France puts ex-Rwanda official Bucyibaruta on trial for genocide

Laurent Bucyibaruta is the most senior figure yet to face justice in France over the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

A former senior Rwandan official has gone on trial in Paris, accused of complicity in the African nation’s genocide, the most senior figure yet to face justice in France over the 1994 massacres.

The trial of Laurent Bucyibaruta, which opened on Monday, is expected to last two months and feature more than 100 witnesses, including survivors from Rwanda who have flown over or will appear via videoconference.

The case of Bucyibaruta is the fourth from the Rwandan genocide to come to court in France, which had long been under pressure from activists to act against suspected perpetrators who had taken refuge on French soil.

An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus perished in 100 days of slaughter in 1994 in which Hutu militiamen massacred Tutsis taking cover in churches and schools.

Standing trial on charges of genocide, complicity in genocide and in crimes against humanity, the 78-year-old Bucyibaruta faces a life sentence if convicted.

At the heart of the case are several “security” meetings, either ordered by Bucyibaruta or in which he participated. The accusation says they were session to plan the slaughter.

In particular, the former prefect of the southern province of Gikongoro is accused of persuading thousands of people to take refuge in the Murambi Technical School, by promising them food and water – and protection.

But days later, in the early hours of April 21, tens of thousands of Tutsis were massacred in one of the genocide’s grimmest episodes.

The court will also discuss Bucyibaruta’s responsibility in the massacre of about 90 Tutsi pupils at the Marie Merci school in Kibeho on May 7 and in the execution of Tutsi prisoners – including three priests – in Gikongoro prison.

Denying the charges

Bucyibaruta denies the charges and refutes any involvement in the killings.

His lawyers will first call for the case to be thrown out for unreasonable delays, as the proceedings began 22 years ago. But if that fails, Bucyibaruta’s defence told AFP they would call for his acquittal.

Bucyibaruta, who has been in France since 1997 and is under judicial supervision, has a myriad of health problems which should limit the hearings to seven hours a day.

Four people in three cases have already been convicted in French courts over the genocide: a former hotel driver handed a 14-year sentence, an army officer sentenced to 25 years in prison, and two mayors who were given life sentences.