A Rwandan former gynaecologist went on trial in France on Tuesday on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1994 massacres in his home country, in an investigation stretching back nearly three decades.
It is one of France's longest-running cases, with Sosthene Munyemana appearing at the Assize Court in the French capital nearly 30 years after a complaint was filed against him in the southwestern French city of Bordeaux in 1995.
The 68-year-old former doctor, accused of organising torture and killings during the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, arrived late for the hearing scheduled to begin at 9:00 am (0800 GMT).
Wearing a blue striped shirt and a grey jacket, Munyemana apologised for the delay, before stating his identity.
He has lived in France since 1994.
Munyemana, who denies the charges, faces life in prison if convicted. The trial, scheduled to last five weeks, will be recorded for historical archives.
It is the sixth such trial in France of an alleged participant in the massacres, in which around 800,000 people, most of them ethnic Tutsis, were slaughtered over 100 days.
- 'Waiting for justice' -
"We're waiting for justice to be done at last," Rachel Lindon, a lawyer representing 26 victims, said ahead of the trial. "The more time passes, the fewer witnesses we have," she added.
In 2008, France rejected an asylum request by Munyemana, who worked in a hospital at Villeneuve-sur-Lot in southwest France for a decade.
But it also in 2010 rejected an extradition request from Rwanda after Munyemana's lawyers argued he could not receive a fair trial there.
In 2011, a French court charged the father of three on suspicion he took part in the 1994 genocide.
An ethnic Hutu, he lived in Butare in southern Rwanda at the time of the massacre.
France has been one of the top destinations for fugitives fleeing justice over the Rwandan slaughter.
Rwanda under President Paul Kagame has accused Paris of not being willing to extradite genocide suspects or bring them to justice.
Since 2014, France has tried and convicted several figures including a former spy chief, two ex-mayors and a former hotel chauffeur.
- 'Well-known man' -
"He was a doctor, a well-known man who was much appreciated," said Emmanuel Daoud, a lawyer for the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Human Rights League (LDH).
"He could not have been unaware of what was happening," he added.
Munyemana was close to Jean Kambanda, the head of the interim government established after the plane carrying then-president Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down by a missile in 1994.
He is accused of helping draft a letter of support for the interim government, which encouraged the massacre of the Tutsis. He is also accused of keeping Tutsi civilians in inhumane conditions in local government offices to which he had the key.
Munyemana does not deny having held the key but argues that the offices served as a "refuge" for Tutsis who were seeking protection.
Munyemana's lawyer, Jean-Yves Dupeux, argued that the case "rests only" on eye-witness accounts that date back to decades ago.
"It's very difficult to rely on testimonies about something that happened so long ago," he said.
Munyemana worked as an emergency doctor in southwestern France before switching to geriatrics.
More than 800,000 people, mainly minority Tutsis, were massacred by Hutu soldiers and extremist militias in the Rwandan genocide from April to July 1994, according to UN figures.