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Germany Opens First Rwanda Genocide Trial

Onesphore Rwabukombe, 53, is photographed by media as he waits for the beginning of his trial at a court in Frankfurt, central Germany, 18 Jan 2011

Germany's first trial related to the Rwandan genocide is underway with a former Rwandan mayor accused of ordering three Tutsi massacres. There are dozens of Rwandans accused of taking part in the genocide living in Europe.

Onesphore Rwabukombe is standing trial in Frankfurt accused of murder, genocide, and incitement to both.

The prosecutor Christian Ritscher charges Rwabukombe ordered the killing of more than 3,000 people during the Rwandan genocide. Ritscher said the Tutsis who were killed were seeking refuge in a church.

It is the first trial in Germany related to the Rwandan genocide.

A legal advisor with the London-based human rights group Redress, Jurgen Schurr, says it is crucial that European courts try suspected genocide suspects.

"These trials of course send the important signal that these countries do not accept to provide a safe haven to suspects of such crimes," said Schurr.

Schurr says the international policing organization Interpol has issued red notices for almost 100 Rwandans living in Europe who may have been involved in the country’s genocide.

"A lot of them are living often under known addresses in European countries, such as particularly in France, in Belgium, but also in the United Kingdom, in the Netherlands as well as in Italy, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. So, we see that they are fairly widespread currently living in European countries," added Schurr.

Belgium and Norway have conducted genocide-related trials. But Schurr says many European countries are failing to investigate.

He says European courts need to overcome geographical and logistical challenges to make sure that justice is done in their country, at least until a future time when the suspects can be extradited to Rwanda for trial.

"Ideally these cases take place in the countries where the crimes have been committed, as this is where most of the evidence is located and as this is where the trial will have most of the impact on the society most affected," Schurr explained. "And if it is possible for Rwanda to guarantee a fair trial of these suspects they should be sent back to Rwanda."

Onesphore Rwabukombe was formerly mayor of a town in northeastern Rwanda. He moved to Germany more than a decade ago.

Rwanda's Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga has said he welcomes the trial.