Two former Rwandan mayors will on Tuesday face trial in France over the 1994 massacres in the central African country. The mayors will be charged for crimes against humanity and genocide. This will be the second trial in Paris by a special court created to go after suspected Rwandan killers who fled to France.
On Tuesday, Octavien Ngenzi, 58, and Tito Barahira, 64, who were respective mayors of Kabarondo and Ngenzi after succeeding Barahira in 1986, will go on trial for allegedly playing a direct role in the massacre of hundreds of Tutsi refugees in a church in the eastern town of Kabarondo on April 13, 1994.
The first attacks against ethnic Tutsis by rival Hutus in the Kabarondo sector started the day after then-Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana died when his plane was shot down on April 6, 1994. In the following days, a growing number of Tutsis and some Hutus sought refuge in the town church and some 3,500 were inside the day before it was attacked.
The duo had been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment by Rwandan people’s courts, known as gacaca, in 2009 but they denied carrying out “massive and systematic summary executions” and implementing a “concerted plan aimed at the annihilation” of the Tutsi minority.
The mayors’ trial, which is set to last eight weeks, comes two years after that of Pascal Simbikangwa, a former Rwandan army captain who was jailed for 25 years for his role in the genocide.
Rwanda had accused France of complicity in the genocide which saw at least 800,000 people die in an 100-day slaughter because of its unwavering support for the Hutu nationalist government at the time. On the 20th anniversary of the mass killings two years ago, Rwanda’s minority Tutsi president, Paul Kagame, openly accused French soldiers of not only complicity in the genocide but of actually taking part in it.
Hopefully, the trials will lay bare the strained relations between the two countries.