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Rwanda genocide

French court confirms dismissal of Habyarimana plane shooting probe

A plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, from Rwanda's Hutu majority, was shot down in Kigali on April 6, 1994
A plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, from Rwanda's Hutu majority, was shot down in Kigali on April 6, 1994 BELGA/AFP/File

The Paris appeals court on Friday rejected a request to reopen a long-running probe into the plane crash that sparked Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. The case targeting several people close to Rwanda’s current president, Paul Kagame, was dismissed a first time in 2018. The families of those who died in the crash have said they will appeal.

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After six months of deliberations, magistrates at Paris' appeal court ruled out the prospect of a trial into the plane crash that sparked Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, upholding an earlier ruling to have the case dismissed.

Judges had been asked to reopen the case by the families of those who died when the plane carrying former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundi's president Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down.

The death of Habyarimana--a Hutu--on 6 April, 1994, triggered a 100-day killing spree targeting mainly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus.

Four years later, the widows of the French airplane crew filed a complaint that would launch the start of a long-running investigation.

The probe has been a major source of tension between France and Rwanda.

For years, it has pitted those who argue current Rwandan President Paul Kagame was responsible for the downing of the plane and those who blame hardline Hutu extremists, said to be upset with Habyarimana for being too moderate and who opposed the Arusha peace process then under way.

Case timeline

1998  The enquiry is launched at the request of the French widows and taken up by Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière. He concludes that Kagame--a Tutsi, and leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel movement in 1994, ordered the attack

2006   Bruguière issues arrest warrants against several of Kagame's allies

2012   Bruguière's successor, Judge Marc Trévedic challenges the theory that Kagame's RPF rebels shot down the plane and shifts the focus on Hutu extremists. In a report, he shows that the missile that struck the plane was fired from the Kanombe military camp, controlled by Habyarimana's army.

2016  French investigators reopen the investigation after Rwanda’s former chief of army staff Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, now in exile, said he had evidence that Kagame ordered the plane shot down, which Kagame denies

2017  Trévedic's successor, Judge Jean-Marc Herbaut decides to close the case, citing lack of evidence

2018  The case is dismissed, based on a request from prosecutors

'Justice a failure'

By appealing that decision, the civil parties hoped Friday's verdict would lead to a new inquiry, that would include a 2003 report by the former International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), blaming Kagame's aides for the plane crash.

"It is an incomprehensible situation that a court hangs on to documents, keeps them buried and does not transmit them to the French justice system," deplored Emmanuel Bidanda, a lawyer for the family of one of the French crewmembers.

For Bidanda, the verdict is a sign of the "failure of the French justice system," because "after more than 20 years of investigation, it is still incapable of telling us who carried out and ordered this attack."

Lawyer for Agathe Habyarimana, Philippe Meilhac, denounced "omnipresent political" pressure on the case and a "lead blanket" that had shrouded the truth.

Kigali reaction

In an interview this week to magazine Jeune Afrique, President Paul Kagame expressed a wish for a definitive end to what he has always described a “politically motivated investigation.”

"I believe that the past is behind us," he said. "Reopening a classified file is to invite problems."

Rwanda has long accused France of complicity in the genocide that killed 800,000 people by its support for the previous Hutu regime.

Paris has launched several investigations in recent years into the genocide in an effort to come to terms with its role.

In Kigali, Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busigye praised the decision by French judges to throw out a new inquiry.

Busigye tweeted the case was "a travesty of justice, a total and complete farce that should not have happened in the first place."

The long-running case is however likely to continue. The victims' families are to lodge a final appeal with France's Supreme Court, their lawyers announced.

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