Paris, November 22, 2010 (FH) - Agathe Habyarimana, widow of former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, has been mainly living in France since she was evacuated on a French plane from Kigali on April 9, 1994, at the start of the Rwandan genocide. Rwanda wants her for alleged participation in, and incitement to genocide, while a France-based NGO representing Rwandan victims has also filed similar complaints against her. She has not thus far been officially charged with anything in France and is unlikely to be extradited, yet has no legal status there.

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Her request for asylum was first turned down in January 2007 and she has now exhausted all recourse to appeal this before the French courts. A further appeals decision is expected in early 2011 on a separate request that she be granted a residence permit for "private family reasons", since three of her five children have French nationality.

In a decision of October 16, 2009, France's Conseil d'Etat (State Council) said that the Refugee Appeals Court had been right to confirm refusal of Ms Habyarimana's asylum request on  grounds that there exist "serious reasons to believe that the Appellant may have committed a crime in violation of the Geneva Conventions owing to her central role in the regime in power on April 6, 1994, which had prepared and planned the genocide, as well as her personal actions in the crucial period from April 6 to 9, 1994, and the relations that she subsequently continued to maintain with the authors of the genocide".

However, her lawyer, Philippe Meilhac, says the court drew its arguments largely from an indictment against her brother Protais Zigiranyirazo by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and that this is unjust especially given that the ICTR acquitted Zigiranyirazo in 2009.

The ICTR's prosecution office has conducted some investigations with regard to Ms Habyarimana's alleged role in the genocide, but has never indicted her.

In France, she was briefly taken into custody on March 2, 2010, on grounds of an international arrest warrant issued against her by Rwanda in 2009. However, she was released the same day with an order to report regularly to the authorities and not to leave the territory of France. Ironically, a July 2010 decision on her residence status (still under appeal) deemed her a threat to public order and invited her to leave French territory immediately or face possible expulsion. This leaves her in an unprecedented and highly ambiguous legal situation.

On March 10, 2010, she was questioned again, this time as a witness in a case brought in February 2007 by France based victims' organization Collectif des parties civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR) for "complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity".

Agathe Habyarimana's questioning in France followed an historic February 2010 visit to Kigali by French president Nicolas Sarkozy which sealed the first warming of relations between Paris and Kigali since 1994.  Relations had previously been soured by Rwandan allegations of French involvement in the genocide, and a French judicial inquiry alleging that current Rwandan president Paul Kagame ordered the April 6, 1994 downing of the plane that killed Juvénal Habyarimana (late husband of Agathe) and sparked the genocide.

In November 2009, in the run-up to Sarkozy's visit, two French judges paid an unprecedented visit to Rwanda in connection with investigations into genocide suspects living in France. Judicial inquiries have been opened into more than a dozen such cases, including Agathe Habyarimana, but only three people have been officially indicted and none have so far been brought to trial.

As for Rwanda's extradition request, it is unlikely to be met. France's Cour de Cassation, the highest court of appeal, has turned down such requests in the past on grounds that the Rwandan judicial system does not meet international norms and that accused persons are therefore not guaranteed a fair trial.   

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