The acquittal of a Rwandan priest implicated in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi by a French court is nothing but “judicial comedy tinted with denial.”
The Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris, last week, dropped charges against Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a Rwandan Catholic priest accused of having a direct hand in killings in parts of Kigali, and the news has not been received well in Kigali.
Munyeshyaka, who the former vicar of St Famille Church in Kigali, had been indicted by both the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and Rwandan judiciary.
He has been the subject of a prolonged judicial battle for close to two decades.
After the Tanzania-based ICTR attempted to unsuccessfully extradite him for trial, on November 20, 2007, it referred his case to France instead.
In a statement, the National Commission for the Fight against Genocide (CNLG), yesterday, strongly condemned the dropping of charges against Munyeshyaka.
CNLG executive secretary Jean Damascène Bizimana said by doing so, the French justice has indicated its position in supporting key people directly involved in the Genocide, calling it “a genuine judicial comedy tinted with denial.”
“This decision lays bare a French court which claims to be independent but serves as the protector of a political and military class whose role led to the Genocide of more than a million Tutsi, not only in 1994 but also from 1990 and 1993 when France supported politically, financially, militarily and diplomatically a notorious criminal regime,” Bizimana said in the statement.
He added that it sets grounds for future impunity and the acquittal of several genocidaires who are comfortably settled on French soil since 1994.
France granted citizenship to several suspected architects of the 1994 Genocide and this, according to Bizimana, is one of the major pretexts for refusing to extradite them to Rwanda.
“It is equally illogical that France has consistently refused to extradite Genocide suspects to Rwanda on the grounds that the crime of genocide was not punishable in Rwanda in 1994. How could the regimes of Kayibanda and Habyarimana punish the crime they committed themselves in 1959?” he wondered.
Like most members and cronies of the genocidal regime, after fleeing Rwanda, Munyeshyaka moved to France where he continued work as a priest. He has been, since 2001, a priest for the parishes of Gisors and the Epte Valley in France.
Inquiry after complaint
A legal enquiry was opened against Munyeshyaka in 1995 after a complaint was lodged by Genocide survivors, who accused Munyeshyaka of complicity in torture and inhuman or degrading treatment during the Genocide.
Witnesses gave accounts in precise detail of massive executions allegedly committed at St Famille Church in Kigali. Between April and May 1994, he allegedly repeatedly participated in the process of identifying Tutsi refugees to be exterminated.
He was also accused of raping women who had taken refuge at the church.
An official investigation was opened by French authorities and Munyeshyaka was arrested under rules of Universal Jurisdiction in July 1995, but was released a month later.
Bizimana said France’s excuse has no legal basis since the French law no° 96-432 of May 22, 1996, was adopted by the French legislation with the provisions of Resolution 955 of the United Nations Security Council establishing an international tribunal to prosecute people responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in 1994 on Rwandan territory.
In France, Alain Gauthier, the president of Genocide Survivors’ Advocacy Group (CPCR), which for long pushed for Munyeshyaka’s prosecution, was dumbfounded.
Gauthier said the judges were influenced by the opinion of the prosecutor who had earlier prayed for a dismissal.
“This decision dismays us. Again, the voice of those prosecuted for genocide takes precedence over that of the survivors,” said Gauthier.
CPCR has for nearly two decades worked hard to see Genocide suspects living in France brought to book.
Although the judges’ decision does not mark an end point in the case, Gauthier said, the possibilities of making Munyeshyaka appear before Court are dwindling.
“We knew that the struggle for justice would be difficult, but we feel that the French justice sides too easily with the ‘executioners’ and that the word of victims is not taken into consideration,” he said.
France’s list of genocidaire protégés
Last year, when France pulled out of commemoration activities for the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, many were not shocked.
Survivors interpreted Paris’ decision as guilt for their role in the Genocide, while former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner who travelled to Kigali to commiserate with Rwandans, described his country’s action as “childish.”
France continues to be home to Genocide suspects and it is not the first time its courts treat cases of extradition of Rwanda Genocide suspects in an unusual manner.
One outstanding case is that of Agathe Kanziga, widow of Juvenal Habyarimana. While she is accused of genocide, she continues to illegally reside in France.
A court in Bordeaux also refused to extradite Sosthene Munyemana, nicknamed “The Butcher of Tumba,” and Dr Eugene Rwamucyo, both suspected of involvement in killings in southern Rwanda.
Manasse Bigwenzare, a former judge suspected of participating in the planning of the Genocide, was arrested in 2011 at his home in Paris, but was released later.
The manner in which the French justice system has handled the trial of Hyacinthe Rafiki Nsengiyumva, minister for public works during the Genocide, another Genocide suspect, has also angered civil society and human rights groups.
In March 1996, the Nimes Appeals Court ruled that France did not have competency to judge the crime of genocide committed abroad by a foreign national against other foreign nationals.
On January 1, 1998, after the Statute of the ICTR came into force under French law, the Cour de Cassation ordered that the 1995 proceedings against him be reopened, judging that the Nimes Appeals Court had erred.
In 2004, France’s lack of will to try Munyeshyaka got condemnation from the European Court of Human Rights.
In November 2006, Munyeshyaka was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment by a Rwandan Military Court in Kigali.