Rwanda: French Judges Close Habyarimana Probe

Juvenal Habyarimana, ancien président de la République rwandaise de 1973 jusqu'à son assassinat en 1994

French investigating judges have closed a long-running inquiry into the shooting down of former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana's plane near Kigali International Airport on April 6, 1994.

Moments after the missile attack extremists in the Habyarimana government launched the Genocide against the Tutsi, which would claim the lives of at least a million people.

Observers say France has sought to use the inquiry as a bargaining chip in its relations with Rwanda, which accuses Paris of actively supporting the regime that planned and executed the Genocide, including through training and arming the Interahamwe militia that played a central role in the killings.

But the French judges handling the case, Jean-Marc Herbaut and Natalie Poux, on Wednesday this week issued a notice of termination of the case.

Experts familiar with the French legal system told The New Times yesterday that the notice will become a permanent order after 90 days in the event there is no appeal against the decision or new testimony that compel the judges to reopen the inquiry.

This is the third time the case is being closed, with the previous two notices of termination being reversed.

Rwanda's Minister for Justice and Attorney General Johnston Busingye said Kigali was watching the developments closely, aware that last year a similar notice was revisited about just four hours to the 90th day after which it would have become a permanent notice.

"It's unprecedented that a case is opened three times over the same flimsy reasons," he said, citing fake testimonies and witnesses, and attempts to manipulate and hoodwink the judges.

Nonetheless, we trust in the wisdom of the judges, Busingye said.

When a similar notice was issued last year, a former Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) soldier, James Munyandinda, alias Munyeragwe, turned up just hours to the expiry of the 90-day window claiming that he saw the surface-to-air missiles that brought down the Dassault Falcon 50 jet at the headquarters of the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), the then rebels led by current President Paul Kagame.

"The lawyers for the accused people (all former RPA soldiers) supplied evidence of the real account of who Munyandinda is, which contradicted his flawed account," Busingye said. "Our case was too compelling to ignore and it appears that the judges have found that they had been taken for a huge ride."

The French public prosecutor is among the people who will give an opinion on the notice over the next three months.

The accused Rwandans in the case include Defence minister James Kabarebe, the country's envoy to China Charles Kayonga, Maj Gen (rtd) Sam Kanyemera Kaka, Maj Gen (rtd) Jack Nziza, Lt Col (rtd) Rose Kanyange Kabuye, Lt Col Jacob Tumwine, and Franck Nziza.

"This case should have been closed in August 2014," said Dr Jean Damascene Bizimana, the head of Rwanda's anti-genocide commission who was the deputy chairperson of a 2008 Rwandan inquiry into the missile attack, which concluded that the missiles were fired from Kanombe area which was under the control of the presidential guards.

Bizimana was referring to the work of French judges Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux, who came to Kigali in 2010 to investigative the case - along with a team of ballistics experts -before concluding two years later that the missiles had been launched from the Kanombe area, corroborating findings from Rwanda's own inquiry.

This was contrary to claims by another French investigating judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, who in 2006 sparked off a diplomatic row between Kigali and Paris after he blamed the attack on the RPF and issued arrest warrants against the Rwandan officials.

Bruguière claimed the missiles that brought down the Falcon 50 jet had been fired from the Masaka zone by RPA elements that had allegedly infiltrated the area. The RPA was RPF's military wing that defeated the genocidal regime in July 1994 and stopped the slaughter. It was later transformed into RDF.

"Bruguière's work was of course a sham, not just because he never conducted any site visit in relation to this case but his was a political investigation that was not backed by any scientific evidence," Bizimana told The New Times yesterday.

Tom Ndahiro, a genocide scholar, said the French inquiry into the Habyarimana plane crash should never have taken place in the first place.

"It was meant to end in failure," he said.

The investigation, he said, was intended to humiliate Rwandan leaders and absolve the real culprits.

"The suspects of the attack are in France, they were simply after the wrong targets," he said.

Ndahiro said several investigations, including one by French author Jacques Morel (author of La France au cœur du génocide des Tutsis au Rwanda, loosely; France at the heart of Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda), had meticulously documented the role of France in the Genocide, adding that Paris's attempts to drag the RPF's name through the mud was calculated to deflect attention away from its principal role in the Rwanda tragedy.

France says it got involved with the case mainly because a French crew died in the attack.

The case has been handled by three lots of judges over the years - first, Bruguièr; then Marc Trévidic and Nathalie Poux; and then Jean-Marc Herbaut and Nathalie Poux.

The latest development comes hot on the heels of a new report by American law firm Cunningham Levy Muse LLP which says there is strong evidence linking France to the Genocide in Rwanda.