French Court of Cassation rules on investigation into Habyarimana’s murder

In Paris, the French Court of Cassation will give its verdict today on investigating the attack that killed the then Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and the Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira on 6 April 1994.

The murder of Habyarimana marked the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda that killed hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda. Due to a lack of evidence, the French investigating judges dropped the file in 2018, but the relatives of the victims filed an appeal. Habyarimana’s widow says she still has “hope” for a good outcome.

Habyarimana’s plane was shot down nearly 28 years ago as it landed in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. The plane was hit by at least one missile. However, it has never been clear who was behind the attack and thus initiated the Rwandan genocide.

The French investigators who were involved in the case from 1998, after a complaint from the family of the French crew members of the plane who died, for a long time assumed that the Tutsire rebels of the future president Paul Kagame were responsible. Later they investigated whether extremist Hutus were responsible, who wanted to get rid of what they saw as the overly moderate Habyarimana – a Hutu.

Due to a lack of evidence against nine associates and former supporters of Paul Kagame, French investigating judges decided to drop the case in 2018. In July 2020, that decision was confirmed by the Paris Court of Appeal.

However, the relatives of the victims of the attack lodged an appeal with the Court of Cassation. The civil parties are of the opinion that the researchers wrongly did not distinguish between the nine people they suspected for a while and that they have also insufficiently demonstrated why there is not enough evidence against them. Today the Court of Cassation will rule on the case.

“I expect that the Court of Cassation will not refer this file to the forgetfulness of history,” said lawyer Philippe Meilhac, who defends Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of the former president. According to her lawyer, she still has “hope”.

“This dossier is of crucial importance for the civil parties and for the history of Rwanda. We have the impression that it was sacrificed on the altar of diplomatic relations,” says Meilhac.

The investigation has soured relations between Paris and Kigali for twenty years. The Advocate General of the Court has already recommended that the appeal be dismissed. If his advice is followed, it will mean the final end for the French investigation.

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