Rwanda's former intelligence director denied charges of crimes against humanity and complicity in the 1994 genocide and told a Paris court on Wednesday he did not participate in “the descent into chaos” in his homeland.
On the second day of the high-profile trial, Pascal Simbikangwa sought to minimize his role in the three-month wave of bloodletting that killed some 800,000 minority Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus.
“I participated neither in the end of the war nor in the descent into chaos,” Simbikangwa, 54, told the court.
Under French law, Rwandans suspected of being involved in the genocide can be tried in a French court.
Coming two decades after the genocide, Simbikangwa's trial marks the first time France has put a suspected accomplice in the dock. It follows similar trials in other European countries such as Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
After a 1986 car accident that left him a paraplegic, Simbikangwa left the army and joined the intelligence services. Prosecutors say that at the time of the genocide, he held the title of director and he was No. 3 in that agency.
“Even though I was called a director, I didn't have a role, I didn't have decision-making power,” said Simbikangwa, sitting in a wheelchair in the defendant's box. “I was a mere agent. The rest is a lot of nonsense.”
Prosecutors are trying to prove that Simbikangwa was a hardliner in the inner circle of former president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu whose death in the downing of his aircraft in the spring of 1994 triggered the mass killing spree against ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Hutu extremists.
The defendant said he admired Habyarimana because “his policies were about calming things down” between the two tribes, but denied being part of the president's National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND), which played a major role in organizing the genocide.
The court president said witnesses questioned during the preliminary investigation refuted that argument, citing one man who said he was hired by Simbikangwa to recruit youth for the party and a woman who said she saw him at meetings.
“Do you believe, Mr. President, that in my wheelchair I could go to a meeting? To do what?” the defendant replied.
Some 50 witnesses were expected during the two-month trial to describe what they said was the Simbikangwa's role in arming and directing Hutu killers.
Simbikangwa, who was arrested in 2008 on the French Indian Ocean island of Mayotte, faces a life sentence if convicted with a mandatory 22 years behind bars.