France refuses to extradite Habyarimana’s widow to Rwanda

Keith Somerville

A French court’s decision to reject Rwanda’s request for the exradition to their country of Agathe Habyarimana could undo the progress achieved during the Rwandan President’s recent visit to France.  Mrs Habyarimana, the widow of President Juvenal Habyarimana, had an international warrant issued for her arrest and extradition on charges relating to the 1994 genocide.

She was arrested in France in March 2010 following the issuing of the warrant but has not been held in custody for all that time. The court said there were inufficient grounds for extradition.

This decision, though not one of the French government but of the independent judiciary, will not please the Rwandans.  After President Paul Kagame’s visit to France in mid-September and his meeting with President Sarkozy, the frosty relations between the two had begun to thaw.

The Rwandan President will be angry that someone believed by him and his party, and by many experts on the genocide, to have been a prime mover in the attempts to exterminate the Tutsi population will not stand trial.   A number of those accused have been tried and found guilty by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda sitting in Arusha and many thousands have been tried by the Gacaca courts in rwanda itself, but a many of the leaders of the genocide have either disappeared or evaded trial.

The little house

The finger has been pointed at Agathe Habyarimana ever since the genocide because of her role as the head of the group know as akazu or Little House – a clan-based group of Rwandan Hutus from the north of the country who were at the heart of planning and ordering the genocide.  The akazu was seen as beingone of the driving forces of the Hutu Power  movement, which acted immediately on Habyarimana’s death to kill Tutsis and moderate Hutus – such as Prime Minister Agathe Uwiligiyimana,  and other government leaders seen as being soft on the Tutsis, who were killed in the first days of the genocide.  Mr Habyarimana has always denied being involved.

Utilizing the Presidential Guard, the gendarmerie, army and Hutu militias such as the Interahamwe, the Hutu Power movement moblized tens of thousands of Hutu to slaughter their Tutsi neighbours and fellow Hutus suspected of being sympathetic to opponents of the movement.  An estimated 800,000 people were killed in the three months after Habyarimana’s death.

There are also suspicions that Hutu extremists were behind the shooting down of the president’s plane – killing him as they thought he was too willing to compromise with Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front and domestic opposition parties, and in order to provide a pretext for the genocide.

Many of those at the forefront of planning and coordinating the genocide, such as Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza and Ferdinand Nahimana, were close associates of Agathe Habyarimana and her brothers, who were at the core of the akazu and the Huth Power movement. They were also instrumental in the creation of the hate radio station, Radio-Television Libre des Milles Collines, which played a major role in justifying and mobilizing people to take part in the genocide.

The current Rwandan government has in the past accused France of assisting the genocide and of helping the leaders of it to escape. For its part, the French have accused Kagame of ordering the shooting down of Habyarimana’s plane, saying this event sparked the genocide.

French forces flew Mrs Habyarimana out of Rwanda shortly after the killings began. She was able to get a Gabonese passport and she has lived in France for most of the time since 1994.

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