By Faith Nyasuguta
An ex-hotel driver accused of collusion in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide for ferrying Hutu militiamen that massacred Tutsis underwent trial in Paris on Monday.
According to investigators, Claude Muhayimana played a role in hiding Tutsis who were at risk of death, aided some to flee and disappeared after the genocide into France where he gained nationality in 2010.
Muhayimana’s lawyer Philippe Meilhac, said : “He is only waiting for one thing, to be able to explain himself. Today, he is in his sixties, he is a man who has had a difficult life, who is, by the circumstances, worn out, tired, and who is waiting to be able to explain himself and have his honor returned to him.”
The former driver was in 2014 arrested in France after a probe by Paris prosecutors specialising in crimes against humanity.
He spent 12 months in preventive detention ahead of being released on probation, when he recommenced his work as a road repair agent in the northern French city of Rouen.
He is alleged to have knowingly ferried Hutu police and militiamen called the Interahamwe to execute massacres in the western Kibuye region.
During the genocide, tens of thousands of Tutsis were killed as they sought shelter in schools, churches and hotels.
Muhayimana denied all the charges preferred against him. The ex-driver who was married to a Tutsi woman during the genocide said he was not in Kibuye when the massacres took place.
“He is going to fully explain himself,” Philippe Meilhac, his lawyer told AFP ahead of the trial. “This is a man who has been waiting 10 years for this.”
Since trials on the genocide commenced, Muhayimana will be the maiden “ordinary” citizen to face justice after having been considered “respectable all around” before the killings, said Alexandre Kiabski, a lawyer for the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda (CPCR), one of the plaintiffs.
If found guilty, he faces a life sentence.
“You know, an accomplice, he is charged with complicity. And complicity I think in law is exactly the same as if you are an author. So it’s like if he’s a co-author, but it’s the proceedings that will determine whether or not he’s guilty of that, whether or not he collaborated out of his own free will or not.” Dafroza Gauthier, the co-founder of the group who started the proceedings stated.
France has mostly denied requests to extradite suspects to Rwanda, triggering President Paul Kagame to accuse Paris of denying Rwanda jurisdiction.
However, relations between the two nations have warmed considerably since a historians’ report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron and released in March recognised France’s “overwhelming” responsibilities in failing to stop the massacres.