Arusha, December 16, 2013 (FH) – The year 2014 looks like a key one for French justice, which is set to open its first trial related to the anti-Tutsi genocide of 1994. In the meantime, judicial investigations could be completed in a case referred to France by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the country’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, is expected to hand down a historic decision on the extradition of two Rwandans suspected of participing in the genocide.

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According to the UN, some 800.000 people, mainly from the Tutsi ethnic group, were killed between April and July 1994 in Rwanda, a small country in central Africa. France, which is accused by Rwanda of being a haven for the genocide perpetrators, is expected to hold a trial from February 4 to March 28, 2014, before the Paris criminal court of Pascal Simbikangwa, a former Rwandan intelligence officer. Simbikangwa, considered close to the family of the late ex-président Juvénal Habyarimana and who is in a wheelchair since an accident in 1980, is due to be tried for complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity.France will join a leading groupPresented as a member of the "Akazu", the inner circle of Hutu power who allegedly planned and carried out the genocide, Simbikangwa is notably accused of having armed extremist Hutu Interahamwe militia and encouraged them to massacre Tutsis. It was at the end of March that judges Emmanuelle Ducos and David De Pas of the Paris criminal court (Tribunal de grande instance) approved the prosecution’s request to indict Simbikangwa for crimes committed in Kigali and other parts of Rwanda, including the northwestern prefecture of Gisenyi, between April and July 1994.“Although we are satisfied to see, nearly 20 years after the genocide, a top Rwandan official tried by the French judicial system, we still regret it has taken so much time for this first trial to take place,” writes Alain Gauthier, president of the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda (CPCR) in a communiqué issued Friday. “When we filed a complaint against him, the CPCR did not do it lightly. We have real reasons to want to see him brought to justice. Many witnesses and historians point a finger at him.”Simbikangwe, on the other hand, has always protested his  innocence.As it opens Simbikangwe’s trial, France will join a leading group of countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium who have already tried Rwandans accused of participating in the genocide before their national courts.A Catholic priest accused of rapeThe year 2014 could also see the close of investigations in the widely mediatized case of Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka. This Catholic priest, who is currently practising in the Gisors parish of northern France, has so far been the subject of three investigations, including by Rwanda, which sentenced him in absentia to life in prison. The priest was also one of the individuals charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which in November 2007 finally transferred his case to France. The French judicial authorities had also opened a case against Munyeshyaka.The ICTR indictment accuses the priest, who was in charge of the Sainte-Famille parish in Kigali from 1992 to 1994, of killing and raping several people and delivering dozens of others into the hands of Interahamwe militia who executed them. According to a report by Laetitia Husson of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), which is tasked with monitoring his case in France, the judicial investigation could be completed by the end of 2014. The report’s author says she met several times in June with the assistant prosecutor of the Paris court and its vice-president, Emmanuelle Ducos. According to Husson, the vice-president “stressed that the judicial investigation into Munyeshyaka will soon be in its final phase”, while Quintard said it could be completed by the end of 2014. The MICT report says that according to the prosecution, “so long as the case is not dismissed and is referred to the criminal court, the trial should take place in 2015 or 2016”.A much awaited decision from the Court of CassationIt is also in 2014 that France’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, is expected to decide on an appeal against a decision to extradite individuals to Rwanda. The decision to extradite, delivered on November 13 by the Paris Appeals Court, concerns two men of Rwandan origin, Claude Muhayimana and Innocent Musabyimana. The former is accused by Kigali of participating in the massacre of Tutsis in the western town of Kibuye, while the latter is wanted for killings in the northwestern province of Gisenyi, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.This is not the first time that a French Appeals Court has approved an extradition to Rwanda, but it is a first for the Paris Appeals Court. In contrast to its previous decisions, the Court said on November 13 that the persons concerned would not be in danger and would get a fair trial if they were sent to their country of origin. Muhayimana and Musabyimana immediately appealed to the Court of Cassation, which has so far blocked every attempt to extradite people to Rwanda. Its decision on this latest appeal is much awaited. The French judicial authorities are currently investigating some 20 cases linked to the Rwandan genocide, including the widow of the late ex-president Juvénal Habyarimana. In Europe and America, only Canada, the US and Norway have so far sent Rwandans accused of participating in the 1994 genocide back to face justice in their native country. ER/ JC