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Paris court sentences former Rwandan mayors to life over 1994 genocide

This courtroom sketch made on May 10, 2016 shows Tito Barahira (back, left) and Octavien Ngenzi (back, right), two former Rwandan mayors who were sentenced to life by a Paris court for orchestrating the massacre of hundreds of Tutsis in 1994
This courtroom sketch made on May 10, 2016 shows Tito Barahira (back, left) and Octavien Ngenzi (back, right), two former Rwandan mayors who were sentenced to life by a Paris court for orchestrating the massacre of hundreds of Tutsis in 1994 BENOIT PEYRUCQ/AFP

Two former Rwandan mayors were sentenced to life imprisonment by a Paris court on charges of orchestrating the massacre of hundreds of Tutsis during the 1994 genocide.

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The court said 58-year-old Octavien Ngenzi and his predecessor, 64-year-old Tito Barahira, were guilty of "crimes against humanity, massive and systematic summary executions and genocide" in the village of Kabarondo, where some 2,000 people seeking refuge in a church were hacked to death.

It was the stiffest genocide sentence ever handed out by a French court.

In 2014, former army captain Pascal Simbikangwa got 25 years in solitary confinement for genocide and crimes against humanity.

The eight-week trial has heard chilling testimony depicting the two men as "supervisors" and "executioners" in the massacre at the height of the genocide in which 800,000 people, mostly ethnic Tutsis, were killed by Hutu extremists.

"Ngenzi was the leader," said prosecutor Philippe Courroye, who requested life sentences for the two men. Barahira was the "dreaded machete officer".

Both Ngenzi and Barahira denied the charges.

Their lawyers have pointed to contradictory testimony 22 years after the killings to argue that reasonable doubt exists over the defendants' role, portraying them as having been helpless to stop the chaos unfolding around them.

A lawyer for the civil parties to the case, Gilles Paruelle, told the jury: “To kill one man, hatred is sufficient. To kill 1,000, you need organisation.”

Alain Gauthier, whose organisation is one of the civil parties in the case, was jubilant.

“The jury has understood the distress of the victims," he said. "We hope that this sentencing signifies that one cannot live with impunity in France.”

His wife Dafroza, whose family was wiped out in the genocide, said she was “comforted” but would be "taking up the fight" again to bring other genocide offenders to justice.

The violence broke out in Kabarondo a week after the shooting down of a plane carrying Rwanda's president Juvenal Habyarimana, which inflamed ethnic tensions and sparked the genocide.

Among those seeking shelter at the church on April 13, 1994, when the genocidal Hutu “Interahamwe” militia attacked, was Marie Mukamunana, who told the court how her seven children and husband were killed by grenades and machetes.

“Someone said 'don't waste the bullets' and they continued with machetes,” she said.

She recalled seeing former mayor Barahira “armed with a gun, among the Interahamwe” and testified that Ngenzi was “supervising the massacre.”

Jean-Damascene Rutagungira – who lost 21 members of his family including his wife and children – told the court he saw the pair encouraging the killers, shouting “cut them down.”

The bloodshed in Kabarondo, a town near the border with Tanzania, was over by the end of April, when Tutsi rebels in the armed wing of what is now the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (FPR) took control of the area.

Elsewhere in the former Belgian colony, the slaughter continued until the FPR fighters finally prevailed in July.

Ngenzi and Barahira were sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment by Rwandan people's courts, known as “gacaca”, in 2009.

Ngenzi has been in custody since 2010 when he was captured in the French Indian Ocean territory of Mayotte off the east coast of Africa, where he had been living under a false name.

Barahira was arrested in 2013 in the southwestern French city of Toulouse where he was living.

- AFP

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