Rwandan Gets 25 Years in France's First Trial over 1994 Genocide

Image: Rwanda genocide defendant Pascal Simbikangwa
A court sketch on Friday shows Pascal Simbikangwa during his trial in Paris on charges of complicity in genocide, just weeks ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 1994 massacres in Rwanda. Prosecutors said the former Rwandan army captain had a leading role in the Rwandan intelligence service.BENOIT PEYRUCQ / AFP - Getty Images

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PARIS - A Paris court sentenced a former Rwandan soldier to 25 years in jail on Friday for his role in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in France's first trial to punish those responsible for the three-month wave of violence.

The court found Pascal Simbikangwa, 54, described by prosecutors as a former soldier who rose to become the No. 3 in Rwanda's intelligence services, guilty of genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity.

Some 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus died in the bloodletting.

Simbikangwa, confined to a wheelchair since a 1986 car accident left him a paraplegic, denied the charges against him during the six-week trial and said he was the victim of a "witch-hunt" orchestrated by the now ruling Tutsis.

Under French law, Rwandans suspected of involvement in the genocide can be tried in a French court.

An undated picture released by Interpol shows Pascal Simbikangwa, a former Rwandan army captain arrested on the French island of Mayotte in 2008, who faced charges of complicity in genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity.AFP PHOTO / INTERPOL

Other countries, including Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Germany, have already held similar trials. France was long considered a safe haven for those fleeing prosecution for their role in the massacre.

A guilty verdict could smooth future prosecutions by France's special genocide unit, created two years ago.

Simbikangwa sought during the trial to minimise his importance within the Rwanda secret services, calling himself a "mere agent" despite his loyalty to President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu whose death in the downing of his plane in April 1994 triggered the slaughter.

But witnesses said he stored arms at his home, gave orders to extremist Hutus, and was known in the capital Kigali as a "torturer."

"France has nothing on me, but I get charges that not even ministers or generals got," Simbikangwa told the jury before it retired to consider the verdict.

— Reuters