In a nearly three-decade-long investigation, a Rwandan former gynaecologist went on trial in France on Tuesday on allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the 1994 killings in his home country.
Sosthene Munyemana appeared at the Assize Court in Paris nearly 30 years after a complaint was made against him in the southwestern French city of Bordeaux in 1995, making it one of France’s longest-running cases.
The 68-year-old former doctor, accused of organizing torture and killings during the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, arrived late for the 9:00 a.m. (0800 GMT) hearing.
He has lived in France since 1994.
If convicted, Munyemana, who rejects the charges, risks life in jail.The trial, which is set to last five weeks, will be videotaped for historical purposes.
It is the sixth such prosecution in France of an alleged participation in the murders, which killed around 800,000 people, the majority of whom were ethnic Tutsis, over the course of 100 days.
‘Waiting for justice’
“We’re waiting for justice to be done at last,” Rachel Lindon, a lawyer representing 26 victims, said ahead of the trial. “The more time passes, the fewer witnesses we have,” she added.
Munyemana, who worked for a decade in a hospital in Villeneuve-sur-Lot, southwest France, applied for refuge in France in 2008.
However, it also denied an extradition request from Rwanda in 2010, arguing that Munyemana would not receive a fair trial there.
A French court prosecuted the father of three in 2011 on suspicion of participating in the 1994 genocide.
He was an ethnic Hutu living in Butare, southern Rwanda, at the time of the slaughter.
France has been a popular destination for fugitives fleeing the Rwandan genocide.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame has accused Paris of being unwilling to extradite or prosecute genocide criminals.
Since 2014, France has tried and convicted a former espionage head, two ex-mayors, and a former hotel chauffeur.
“He was a doctor, a well-known man who was much appreciated,” said Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Human Rights League (LDH).
“He could not have been unaware of what was happening,” he added.
Munyemana was close to Jean Kambanda, the head of the temporary administration formed when a rocket shot down the plane carrying then-President Juvenal Habyarimana in 1994.
He is accused of assisting in the drafting of a letter of support for the interim administration, which supported the Tutsi massacre. He is also accused of detaining Tutsi civilians in deplorable conditions in local government offices he had access to.
Munyemana does not deny holding the key, but claims the offices operated as a “refuge” for Tutsis seeking shelter.
Jean-Yves Dupeux, Munyemana’s lawyer, said that the evidence “rests only” on eyewitness allegations dating back decades.
“It’s very difficult to rely on testimonies about something that happened so long ago,” he said.
Munyemana began her career as an emergency physician in southwestern France before transitioning to geriatrics.
According to UN calculations, over 800,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis, were slaughtered by Hutu army and extremist militias during Rwanda’s genocide from April to July 1994.