opening in Paris of the trial of a former Franco-Rwandan driver tried for “complicity”






© AFP/Archives


Lhe trial for “complicity” of a former Franco-Rwandan driver, an “ordinary” citizen accused of knowingly aiding killers during the genocide of the Tutsi in 1994 in Rwanda, opened on Monday at Paris, third trial in France for crimes related to one of the worst tragedies of the 20th century.

Claude Muhayimana, 60, dressed in jeans and a leather jacket, a backpack on his shoulder, remained with his arms crossed on a chair throughout the hearing. He responded with a confident voice to the president’s questions asking him to disclose his identity.

Mr. Muhayimana was in 1994 a driver of the Guest House hotel in Kibuye, on the shores of Lake Kivu.

He is accused of “complicity” in genocide and crimes against humanity for having “knowingly helped and assisted” militiamen by repeatedly ensuring their transport to the sites of massacres in the prefecture of Kibuye, the hills of Karongi, Gitwa and Bisesero (west), where tens of thousands of people were exterminated in appalling conditions.

These militiamen, armed with machetes, clubs, hoes and called “Interahamwe” (“those who work together” in Kinyarwanda) were the main armed arms of the genocide against the Tutsi minority, orchestrated by the extremist Hutu regime and which made more than 800,000 died from April to July 1994.

Mr. Muhayimana, who faces life imprisonment, is a refugee in France, of which he obtained nationality in 2010. Cantonnier at the town hall, he lives in Rouen (north-west). He was arrested there in 2014, a year after the opening of an investigation initiated by a complaint from the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda (CPCR), which fights against impunity and the presence in France of alleged Rwandan genocidaires.

The trial which opened before the Paris Assize Court, after ten years of proceedings and two postponements due to the health crisis, will last nearly a month, with the hearing of about fifty witnesses, of which about fifteen will come from Rwanda.

Its singularity is that it judges an ordinary citizen, and not a personality having had political, administrative or military functions during the killings. The two previous trials saw the life sentences of two former mayors and 25 years in prison of a former army captain.

“We are dealing with an ordinary man, a gentleman everyone, who had no civil, military or religious authority and who was placed in the chaos that we know”, told the press one of the lawyers for the accused, Philippe Meilhac, before the start of the trial.

“He will have the opportunity to explain himself at length. We intend to have him acquitted completely, he is innocent of what he is accused of”, hammered Me Meilhac.

“Links of the mechanism”

For his part, Alain Gauthier, co-founder of the CPCR, “refuses” to “talk about big or small fish”. “We are in the case of a genocide, we are not talking about little fish.”

“All the links in the chain mechanism which led to the genocide are important; there were no more levels” in this context, launched for his part before the hearing Richard Gisagara, lawyer for one of the parties civilians alongside the CPCR.

The speeches of the accused, who remained very discreet, are eagerly awaited. The investigation evoked an ambiguous personality, witnesses testifying that he saved Tutsi by hiding them at his home or by helping them to flee.

The debates will focus on the fact that the accused denies having been present at the scene of the massacres and on the contradictions between his statements and those of witnesses, in particular his ex-wife. He also lied and tried to pressure witnesses, according to the prosecution.

“There are dozens of corroborating testimonies on his transport to the scene of the massacres,” notes Alexandre Kiabski, lawyer for the CPCR.

The defense, for its part, points to the contradictions and shortcomings of the testimony, and will also raise the argument of coercion.

“It is not impossible that he was forced (to transport the militiamen, editor’s note); but even if it is true, he had the choice to flee,” said Gauthier. “We don’t go to a crime scene for free.”

Tuesday, the hearing will be devoted to the questioning of the personality of the accused.

This trial takes place in the unprecedented context of the spectacular diplomatic rapprochement last spring between France and Rwanda, after years of very sharp tensions and the publication at the end of March in France of a resounding report by historians who concluded that France was carrying “overwhelming responsibilities” in the genocide of the Tutsi.

22/11/2021 15:41:58 –          Paris (AFP) –          © 2021 AFP

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