By Lisa Vives
A former senior Rwandan official linked to the deaths of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus has been found guilty of complicity in that nation’s genocide, 20 years after the horrific crime occurred.
Laurent Bucyibaruta is the highest-ranking Rwandan to face trial in France over the 1994 massacres that took place in 100 days of mass killings.
France has long faced pressure to act against suspected Rwandan perpetrators who took refuge on French soil afterwards.
At the time of the genocide, the French government had been a long-standing backer of the Hutu regime in power, which caused decades of tensions between the two countries.
A separate French probe into the act that sparked the genocide—the shooting down of Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane—was closed earlier this year.
At the heart of the case against the 78-year-old were several “security” meetings, either ordered or attended by Bucyibaruta, which prosecutors had argued were planning sessions for the killings.
Specifically, the former chief officer of the southern province of Gikongoro was accused of having persuaded thousands of people to take refuge in the Murambi Technical School by promising them food, water and protection.
Days later, in the early hours of April 21, tens of thousands of Tutsis were executed in one of the genocide’s bloodiest episodes.
The court also examined Bucyibaruta’s responsibility in the massacre of around 90 Tutsi pupils at the Marie Merci school in Kibeho on May 7, 1994, and in the execution of Tutsi prisoners—including three priests—in Gikongoro prison.
During his trial, Bucyibaruta denied any involvement in the killings.
“I was never on the side of the killers,” Bucyibaruta insisted. “Did I lack courage? Could I have saved them? Those questions and regrets have been haunting me for over 28 years.”
His lawyers called for the court to take “a courageous decision” and acquit him.
The trial involved more than 100 witness statements, including some from survivors from Rwanda, either in person or by video conference.
Bucyibaruta has been in France since 1997 with myriad health problems. He was allowed to remain under house arrest during the trial to receive treatments.
A report commissioned by the administration of President Paul Kagame asserts that France “did nothing to stop” the massacres in April and May 1994, and in the years after the genocide tried to cover up its role and even offered protection to some perpetrators.
It concludes that France “bears significant responsibility” for enabling the genocide in Rwanda and still refuses to acknowledge its true role in the 1994 horror.
“The French government was neither blind nor unconscious about the foreseeable genocide,” the authors stress, disputing an earlier report by French President Emmanuel Macron, who concluded that French authorities had been “blind” to the preparations for genocide and then reacted too slowly.