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Accused Instigator of '94 Genocide Appears in Rwandan Court

Léon Mugesera (r), considered to be one of the instigators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, with his lawyer (file photo).

A man many consider to be one of the instigators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Leon Mugesera, appeared Monday in a Kigali court on charges related to the massacres.

Most Rwandans know Leon Mugesera for a rousing 1992 speech he gave to loyalists of the now notorious National Revolutionary Movement of Rwanda political party.

In that speech, Mugesera spoke to a jeering crowd of mostly young men, and repeatedly referred to his Tutsi countrymen as “cockroaches," saying they should be sent home to Ethiopia via the Nyraborongo River.

Mugesera was expected to enter a plea on charges of planning and inciting the genocide. But instead of admitting or denying guilt, the 59-year-old, who was recently extradited from Canada to Rwanda, argued that he cannot proceed in his native language of Kinyarwanda.

Mugesera said that, after nearly 20 years in Canada, the only language he understands well enough for court is French. He says he used the language in Canadian courts and was promised by Canadian officials that he would be allowed to use French in Rwandan courts as well.

His Canadian defense lawyers had argued that Mugesera could not receive a fair trial in Rwanda, but his Rwandan lawyer, Donat Mutunzi, disagrees.

Mutunzi says Rwanda is a country that respects the law and he believes all Rwandans can be tried fairly here. He says there are no exceptions to this, even for his notorious client.

Mugesera will find out Tuesday if the court will allow him to proceed in French.

Tensions in are high in Rwanda. Simultaneous grenade blasts rocked Kigali on Friday, and later this week the country will begin an official period of mourning for the 1994 genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed about 800,000 people in the span of 100 days.