Arrested in Paris, the widow dubbed 'Lady Genocide'

Wife of Rwandan president whose assassination provoked slaughter is held

After 12 years living a quiet existence in a suburb near Paris, the widow of the assassinated Rwandan president whose death triggered the largest mass slaughter of the 20th century, was arrested yesterday. She is accused of helping mastermind the 1994 genocide.

The detention of Agathe Habyarimana, dubbed "Lady Genocide" by some, came less than a week after President Nicolas Sarkozy became the first French head of state to visit Rwanda for 25 years. During a brief stopover in the capital Kigali he issued a semi-apology for France's "serious errors" over the genocide.

The government in Rwanda which is preparing a formal extradition request has long sought the arrest of the widow – an ethnic Hutu like her husband – who was detained at her home in Courcouronnes, south of Paris shortly before 8am. She was later released but forbidden from leaving the country and ordered to report to a French judge once a month. She now faces a fight to avoid being sent back to a country she last saw on 9 April, 1994, three days after her husband's jet was shot down close to Kigali airport.

Mrs Habyarimana, who claims her influence did not extend beyond the president's domestic arrangements, escaped the orgy of killing that left 800,000 people dead in 100 days. She was helped to escape across the border into Congo by French forces.

This account is disputed by many inside Rwanda where it is alleged she ran "Clan de Madame", an elite clique including senior army officers who developed the movement that would become known as "Hutu Power". Yesterday's move by the French authorities was warmly welcomed in Kigali. "At long last the long arm of the law is finally taking its course," said Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama.

The head of Rwanda's genocide fugitive tracking unit said it had asked for Mrs Habyarimana's extradition. "Our priority is to have her tried in Rwanda because this is where she committed crimes against the Rwandan people," said Jean Bosco Mutangana.

The arrest comes during an apparent thaw in ties between Kigali and Paris after they traded accusations over responsibility for the mass killings.

Four years ago a French judge accused Rwanda's president Paul Kagame and nine aides of shooting down Habyarimana's plane. Leon Habyarimana, son of the accused, said the warrant for his mother was an attempt by the Rwandan government to distract from their own much-criticised human rights record.

"The Rwandan government have launched judicial proceedings as a red herring, to confuse the issue, and push the focus away from their own culpability to which they have never owned up," he said. "She has always said, and she still says, that she has nothing to reproach herself for. She was evacuated out of the country three days after my father's death, she wasn't in Rwanda at the time of all the atrocities."

Mrs Habyarimana's arrest comes less than a month after another high profile suspect was detained in France. Sostene Munyemana had been working for nine years as a gynaecologist in Villeneuve-sur-Lot before being taken into custody. He had been on an Interpol watch list since 2006 but authorities made no move until last month. "I'm not at all surprised that this is happening now," Mr Munyemana had told AFP. "Diplomatic relations have been restored between the two countries and so the circumstances were favourable to this."

Mrs Habyarimana's son echoed those concerns over France's sudden interest in arresting genocide suspects. "Why now? Why just after the visit of Sarkozy? The family has confidence in the French judicial system, we hope that the politicians let the judges do their work without interference."

Her lawyer Philippe Meilhac was unequivocal about a link to the recent political detente with Paris. "You can't not draw a link," he said. "The extradition request from Kigali dates back to November and was obviously re-activated" after Sarkozy returned. Mrs Habyarimana would fight extradition, he said. "If she must be heard, she asks that it be in a French or international court".

International observers have repeatedly expressed concerns about the independence of the Rwanda justice system, as well as the absence of protection for witnesses.

The former Rwandan president's widow has in the past enjoyed a very different relationship with the French government. She got $40,000 on arrival in Paris taken from France's Ministry of Cooperation budget designated for "urgent assistance for Rwandan refugees".

Rwanda genocide: Blood on their hands?

Juvenal Habyarimana

The death of the Rwandan President, a Hutu, when his plane was shot down in April 1994 sparked the massacres. Habyarimana had led a coup in 1973 and signed a power-sharing agreement with the Tutsis to end a civil war in 1993.

Paul Kagame

Led Tutsi rebels to defeat Hutu extremists in July 1994. A French judge blamed him and associates for the rocket attack that brought down Habyarimana's plane, which he denied. Now Rwandan President.

Colonel Theoneste Bagosora

Senior official in Rwanda's extremist Hutu regime, convicted in 2008 of masterminding slaughter. Jointly responsible for forming the machete-wielding Hutu militia, the Interahamwe.

Jean Kambanda

Former prime minister and the first person sentenced for genocide. Jailed for life in 1998.

Ferdinand Nahimana

Co-founder of a radio station that broadcast incitements to murder, found guilty of war crimes in 2003.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine