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Pascal Simbikangwa, Prime Accused in the Rwandan Genocide, Goes on Trial in France

It has taken 20 years of tireless efforts to bring the Rwandan genocidists before a French court. Outside Rwanda, many trials have taken place in various foreign countries, particularly in Europe. But in France, none of those suspected of being involved in the genocide have been brought before the courts until now. But since 4th February, 2014, for the first time in 20 years, a Rwandan is being tried in France. Captain Pascal Simbikangwa is accused of playing an active role in the massacres that resulted in the death of approximately 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus between April and July 1994. Doubts remain about the role that France may have played during the civil conflict [fr].
The following video [fr] summarizes civil society's efforts to bring genocidists before the court. The video explains that beside tracking the evidence,  it has also been a challenge for civil society to cut through the multiple administrative red tapes to have the accused stand trial in France:      

There are many serious charges against Captain Pascal Simbikangwa. J. Doll, a French Foreign Affairs reporter,  points them out in a blog [fr] for youmag.com:

Pascal Simbikangwa, paraplégique et qui comparaîtra en fauteuil roulant, est jugé pour complicité de génocide et de crimes contre l'humanité : l'ancien officier de 54 ans est accusé d'avoir incité, organisé et aidé, notamment en organisant des barrages et en armant les miliciens qui les tenaient, les massacres qui firent quelque 800.000 morts en 100 jours, entre avril et juillet 1994, …..

Pascal Simbikangwa, a paraplegic who is in a wheelchair, is being tried for complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity: the 54-year-old former officer is accused of having incited, organized and helped, notably by setting up roadblocks and arming militiamen who were manning them, carry out the massacres that resulted in some 800,000 deaths in 100 days, between April and July 1994, …..
Pascal Simbikangwa- Image taken from public domain

Pascal Simbikangwa- Public domain

The appearance of the former Captain Pascal Simbikangwa who served in the Rwandan army in 1994, before the French court is largely due to the NGO, le Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR) [fr], led by its président, Alain Gauthier and his wife. He had agreed [fr] to answer Global Voices’ questions in 2013. Even though he is highly sought after by many journalists and other media, Gauthier updates the CPCR website daily with detailed information on each hearing day.

Many witnesses who held responsible positions or who were part of the army and militias during the genocide, are reluctant to testify against the former captain. However, some witnesses have confirmed the accusations against Simbikangwa. On February 19, 2014, this was the case for Sam Gody Nshimiyimana [fr], who was the editor of Kiberinka (Soleil couchant) in 1992. He was one of the few journalists to openly criticize President Juvénal Habyarimana's dictatorial regime. Some of his articles [fr] and editorials [fr] are part of the archives on the genocide, which are kept at the Centre de Formation et de Recherche Coopératives (IWACU), a non-governmental organization that promotes and brings in cooperatives and associations to Nyakabanda in Kigali. The journalist, who was called to testify, tells the court about the torture against him in a blog published [fr] on the CPCR website:

Pour avoir publié un article qui déplaisait à monsieur Simbikangwa et au régime, il va subir la torture, et de la part de Simbikangwa et de celle de ses acolytes. L’épreuve va durer quatre jours au cours desquels il va se faire frapper sur les pieds après qu’on lui eut bandé les yeux d’un bandeau imprégné de piment. Simbikangwa en personne est accusé d’avoir frappé le témoin avec un fer à béton. 

Since he published an article that Simbikangwa [fr] and his regime did not like, he is going to be subjected to torture by Simbikangwa and his associates. The trial is going to last four days, during which his feet will be hit after his eyes are covered with a blindfold soaked in chilli. Simbikangwa is being accused of hitting the witness with a rebar.

Esq. Eric Gillet, a lawyer at the Brussels Bar, appeared as a main witness. In a blog post published on proces-genocide-rwanda.fr, Stéphanie Monsénégo wrote [fr]:

Avocat au barreau de Bruxelles depuis la fin des années 70, Eric GILLET avait un “long passé droits de l’Homme” quand la guerre a éclaté au Rwanda en 1990.

Ancien président d’Amnesty International en Belgique, c’est avec la FIDH Paris qu’Eric GILLET mènera ses premières enquêtes au Rwanda, d’abord pour défendre des journalistes, puis pour informer l’opinion publique internationale sur le massacre des Bagogwe, une petite communauté Tutsi du Nord Ouest du Rwanda, massacrée en janvier 1991 en représailles de l’attaque de la prison de Ruhengeri par le FPR.

Eric GILLET, a lawyer at the Brussels Bar since the late 1970s, has a “long history in human rights” (advocacy) since the time the war broke out in Rwanda in 1990.

Eric GILLET, former president of Amnesty International in Belgium, will conduct his initial investigations in Rwanda with FIDH Paris—first, to defend journalists and then to inform the international community about the massacre of the Bagogwes, a small Tutsi community northwest of Rwanda that was murdered in January in retaliation for RPF's attack on Ruhengeri's prison.

His testimony sheds light on the presidency's inner circle of kin. After completing a mission in that country, he published a report [fr]:

en mars 1993 dans lequel on parle de “l’Akazu”, une nébuleuse de gens qui ont confisqué le pouvoir, les ressources, les banques. Les membres de cette “organisation” appartenaient pour la plupart au cercle de la famille présidentielle auquel s’agrégeaient des militaires. En 1993, les membres de la commission ont entendu parler entre autres de Pascal Simbikangwa comme étant associé aux escadrons de la mort. Il serait connu pour avoir torturé des journalistes.

It's in March 1993, wherein we speak of “the Akazu,” a group of people who seized power, resources and banks. The members of this “organization” mainly belonged to the president's family circle that recruited soldiers. In 1993, the members of the commission heard from others that Pascal Simbikangwa [fr] was associated with death squads. He would be known for having tortured journalists.

The accused man's sarcastic comments surprised many people in the audience [fr]: 

Lorsque Domitille Philippart, une des avocats du CPCR, lui demande si la date du 2 février lui dit quelque chose, il répond par la négative. “C’est la journée des Justes au Rwanda”, précise-t-elle. “Ah bon! je ne savais pas. Ca fait 20 ans que je n’y ai pas mis les pieds. Mais est-ce que je suis sur la liste? »

Eclats de rire dans la salle. L’audience est suspendue jusqu’au lendemain.

When Domitille Philippart, a CPCR [fr] lawyer, asked him whether the date of February 2 means anything to him, he answered no. “It's a day of justice in Rwanda,” she says. “Oh, I didn't know. I haven't stepped foot there in 20 years. But am I on the list?” Simbikangwa answers.

After Belgium, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany, France is also having its first trial of someone who is facing serious charges. But, because there is a controversial role attributed to French soldiers in this tragedy, it is highly possible that other people suspected of having been involved in the genocide are still at large in France. Will we also see them in court one day?

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