Two former Rwandan mayors standing trial in France for their roles in the country’s 1994 genocide have been jailed for life in a landmark ruling by a Paris court.
French prosecutors in their closing arguments on Monday, prayed the court to hand down life sentences to Octavien Ngenzi, 58 and Tito Barahira 65 who they accused of orchestrating and taking part in the mass killings of Tutsi refugees and moderate Hutus.
The Paris court in its ruling on Wednesday, said the two former officials were guilty of crimes against humanity, ‘massive and systematic summary executions’ and genocide in their village of Kabarondo.
Both Ngenzi and Barahira who have consistently denied the charges, appeared impassive as the judge read out their sentences.
Barahira is accused of organizing and leading a meeting that planned the killings of Tutsi refugees and moderate Hutus who were seeking refuge in a church in the village of Kabarondo.
The sentence handed out to the two former mayors is the stiffest to be handed out by a French court in a genocide case. In 2014, a former Rwandan intelligence officer, Pascal Simbikangwa was handed a 25-year jail term for complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity.
The eight-week trial of Ngenzi and Barahira heard chilling testimonies depicting the two men as ‘supervisors’ and ‘executioners’ om the massacre.
Their lawyers had pointed to contrary testimony delivered 22 years after the killings to argue that reasonable doubt exists over their involvement portraying them as being helpless to stop the chaos unfolding around them.
Barahira’s lawyer Philippe Meilhac is quoted by The Guardian as saying after the ruling that: “I am extremely disappoint but not really surprised” adding that his client may appeal the verdict.
A lawyer for the civil parties to the case, Gilles Paruelle however told the jury: “To kill one man, hatred is sufficient. To kill 1,000, you need organisation.”
Ngenzi and Barahira were sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia by the Rwandan people’s courts known as ‘gacaca’ in 2009.
Barahira was arrested in 2013 near the southwestern French city of Toulouse whiles Ngenzi was arrested in 2010 in Mayotte, a French territory in the Indian Ocean, where he had reportedly requested asylum using a fake identity.
The United Nations’ international tribunal for Rwanda whose mandate ended in 2015, sentenced 61 people for their roles in the genocide. Alleged perpetrators have been captured and tried in other countries including Belgium, Canada, Norway, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and the United States.