French probe into Rwanda’s Habyarimana plane shooting dropped

20 years into the investigations of the shooting down of a plane carrying the former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, a trigger of the genocide, the French judges handling the case have struck out the case.

On 6 April 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down with surface-to-air missiles as it prepared to land in the country’s capital, Kigali, resulting in the death of the then president.

Responsibility for the attack was, however, in dispute. But the major suspects were both the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by the current president Paul Kagame, and the government-aligned Hutu Power extremists.

The Hutu government blamed the RPF while others accused Hutu extremists of attempting to thwart an imminent peace deal. Within hours of the attack, the mass slaughter of Tutsi people began, resulting in the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi in the following three months.

Habyarimana, who was Hutu, had signed a peace deal with Tutsi rebels and was flying into Kigali with Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamira when the plane down was shot down, killing all on board.

Following the death of the French crew members on board the plane, relatives of the crew launched an inquiry in France four years later in 1998.

In 2006, Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French judge ruled that Kagame had ordered the attack and for that issued arrest warrants against several of the president’s aides.

The investigations put a rift between France and Rwanda, especially as Kagame noted that the attack was politically motivated and accused France, a supporter of  the former Hutu regime of having played a direct role in the genocide.

The charges were dropped on 21 December. However, the lawyers for Habyarimana’s widow, Agathe stated that the plaintiffs in the case would appeal against the decision.

“We have to interpret this decision by French judges as a form of resignation faced with a political context which prosecutors did not know how to fight,” lawyer Philippe Meilhac said. “Rwandan authorities have never sought to help bring the truth to light.”