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Rwanda - France: French Supreme Court Renders a Controversial Judgment on 1994 Assassination of Rwanda's and Burundi's Presidents Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, their aides and the French Crew

President Juvenal Habyarimana, First Lady Agathe, and officials celebrating 50th Birthday at Residence in 1986

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On Feb 15, 2022, France’s Court of Cassation issued a ruling to close the investigation aimed at finding those who shot down the Rwandan presidential plane on April 6,1994 and assassinated the Presidents Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, their close collaborators, as well as French crew members. The assassinattion, widely blamed on the then rebels of  the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), now ruling Rwanda,  sparked the Rwandan genocide, in which millions of Tutsis and Hutus were massacred by the warring factions and armed militias from all sides.  After the verdict,  questions remain on why the French judicial system closed the case, despite available credible information on the killers from reliable investigators, researchers,  and witnesses, including some from the ruling RPF.

 The case started in 2006 by a French judge.  At the time, the French investigators had found out that the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels, led by the current Rwandan dictator General Paul  Kagame, had shot the missile as the plane was about to land in Kigali. There were overwhelming evidences pointing to the rebels, including  testimonies from witnesses that were part of RPF rebels. Among the evidences were the missiles used to shoot down the airplane. The missiles, made in the Soviet Union, were proved to most likely come from the Ugandan National Resiistance Army (NRA), of which the RPF was an offshoot.

When the initial French judge and investigators left the case, the narrative was changed. The new court system started to push forward a hypothesis that Hutu extremists, unhappy with Juvenal Habyarimana’s moderate stance toward the rebels, were behind the assassination. However, that last narrative proved to hit a dead end, due to the lack of proofs. 

In December 2018, the Investigating magistrates decided to drop the case, citing the  lack of solid evidences and arguing that the charges were solely based on witness accounts. When the case was dropped, the families of those killed in the missile attack made an appeal to France’s Court of Cassation

On February 15, 2022, the France’s Court of Cassation rejected the appeal and said: "The investigation was complete, and sufficient charges did not exist against anyone for committing the alleged crimes, nor any other infraction.

Even before the case was dropped, witnesses, especially those close to the ruling RPF have been targeted in what the court labeled  "detrimental atmosphere", including killings, witness disappearances, and  manipulated testimonies.

One of such witnesses is  the late Captain Abdul Ruzibiza. Abdul Ruzibiza was  former captain of the Rwandan Patriotic Front who fled to Norway. In 2005 he published  a book in which he confirmed his witness that  the RPF  was behind the 1994 attack that shot down President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane. After publishing his book, he was allegedly targeted by the RPF agents from the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). A few years later, he died in Norway. Other witnesses of crimes by RPF rebels, including high ranking military officers and government officials,  have also been widely targeted and forced to free the country  and to live in exile(see Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) Military Leaders Committed Genocide Against Hutus, States Former RPF Top Leader Dr Theogene Rudasingwa).

 Controversial Rulings on Cases in French Courts.

The controversial ruling  by French's Court of Cassassion highlighted the challenges  in French courts on a similar situation:  the case of Mrs Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of the former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana.

Mrs Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of the former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, has been under investigation by French courts for "complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity", since 2017. Accused in France of being one of the top leaders during the 1990-1994 Rwandan civil war and genocide, she has requested the dismissal of the case for the lack of evidences and merit. On Monday August 30, 2021, a French Court rejected the request for dismissal. The Court’s rejection was based on technicalities, not on actual facts See Rwanda - France: French Court Renders Controversial Judgment on Rwandan First Lady Agathe Habyarimana's Request for Case Dismissal).

Incidentally, the French's Court  has also ruled for the closure of  theseinvestigations into  "complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity" targeting Ms. Agathe Habyarimana.

Reacting to the ruling through the media, especially the DW,   Léon Habyarimana, one  the assassinated president's sons, expressed his  "big disappointment". He said that the whole judicial process  has been "politicizes from the start," adding that "political reasons should not take precedence over justice". He vowed to continue the fight for justice.  An other son, Bernard Rugwiro Habyarimana, released a song on YouTube channel in which he recounts the journey of persecution, injustice, massacres, disappearances, tragedy, and pain that his family, his relatives, and millions of innocent Rwandans have been going through while waiting for justice and invoked God's Hand(see and listen here on YouTube in Kinyarwanda: Mana uzadutabara ryari by Bernard Rugwiro Habyarimana).

Meanwhile, for law experts, activists, and most observers, the legal cases in French courts regarding the assassination of Presidents Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, their close collaborators, as well as French crew members have become more political, especially given on the political changes in France ruling parties and  following the latest visit of the Rwandan dictator to France and the visit of the French President to Rwanda on May 26-27, 2021( See AfroAmerica Network: France-Rwanda: Was Emmanuel Macron visit to Paul Kagame in Rwanda about Mozambique?.)

What is Next?

The assassination of the presidents and the massacres that followed set off a regional humanitarian catastrophe whose consequences are felt 27 years later. Based on estimates from the NGOs, experts, and, most importantly, the United Nations, the assassination of Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira has led to more than 7 million deaths, so far.

With the verdicts on the two cases,  major questions remain, includiing the following:  

  • Why no one, so far, has been held criminally and civilly accountable, for the assasination of Presidents Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, their close collaborators, as well as French crew members.
  • Why the French Courts, that initially had enough evidences on who shot down the plane,  have suddenly started to stifle the case on the assassination.
  • Why the warming relations between Rwandan Dictator General Paul Kagame and the new French leaders  have coincided with dismissing credible cases or upholding a case without merit. In fact the controversial case, widely seen as without merit,  against Mrs Agathe Habyarimana was filed by a French-based victims' association, the Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda (CPCR), that is  allegedly close to and funded by the current Rwandan government.

According to legal experts, even though the ruling by the French's Court of Cassassion was widely reported, it appears that there still is a possibility to  the case, through other venues,  inclusing starting new case based  with new evidences, in lower courts,


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