Pascal Simbikangwa jailed in Paris: Rwandan genocide conviction could pave the way for more French trials

Pascal Simbikangwa was sentenced to 25 years in prison for organising and ordering the massacre of up to 80,000 Tutsis almost 20 years ago

Paris

The conviction for genocide of a former Rwandan intelligence officer in a Paris court could be just the beginning of a flood of similar trials in France.

Pascal Simbikangwa, 54, was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Friday night after being found guilty of organising and ordering the massacre of up to 800,000 Tutsis by the majority Hutu community in Rwanda almost 20 years ago.

Simbikangwa’s conviction for genocide and “complicity in crimes against humanity” is a landmark judgement in a country which was long accused of sheltering senior Hutu figures suspected of involvement in the massacres in April and May 1994. Twenty other people are under investigation in France, including the widow of the former Rwanda president and a former  French gendarmerie officer who was close to the late President François Mitterrand.

The five week trial of Simbikangwa threw little new light on France’s alleged  complicity – or at least culpable negligence – in supporting the Hutu-led regime in Kigawa before and after the start of the massacres. It marked a new stage, however, in the long journey of successive French governments and the French judicial system towards acceptance of the internationally-recognised account of one the most appalling events of the 20th century.

Simbikangwa, a former captain of the Rwandan presidential guard and a senior security officer, denied all involvement in the mass killings . He claimed that he had never seen a single dead body in Rwanda in the spring of 1994. He said that his own mother was a Tutsi and claimed to have “saved Tutsis” from massacres which, at other times, he suggested had never happened.

The prosecution, in its summing up, said that he was not only guilty of genocide but also a “negationist”. They said that he was member of a government inner-circle called Azaku (little house) which planned the genocide and part-owner of a radio station – Radio Milles Collines – which urged Hutus to destroy “cockroaches” (Tutsis) after the aircraft of Rwanda’s Huti president, Juvenal Habyarimana, was destroyed by a missile on 6 April, 1994.

The prosecution had called for his imprisonment for life but the Paris assize court imposed a somewhat more lenient sentence of 25 years in jail.

A defence lawyer Alexandra Bourgeot, said that the decsions to impose a genocide verdict and a relatively lenient sentence were “ incoherent”. She said that  the court had not fully understood the case.  Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for the International Federation of Human Rights, said that the sentence was a minor matter. “What was important was the guilty verdict.”

Simbikangwa was left wheelchair-bound after a road accident eight years before the massacres Simbikangwa was left wheelchair-bound after a road accident eight years before the massacres Simbikangwa, wheelchair-bound because of a road accident eight years before the massacres, was arrested in the French island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean six years ago. 

Under French law, revised in the 1990s, anyone arrested in France and suspected of committing crimes against humanity anywhere in the world can be tried in a French court.

Of the twenty other Rwanda genocide cases under investigation in France, there are two which could throw significant new light on the massacres and the role of Paris in supporting and arming the Hutu regime which inspired them.

Agathe Habyarimana, widow of the president whose death was the trigger or excuse for the slaughter, is under investigation for her possible role in planning the genocide. She was air-lifted out of Rwanda with 30 other senior Hutu leaders by the French army in the days immediately after the presidential plane was shot down.

Even more intriguing is that a criminal investigation begun in France last year into the role played by Paul Baril, a retired senior French gendarmerie officer and former head of the late President François Mitterrand’  personal “anti-terrorism” unit in the Elysée Palace.

After retiring under a cloud from the gendarmerie, he created a security company, Secrets, which advised the Rwanda authorities in the early 1990s and helped to ship arms and train the Rwandan army.  He flew into Kigali after the death of President Habyariman and just as the massacres were beginning. He has denied acting for the French government but has said that he was working “ in France’s interest”.

President Mitterrand and other senior French politicians were determined to keep the former Belgian colony in the Francophone sphere of influence in Africa. They feared that the Tutsi-dominated opposition, led by Paul Kagame the current Rwandan president, would move the country into the English-speaking and American sphere of influence.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?