On Wednesday, the 6th of July, a French court has given life sentences to two former Rwandan mayors who were accused of orchestrating a massacre of Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Tito Barahira and Octavien Ngenzi were found guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide for their involvement in the massacre of 2,000 Tutsis who sought refuge in a church in the town of Kabarondo. This is the second case of its kind to occur in France, the first being against former Rwandan army captain, Pascal Simbikangwa who was jailed for 25 years for genocide and crimes against humanity. However, the ruling against Barahira and Ngenzi is the stiffest genocide sentence handed out by a French court.
Survivors of this massacre testified at these trials, describing how men, women and children were bludgeoned and hacked to death. The testimonies heard throughout this trial depicted Barahira and Ngenzi as “supervisors” and “executioners” in the massacre. Prosecutor Philippe Courroye described Ngenzi as the leader and Barahira as the “dreaded machete officer.” Lawyer, Gilles Paruelle, told the jury that “to kill one man, hatred is sufficient… to kill 1,000 you need organisation.” Barahira and Ngenzi have denied any involvement in this massacre, stating that they had been helpless to stop the chaos occurring at the time. However, many have praised the court’s decision in this case. Alain Gauthier, whose organisation is one of the civil parties involved in this case said that “the jury has understood the distress of the victims… we hope that this sentencing signifies that one cannot live with impunity in France.”
The Rwandan genocide in 1994 saw approximately 800,000 Tutsis slaughtered in 100 days. This was an ethnic conflict between the Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority. There were significant tensions between these two groups which were inflamed when President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. It was this event which sparked the horrific genocide in Rwanda, which occurred from the 7th of April, 1994 till the 15th of July, 1994. The bloodshed in Kabarondo was over by the end of April but the slaughter elsewhere in the country continued until July. The UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sentenced 61 people for their role in the genocide. Furthermore, alleged perpetrators have also been captured and tried in many countries around the world.
This case is another example of justice being served for atrocities committed in the past. It has been 22 years since the genocide occurred and it is important that no matter how much time has passed, the survivors receive justice for the crimes and atrocities committed against them. Many of the perpetrators of the genocide fled the country and were tried in absentia through the Criminal Tribunal. Even though this tribunal’s mandate ended in 2015, it is important that the decisions made through it are upheld. This was the case for Barahira and Ngenzi, who were tried in absentia in 2009 and found guilty. The decision by the French Court to uphold this decision should be praised and used as an example for cases in the future.
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