Kigali, Rwanda – (African Boulevard News) – The long-awaited trial of Philippe Hategekimana, a former Rwandan gendarme for “genocide, crimes against humanity and participation in an agreement,” opened on Wednesday in Paris. Hategekimana, who naturalized French in 2005 under the name of Philippe Manier, is accused of participating in the mass slaughter of Tutsi civilians during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The trial comes after years of legal wrangling and multiple attempts by Rwandan authorities to extradite Hategekimana. The trial has been closely watched as a test case for France’s role in holding perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide accountable, and for the potential impact on future cases.
The opening day of the trial saw Hategekimana plead not guilty to all charges. The presiding judge, Eric Trouillot, warned Hategekimana that he faced a life sentence if found guilty. The prosecution then began presenting evidence in the form of witness testimonies, some of which were given in anonymous form to protect their safety.
One of the key witnesses, identified only as “CJ,” described how Hategekimana had participated in the killing of Tutsi civilians in the southern Rwandan town of Gitarama. “I saw him personally hacking people to death with a machete,” CJ said. “He was laughing and joking with other killers as they did it.”
The trial is expected to last for several weeks, with the defense yet to present their case. Hategekimana’s defense team has argued that their client was not involved in the killings and that he had in fact helped to protect Tutsi civilians during the genocide.
The trial is a significant moment for France, which has been accused of being slow to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the Rwandan genocide. The country has been accused of supporting the Hutu-led government that carried out the genocide and of providing safe haven to suspects.
The trial also comes at a time of strained relations between France and Rwanda. Rwandan President Paul Kagame has accused France of complicity in the genocide and has previously called for the prosecution of suspects living in France.
Human rights groups have welcomed the trial as an important step towards justice for the victims of the Rwandan genocide. “This trial sends a strong message that those who commit genocide and crimes against humanity will be held accountable, no matter how long it takes,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch.
The trial will continue in the coming weeks with the defense expected to present their case. A verdict is not expected for several months.