A former senior Rwandan official, Laurent Bucyibaruta will be the most senior officer to date to face trial in France for his involvement in the Rwandan genocide, as his trial opened in the country last week.
Bucyibaruta’s trial will be the fourth to be taken to trial in France in relation to the massacres of 1994. The trial is anticipated to last 2 months, and it has been announced that more than 100 witnesses (including survivors of the atrocities) will be called upon either in person or via videoconference.
Bucyibaruta, aged 78-years-old, has been in France since 1977. He is currently under the supervision of the justice system and is said to suffer from numerous health complications that will require court proceedings to be limited to 7 hours a day. Bucyibaruta claims he is innocent of all charges and his lawyers have stated that they will initially request the case be dropped, citing the ‘unreasonable delays’ as proceedings against Bucyibaruta began 22 years ago. Should this fail, his legal team plan to apply for his acquittal.
Bucyibaruta's involvement during the time he served as the prefect of Gikongoro, Southern province in particular is under scrutiny. His participation and planning of several so-called ‘security meetings’, is central to the trial. It has been intimated that these meetings were used to plan the slaughter of innocent people. He has been accused of luring thousands of people into a trap by promising them shelter food and water, convincing them to take refuge in the buildings of Murambi Technical school. However, on the 21st of April 1994, mere days later, tens of thousands of Tutsi people were killed. Further, Bucyibaruta’s role in the massacre that took place on the 7th of May 1994, during which 90 students of Tutsi ethnicity were killed at the Marie Merci school in Kibeho will be addressed during the trial.
In the indictment of the Paris Court Appeal, during his time as prefect of Gikongoro, he stands accused of having “committed serious attacks on the life and physical and mental integrity of people grouped at the sites of the ETO [technical school] of Murambi, Tutsi prisoners in the Gikongoro prison, and people arrested at the roadblocks and during local ‘roundups’, in the execution of a concerted plan aimed at the total or partial destruction of the Tutsi ethnic group”. In addition, he was allegedly complicit in massacres perpetrated in the parishes of Kibeho, Cyanika, Kaduha and of students of the Marie-Merci school in Kibeho, “by knowingly helping the perpetrators of the said acts in order to facilitate their preparation or execution”.
In 1994, over the span of 100 days, Hutu militiamen slaughtered an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus as they sought safety in schools and churches.
So far, French courts have convicted 4 people over 3 cases. An army officer was sentenced to 25 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity. Two mayors were sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement in the genocide, and a hotel driver was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Bucyibaruta is being tried over accusations of crimes against humanity, complicity in genocide and genocide. If he is found guilty, he will be sentenced to life in prison.