PARIS (Reuters) - A Paris court sentenced a former Rwandan soldier to 25 years in jail on Friday for his role in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, in France’s first trial to punish those responsible for the three-month wave of violence.
The court found Pascal Simbikangwa, 54, described by prosecutors as a former soldier who rose to become the No. 3 in Rwanda’s intelligence services, guilty of genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity.
Some 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus died in the bloodletting.
Simbikangwa, confined to a wheelchair since a 1986 car accident left him a paraplegic, denied the charges against him during the six-week trial and said he was the victim of a “witch-hunt” orchestrated by the now ruling Tutsis.
Under French law, Rwandans suspected of involvement in the genocide can be tried in a French court.
Other countries, including Belgium, Sweden, Norway and Germany, have already held similar trials. France was long considered a safe haven for those fleeing prosecution for their role in the massacre.
A guilty verdict could smooth future prosecutions by France’s special genocide unit, created two years ago.
Simbikangwa sought during the trial to minimise his importance within the Rwanda secret services, calling himself a “mere agent” despite his loyalty to President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu whose death in the downing of his plane in April 1994 triggered the slaughter.
But witnesses said he stored arms at his home, gave orders to extremist Hutus, and was known in the capital Kigali as a “torturer.”
“France has nothing on me, but I get charges that not even ministers or generals got,” Simbikangwa told the jury before it retired to consider the verdict.
Reporting by Chine Labbe; writing by Leigh Thomas and Alexandria Sage; editing by Mark Trevelyan