Rwandan army captain faces French landmark trial over genocide

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A French court begins hearing the landmark trial of a former Rwandan army captain charged with complicity over the 1994 genocide that left 800,000 people dead.

Pascal Simbikangwa, 54, was arrested in October 2008 on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, where he had been living in hiding.

Victims groups say this is a day they have long been waiting for.

Dafroza Gauthier, Collective of Civil Plaintiffs for Rwanda: “It is a historical moment. It is an important moment for victims who have been waiting for this trial for 20 years. For them, for their families, but also for French people who were certainly misinformed at the time of the events (the genocide).”

In 2004, the European Court for Human Rights condemned France for taking so long to bring suspects accused of atrocities abroad to court. Some critics now hope this case will bring about change.

Clemence Bectarte, lawyer at the International Federation of Human Rights said: “The message of this trial is also that France will no longer be a safe haven for Rwandan suspects of genocide, hopefully, after all these years.”

If convicted, Simbikangwa could be jailed for life. His lawyers are expected to press for his acquittal, citing fears he can not receive a fair trial partly because of they have had difficulty finding anyone to speak in his defence.

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