French court frees Rwanda genocide suspects

2nd August 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 1, 2007 (AFP) - A French appeals court on Wednesday freed two Rwandans wanted for charges related to the African country's 1994 genocide in a decision condemned by a Rwandan official as political.

PARIS, Aug 1, 2007 (AFP) - A French appeals court on Wednesday freed two Rwandans wanted for charges related to the African country's 1994 genocide in a decision condemned by a Rwandan official as political.

Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a 49-year-old Catholic priest, and Laurent Bucyibaruta, 62, a former official, were arrested last month on warrants issued by the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda (ICTR).

The French court ruled that the warrants could not be executed and said the men, both wanted by the ICTR for their alleged roles in the 1994 massacres on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, must be freed.

Philippe Greciano, lawyer for Bucyibaruta, said the decision was a "victory for human rights" and described his arrest warrant as "badly founded in law and impossible procedurally."

Munyeshyaka lawyer Thierry Massis said the decision "conformed with international law" and that the arrest warrant had been "arbitrary".

Their views were not shared by Benjamin Sehene, a Rwandan author close to the victims of the genocide. "It's an injustice what has just happened when one knows exactly what they have done," he declared as he left the hearing.

Rwanda's representative at the ICTR -- the Tanzania-based court formed in 1994 that has so far convicted 28 genocide suspects and acquitted five -- condemned their release as well.

"It's not a judicial decision. There are other motives behind it," said Aloys Mutabingwa, adding that it was "political".

"It doesn't surprise us because they have lived in France for more than 10 years without worries, while everybody knew that they were being prosecuted for crimes as serious as genocide."

Rwanda's justice minister Tharcisse Karugarama said he would wait "to have read the motivation of the decision" before deciding what to say further.

"If the decision is motivated judicially, I will respect it," he said. "If it is not motivated according to the law, I will react."

Karugarama called last month for legal proceedings against French politicians accused of ignoring signs of the 1994 genocide in his country.

The Rwandan government has repeatedly accused France of supporting the Hutu extremists who perpetrated the genocide and of dragging its feet to cooperate with the investigations that followed the massacres.

France has always denied the accusations.

Kigali had welcomed the arrests of Munyeshyaka and Bucyibaruta as a sign that France was willing to cooperate more actively with the tribunal since President Nicolas Sarkozy was elected and a new government was sworn in.

When the French authorities detained Munyeshyaka on July 19, they said they hoped to extradite him back to Rwanda, where he was handed a life jail term by a Rwandan court last year, and if not to transfer him to the ICTR.

The Rwandan genocide was sparked by the assassination in April 1994 of then Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana. In just a few months, some 800,000 people -- mainly minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus -- were massacred by Hutu extremists.

Kigali severed diplomatic ties with France last year after French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere issued warrants against close aides to Rwandan President Paul Kagame over the assassination of Habyarimana.

A senior Rwandan official had said Tuesday that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner would visit Rwanda soon in what would mark a key step towards a resumption of diplomatic relations.

In Addis Ababa last week, Kouchner said he hoped a normalisation of ties with Rwanda could take place soon.

AFP

Subject: French news

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