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France/Rwanda: Genocide Convictions

(July 29, 2016) On July 6, 2016, a court in Paris convicted two former local officials of “crimes against humanity,” “genocide,” and “widespread and systematic practice of summary executions” in a “concerted plan aimed at the destruction” of the Tutsi ethnic group. They were sentenced to life in prison. (Génocide rwandais : deux anciens bourgmestres condamnés à perpétuité à Paris [Rwandan Genocide: Two Former Bourgmestres Sentenced to Life by Paris Court], LE MONDE (July 6, 2016).) The convicted persons are 58-year-old Octavien Ngenzi and 65-year-old Tito Barahira, both of whom are former Rwandan bourgmestres (the head of government of a town, the equivalent of a mayor). The crimes occurred in Kabarondo, a village in eastern Rwanda, in April 1994. (Id.)

Background of the Trial

The trial, which lasted two months, took place at the Cour d’assises de Paris (the criminal court of Paris). (Raphaël Reynes, Procès du génocide rwandais: Ngenzi et Barahira condamnés à la prison à vie [Rwandan Genocide Trial : Ngenzi and Barahira Sentenced to Life in Prison], RFI (July 7, 2016).) Barahira’s lawyer, Philippe Meilhac, said that an appeal can be expected. (Célian Macé, Procès Rwanda : deux ex-bourgmestres condamnés pour génocide à la prison à vie [Rwanda Trial: Two Former Bourgmestres Sentenced to Life in Prison for Genocide], LIBÉRATION (July 6, 2016).)

This is the second, and most severe, sentence handed down by a French court in connection with the 1994 massacres in Rwanda. (Génocide rwandais, supra.) The first conviction of this kind took place in 2014, when former Rwandan spy chief Pascal Simbikangwa, then 54 years old, was convicted of “complicity in genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity” and sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment. (Rwanda Ex-Spy Chief Pascal Simbikangwa Jailed in France, BBC NEWS (Mar. 14, 2014).)

Jurisdiction of French Courts over Rwandan Alleged Criminals

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was established in 1995 to prosecute persons allegedly responsible for the genocide, but its operations ended on December 31, 2015. (The ICTR in Brief, UNITED NATIONS MECHANISM FOR INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNALS (last visited July 25, 2016).)

A 1996 law allowed French courts to assert jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in Rwanda. (Law 96-432 of May 22, 1996, Adapting French Legislation to the Provisions of Resolution 955 of the United Nations Security Council Establishing an International Tribunal to Prosecute Persons Deemed Responsible for Acts of Genocide or Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in 1994 in the Territory of Rwanda and, in Cases Involving Rwandan Citizens, in the Territory of Neighboring States, LEGIFRANCE (in French).)

Several lawsuits against Rwandan genocide suspects, including Simbikangwa, Ngenzi, and Barahira, have been brought to French courts by the Collectif des parties civiles pour le Rwanda (Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda), a France-based association created in 2001. (Lawsuits by the CPCR, Collectif des parties civiles pour le Rwanda website (last visited July 22, 2016) (in French).)

Prepared by Ricardo Wicker, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Nicolas Boring, Foreign Law Specialist.