An experts report was submitted on Monday to the French Minister for Justice suggesting for setting up of such a specific unit, reports Hirondelle Agency. The creation of such a unit would constitute, according to the authors of the report, "a strong signal of the France's determination to fight against the gravest international crimes".
The formation of the unit has also been supported by lawyers and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) since December, last year, when they exhorted the French Foreign Minister Bernard Koucher on the necessity of such a specialised component in the judiciary.
"The treatment of this type of cases obviously requires an excellent practice of criminal justice, a very thorough, historical and geo-political knowledge of the context in which these crimes were committed, which only creation of a unit of specialized investigation can undertake", stated Koucher in his letter to his justice counterpart, Rachida Dati, in April, this year.
So far French courts, under the terms of the law of adaptation of the statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), integrated in the criminal code in 1996, have universal jurisdiction to try Rwandans suspected of genocide, if they are on French soil.
Currently, ten legal proceedings against alleged genocidaires are being conducted by two Paris investigation judges-- the one against the Priest Wenceslas Munyeshyaka from 1995 and the latest involving Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of the former Rwandan president, whose assassination in April 1994 sparked the genocide.
The ICTR must finish all its trials by 2010 as directed by the UN Security Council.
Before the UN Court's closure, proceedings could be transferred to French courts, however, legal difficulties exist because cases at the ICTR are tried in the accusatory form; the results of the investigation are given through public hearing. They will, however, face an inquisitory system if are to be tried in France, "which supposes a specific work within the framework of the investigation", according to the experts report.
"The investigation judges in Paris do not have the means to continue the investigations", remarked William Bourdon, a lawyer who has specialised in the defence of human rights. He has been one of those who have been on the forefront for several years for the creation of such a structure. "It is necessary to give them the means so that finally trials of alleged genocidaires can be held in Paris before the Assize Courts", he said.
Many associations challenged an amendment voted on 10 June by the Senate restricting the range of the universal jurisdiction of French courts, which provides that they will be able to try foreigners residing in France, and not those on transition, who might have committed crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and ratified by Paris.
Furthermore, the Bill adopted by the Senate provides that only the prosecutors can initiate proceedings and no longer the victims or associations of victims.
"The tool of universal jurisdiction remains an essential tool to try international crimes", added Bourdon, who stressed that it has been associations or NGOs who for the last 15 years have initiated prosecutions against alleged genocidaires.
"The specialized unit is good. But France's international engagements are likely to remain shelved if prosecutors have the monopoly on the proceedings" cautioned the lawyer.
Three European countries-- Sweden, The Netherlands and Norway-have already created specific units of prosecutors and police officers to investigate crimes against humanity.
© Hirondelle News Agency