prison by the Paris’ Cour d’Assises.
Alain Gauthier, the president of the France-based NGO Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR), which has over the years worked to see Genocide suspects living in France brought to book, said the amendment will help curb Genocide denial.
“This is an important recognition. The Genocide (against the Tutsi) can no longer be denied and its negation will fall under the law. Of course, it will be up to the judges to appreciate and decide. There are many ways to deny the Genocide against the Tutsi, some perfectly sly, but this recognition is very important,” he said.