In September last year, this column talked about a plan by the French judiciary to commence a trial that will coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Sources indicated at the time that the trial would conveniently start before April, when the mourning period officially starts.
This week a court in Paris opened the trial of Pascal Simbikangwa, a former army captain who admitted to court that he wielded a lot of influence in the intelligence circles for the then Forces Armee Rwandais (FAR), because of his proximity to the Akazu, the small clique of powerbrokers which conceptualised and supervised the ‘apocalypse’.
Prior to the opening of the trial on Tuesday, his two lawyers argued that prosecution was making their client a ‘scapegoat’ because France has been linked to the Genocide during which more than a million Rwandans were brutally killed.
They argued that the case had been deliberately scheduled to coincide with the 20th commemoration of the slaughter.
I do not want to comment further on this case since it is before courts of law, but I think it I am morally obliged to question, if indeed the case is being tried on its merits and not merely an opera staged to coincide with the 20th commemoration of the Genocide.
Yet regardless of the motivation behind this case, the trial is historic for Rwanda, and for Genocide survivors, in particular, a moment many had waited for for two decades in a country which shelters dozens of Genocide fugitives.
Still for many Rwandans who lost their loved ones in the 100-day carnage, it is a wait-and-see phenomenon, because, based on previous situations in the years before, this could yet be another antic to the gallery.
A bad precedent in this trial could lead to disastrous outcome in the cases involving dozens of Genocide fugitives holed up in France.
If this man was to be acquitted, it would be unlikely that the 30 or so indicted Genocide fugitives living in France would have their day in court any time soon.
The fact that the crimes he stands accused of have been revised downwards to ‘complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity’ as opposed to the initial ‘main author of genocide’ already sends a chill down my spine.
Call me a pessimist but my suspicion that this could just be just another theatrics in the run-up to the 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi, before the case is either shelved to gather dust or setting the accused free for some flimsy technicalities.
Previously, there had been arrests especially during this period of the year only to quietly set free the suspects after the media directed their cameras anywhere else.
Now that these arrests no longer really trigger any form of excitement, after some countries took a bolder move to extradite suspects to Rwanda, the other ace up the sleeve was the “historical first trial by a French court’ and all cameras swayed to Paris.
On the other hand, if indeed there has finally been change of heart on the part of the French judiciary and this trial takes the course through which the interest of the litigants are equitably served, then this could bring hope to Rwandans in general and specifically the Genocide survivors, who have waited to see the masterminds of the slaughter that took their loved ones have their day in court.
The writer is a journalist.