Genocide survivors in Rwanda welcomed the conviction of Laurent Bucyibaruta, the highest-ranking Rwandan to have been convicted in France on charges related to the 1994 genocide.
Many in this East African country support President Paul Kagame’s efforts to get France and other countries to arrest and try all suspects still at large in Europe.
Bucyibaruta, 78, was sentenced to 20 years in Tuesday’s decision following his trial on genocide charges. The Paris court convicted him of complicity to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, but acquitted him of charges of war crimes and genocide, saying there was no proof that he was the main perpetrator.
Bucyibaruta, who has lived in France since 1997, was not in custody during the trial but was detained by gendarmes as soon as the verdict was read. He can appeal the ruling within 10 days.
The Bucyibaruta verdict is an important one to survivors of the killings in Rwanda’s Gikongoro province, where he was the governor during the genocide and a known hardliner within the ruling party. Gikongoro, with its substantial Tutsi population, was a genocide hotspot.
Genocide survivors who spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday said the decision showed justice can never come too late.
“Because of his groundwork, many Tutsi were killed,” said Joseph Ntwali, who lived in Gikorongo during the genocide, urging French authorities to try more genocide suspects still living in that country.
He recalled Bucyibaruta as a man with influence who in speeches sowed the seeds of ethnic hatred.
Naphtal Ahishakiye, the executive secretary of a genocide survivors’ group known as Ibuka, commended France’s political will in trying genocide perpetrators, saying the verdict has come as a result of improved bilateral ties between Rwanda and France.
“We know very well that no punishment can equal the crime of genocide, but it’s better when perpetrators are tried and punished in the end,” Ahishakiye said.
The mass killing of Rwanda’s Tutsi population was ignited on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying then-President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed in Kigali, the capital, killing the leader who, like most Rwandans, was an ethnic Hutu.
The Tutsi were blamed for downing the plane, and although they denied it, bands of Hutu extremists began killing them, including children, with support from the army, police and militias.
Over 100 days, more than 800,000 Tutsi and the moderate Hutu who tried to protect them were killed.
In the case of Bucyibaruta, he was accused of luring people out of their hiding places in the bush into schools or churches, promising protection. But they were not safe in those places and many were killed.
The presence in France of fugitives such as Bucyibaruta for years was a source of aggravation for Rwandan authorities, who urged European nations to arrest suspects.
But ties between Rwanda and France under President Emmanuel Macron have improved recently as some suspects have been arrested.
Macron said in a speech last year that France bears a heavy responsibility for the genocide but insisted his country was “not an accomplice.”
Felicien Kabuga, one of the most wanted genocide fugitives, was arrested outside Paris in 2020. Kabuga, who is accused of equipping militias in the genocide with machetes and propaganda, is yet to stand trial.