PARIS: A Rwandan former gynaecologist will go on trial in France today on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1994 massacres in his home country, in an investigation stretching back nearly three decades.
It is one of France’s longest-running cases, with Sosthene Munyemana to face justice at a Paris court nearly 30 years after a complaint was filed against him in the southwestern French city of Bordeaux in 1995.
The 68-year-old former gynaecologist, accused of organising torture and killings during the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, has lived in France since 1994. He is not being held in custody but is under judicial control.
It is the sixth such trial in France of an alleged participant in the massacres, in which around 800,000 people, most of them ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtered over 100 days.
“We’re waiting for justice to be done at last,” said Rachel Lindon, a lawyer representing 26 victims.
“The more time passes, the fewer witnesses we have,” she added.
In 2008, France rejected an asylum request by Munyemana, who worked in a hospital at Villeneuve-sur-Lot in southwestern France for a decade.
However, it also in 2010 rejected an extradition request from Rwanda after Munyemana’s lawyers argued he could not receive a fair trial there.
In 2011, a French court charged the father of three on suspicion that he took part in the 1994 genocide.
Munyemana, who denies the charges, faces life in prison if convicted.
His trial is scheduled to run until Dec 22.
An ethnic Hutu, he lived in Butare in southern Rwanda at the time of the massacre.
France has been one of the top destinations for fugitives fleeing justice over the Rwandan massacres.
Rwanda under President Paul Kagame has accused Paris of not being willing to extradite genocide suspects or bring them to justice.
Since 2014, France has tried and convicted several figures including a former spy chief, 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 two rights organisations, 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 interim government established after the plane carrying then-president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down by a missile in 1994.
He is accused of signing a letter of support for the interim government, which encouraged the massacre of the Tutsis. He is also accused of keeping Tutsi civilians in inhumane conditions in local government offices to which he had the key.
Munyemana does not deny having held the key but argues that the offices served as a “refuge” for Tutsis who were seeking protection.
Munyemana’s lawyer, Jean-Yves Dupeux, argued that the case “rests only” on eye witness accounts that date back to decades ago.
“It’s very difficult to rely on testimonies about something that happened so long ago,” he said.
Munyemana worked as an emergency doctor in southwestern France before switching to geriatrics.
More than 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, were massacred by Hutu soldiers and extremist militias in the Rwandan genocide from April to July 1994, according to United Nations figures.