A French court will decide on Friday whether to reopen an investigation into the assassination, 26 years ago, of the Rwandan president in a plane that sparked the country’s 100-day genocide.
The Paris Court of Appeal has been asked to reconsider a 2018 decision to dismiss the investigation against nine members and former members of the entourage of outgoing President Paul Kagame in a case that has poisoned relations between the two countries.
A plane transporting President Juvénal Habyarimana, of the Rwandan Hutu majority, was shot down in Kigali on April 6, 1994, starting a killing which would make 800,000 dead, mainly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus.
The plane was hit by at least one missile when it landed in Kigali, also killing Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, another Hutu, on board.
An investigation was opened in France in 1998 following a complaint by the families of the French aircraft crew.
The investigation first focused on the allies of Kagame, a Tutsi who led the rebel movement of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), who came to power after defeating the extremist Hutu regime.
Kagame, who became president of Rwanda in 2000, severed diplomatic ties to Paris between 2006 and 2009 after France issued arrest warrants against its allies.
Then in 2012, a French expert report identified the Kanombe camp, controlled by Habyarimana’s army, as the missile launch site – shifting the focus of the investigation.
Kigali said the finding confirmed his belief that the attack was carried out by Hutu extremists who believed Habyarimana was too moderate and who opposed the then-ongoing Arusha peace process.
As investigations progressed, Kagame accused France, before the 20th anniversary of the genocide in 2014, of having played a “direct role” in the massacre.
And in November 2016, Kigali launched an investigation into the alleged role of 20 French officials in the genocide which began a few hours after the plane fell.
“The past is behind us”
France has always denied the allegations and last year President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of a panel of historians and researchers to investigate the allegations.
In December 2018, French judges abandoned their investigation due to lack of evidence.
Families of the victims of the missile attack, including the widow Agabyhe of Habyarimana, have appealed the decision.
If the appellate judges agree on Friday, the investigation may be reopened or some or all of the suspects must appear in criminal court to be tried.
Prosecutors at a January hearing, however, urged the court to uphold the 2018 decision to drop the case.
“I believe the past is behind us,” he told the weekly Jeune Afrique this week.
“Reopening a classified file is a problem,” he said. “If things are not clarified, our relationships may suffer in one way or another.”