Rwandan ex-leader's widow testifies in genocide-linked case

Paris (AFP) –


The widow of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, herself accused of involvement in the country's 1994 genocide, appeared in a Paris court Tuesday to testify about the alleged role a former French police captain played in the 100-day massacre.

Agathe Habyarimana, 78, broke a years-long absence from public view for the hearing with an investigating magistrate into allegations against Paul Barril, accused of having struck a multi-million-dollar arms deal with Rwanda's interim government at the height of the killings.

The widow has been living since 1998 in France, which has refused to extradite her to Rwanda -- while also denying her asylum on the basis of suspicions against her.

Rwanda has an outstanding arrest warrant for Habyarimana on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, accusing her of having played a key role in one of the 20th century's most horrendous crimes.

Following decades of tensions between Rwanda's Hutu ethnic majority and the minority Tutsi, a killing spree erupted in April 1994 after the plane carrying Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down.

Over the next 100 days, some 800,000 people -- mainly Tutsis but also moderate Hutus -- were killed.

Habyarimana, who fled to Europe three days after her husband's assassination, is suspected of having been a part of the Hutu inner circle of power which planned and orchestrated the genocide.

She denies the claim.

- 'Serious and consistent evidence' -

In France, Habyarimana is the subject of an investigation and has been questioned twice: in 2010 as a witness, and in 2016 as an "assisted witness" -- someone suspected of a crime but not officially charged under French law.

Her court appearance on Tuesday did not concern her own alleged role, but rather that of Barril.

An investigation into "complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity" against him was launched seven years ago after three human rights groups, including the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), lodged a complaint.

According to the groups, Barril made around $1.2 million on the arms deal which allegedly entailed the supply of vast amounts of ammunition, shells, mortars and grenades.

He had been an officer of the French Gendarmerie Nationale under President Francois Mitterrand, but in the 1980s operated as a private security contractor for African heads of state.

He is 74 years old today and suffers from Parkinson's disease. He has denied any involvement in the Rwandan genocide.

Eric Plouvier, a lawyer for one of the rights groups, welcomed Tuesday's hearing so many years after the opening of an investigation.

The case file "seems to contain serious and consistent evidence justifying his (Barril's) indictment for complicity in the crime of genocide," Plouvier told AFP.

Several members of Rwanda's interim government during the genocide have been convicted by the International Criminal Court for Rwanda. Thousands of others were judged by Rwandan courts and grassroots tribunals.

After one of the key remaining fugitives, alleged genocide financier Felicien Kabuga, was caught in France in May, only main key suspects remain on the run. Kabuga will stand trial in The Hague.