French magistrates drop investigation into assassination of Rwandan President Habyarimana

by Samuel Abasi Posted on December 28th, 2018

The Rwandan government released a statement Monday that French Magistrates Jean-Marc Herbaut and Nathalie Poux closed an ongoing investigation last Friday, into the 1994 downing of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana’s plane.

Habyarimana, a member of the Hutu ethnic majority, died in April 1994 when his plane was shot down near the Rwandan capital. The assassination marked a turning point in the struggle for domestic control of the country and was followed by a genocide that resulted in the loss of an estimated 800,000 people, most of them members of the Tutsi minority. France opened an investigation into the plane crash at the request of families of the French flight crew.

The justices closed this investigation after a prosecutor recommended that the charges be dismissed due to a lack of evidence. Philippe Meilhac, the lawyer representing the Rwandan president’s widow, has appealed the decision. Emmanuel Bidanda, who represents the French crew members who were on the plane, is also considering appealing the decision.

France opened an investigation into the plane crash at the request of families of the French flight crew. On Saturday, a journalist for Radio France International tweeted a photo of a court filing dated October 10 in which the Paris Office of the Public Prosecutor recommended the dismissal of charges against a group of close allies of Paul Kagame, who led an armed resistance to the Hutu government and has served as President of Rwanda since 2000. The suspects face charges of murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise, aiding and abetting murder in connection with a terrorist enterprise, and conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism. Pursuant to the French code of criminal procedure, the decision to dismiss or retain the charges rests with the investigating judge.

Questions surrounding the plane crash that killed Habyarimana and the role of France in the atrocities that followed have been a source of ongoing diplomatic tension. In December an official with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected assertions that France had not done enough to facilitate the search for the truth, citing 30 proceedings initiated by French authorities in connection with the genocide. According to the official, 22 of those proceedings were still pending.

The Rwandan government’s statement said that they welcome this decision. Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa, the President of ISHAKWE-Rwanda Freedom Movement, published an opinion on Wednesday, berating the involvement of the French government in this investigation and in providing justice to the victims.

Statement on the decision to close investigation into the downing of President Habyarimana’s plane

The Government of Rwanda has learned, through the accused, of the decision by Judges Jean-Marc Herbaut and Nathalie Poux to definitively close their investigation into the downing of President Habyarimana’s plane in 1994 without charges, due to lack of evidence.

Nine Rwandan officials were indicted in 2006 in this politically-motivated investigation that lasted more than 20 years.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Government Spokesperson, Dr Richard Sezibera, said:

“We welcome this decision which brings to an end a brazen attempt over two decades to obstruct justice for the Genocide against the Tutsi, and prevent accountability for both the perpetrators and their wilful accomplices.”

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