Sosthène Munyemana in court, 11 November 2011 Pic: Jambonews.net/ Laure Uwase
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VERDICT – 20 December 2023 – GUILTY of GENOCIDE
After nearly 15 hour of deliberation, lasting into the early hours of 20 December, a verdict of GUILTY was pronounced by the president of the Paris Assize Court. It has taken 28 years – and 26 days of court time – for French justice to convict Sosthène MUNYEMANA, the former doctor, of genocide, crimes against humanity and conspiracy to commit genocide.
Munyemana was sentenced to 24 years’ imprisonment together with a ‘security period’ of 8-year in prison (i.e. in only 8 years’ time, he will be able to apply for release.) He was taken into immediate custody at the end of the judgement.
The Assize Court President, Marc Sommerer, told the packed courtroom at 1am on Wednesday morning in his sentencing address that Munyemana had been part of a group that “prepared, organised and steered the genocide of the Tutsis in Tumba on a daily basis… The jury considered that you were part of the genocidal policy by adhering to it, but also by taking an active part in it intellectually and materially… As a doctor, you betrayed your oath. You abused your influence and the respect and authority that your position gave you … As this is a sentence of more than 10 years, you will be imprisoned as of this evening”.
During the six-week trial during which 60 witnesses were heard, the court heard that Munyemana, who was a gynaecologist at Butare hospital, had signed a letter in support of the genocidal interim regime which was in power during the period from the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana on 6 April to their defeat in early July. During this time more than 1 million Tutsis were murdered in a planned and organised genocide, as well as moderate Hutus. Munyemana was a personal friend of the genocidal interim regime Prime Minister Jean Kambanda [later sentenced to life by the International Court for genocide] who even took time to visit him in Tumba. Munyemana was said to have assisted setting up road blocks and patrols in Tumba targeting Tutsis, and was a key holder of the sector office where dozens of wounded, helpless and hungry Tutsis were imprisoned before being taken away to be killed. Many of their bodies have still not been found. Survivors told the court they were still searching for where their loved ones were buried..
Munyemana fled to France with his wife and three children shortly after the genocide in September 1994, and despite an initial complaint against him the following year, built a successful career working as a doctor in various French hospitals, only recently retiring.
Justice, it seems, has finally caught up with him. His defence team announced they will appeal the verdict, which may take two years to be heard given the backlog of genocide cases in the French legal system. Dozens of other suspected Rwandan genocidaire still reside free from justice in the France – notably including the former First Lady, Agathe Habyarimana, judged to have been ‘at the heart of the genocide’ by a council of state judgement but allowed to live a quiet retirement in her delightful house in Courcourrones outside Paris. The French government, it seems, still cannot face putting on trial an individual whose regime it militarily, politically and financially supported before, during and after the genocide. Dozens of other genocide suspects remain free in France and for most it is likely age and infirmity will spare them a date before the Assize court.
The full Munyemana court ruling/judgement will be published here once it is made available in the coming days.
13 November 2023, Paris Assize Court.
Finally! The 68 year-old former gynaecologist, Sostheme Munyemana has arrived to face chargers of genocide and crimes against humanity at the Assize Court in Paris. While still on bail and living at home, the accused, always smartly dressed and beaming with self-confidence will make his way daily to court to face the most serious of charges. That the first accusations against him were made back in October 1995 – one year after the genocide against the Tutsi make it 28 long years for French justice to catch up with him. Even his lawyer accepts that this probably marks a delay. He has been questioned 14 times, with several hundreds pages of statements the result according to French paper Le Monde. He was indicted on 15 December 2011 for genocide. Previously in 2007, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) rejected his application for asylum, after noting that there was “serious reasons to believe that he had been guilty of a crime of genocide and crimes against humanity”.
Around 60 witnesses are expected to be heard by the court during the next weeks. His defence will inevitably revolve around dismissing the memories of witnesses as unreliable due to the length of time since the crime, and dismissing accusers as politically motivated and working for the current Rwandan President.
After fleeing to France after the genocide, Munyemana began working first at Saint-Andre hospital in Bordeaux, then in Villeneuve-sur-Lot and Lot-et-Garonne – lately working in Geriatric care. He retired a year ago.
In one of the longest running cases, which began in 1995 and has dragged on interminably due to constant political and legal blocks on justice in the 28 years since it was first raised, the 68 year-old genocide suspect Sosthène Munyemana looks set to face his accusers in court. In March 2022 it was announced that he had exhausted his final legal delaying tactic.
Sosthène Munyemana was born in 1955 in Gitarama, in Rwanda. He worked as a gynaecologist in the university hospital in Butare, in the south of the country.
On 7 April 1994, when the genocide began, thousands of Tutsi refugees fled to Butare, which was traditionally known for its peaceful coexistence between the different communities present in the country.
On 7 April 1994, Munyemana allegedly made a speech in which he expressed his intention to exterminate the Tutsi community of Tumba. This speech allegedly encouraged the inhabitants of Tumba, especially Hutus, to look the Tutsis in the town.
On 21 April 1994, Tumba witnessed the outbreak of systematic massacres. The first victims were intellectuals and Tutsi businessmen.
Munyemana allegedly participated directly in the attacks, but he also reportedly commanded a group of soldiers. Appointed as a team leader of the night watch, Munyemana held the list of families chosen to be attacked during nights. He is also suspected of distributing ammunition and of compiling the list of Tutsis to be exterminated.
Moreover, between April and June 1994, Munyemana reportedly went regularly to his home commune of Rusambira to ensure that the Tutsi extermination campaign was going well.
At the end of June 1994, Munyemana fled Rwanda to France and by October 1994, he and his wife were employed by the University of Bordeaux, where he coordinated a working group on AIDS in Rwanda.
In February 1996 the investigative NGO African Rights called for his immediate arrest after it published a 38 page report on Munyemana’s alleged complicity in the genocide entitled ‘Dr Sosthene Munyemana: The butcher of Tumba: at liberty in France.’
On 18 October 1995, four French and Rwandan citizens living in France, supported by three non-governmental organizations (the Collectif Girondin pour le Rwanda, Survie and the International Federation for Human Rights, known as FIDH), filed a complaint against Munyemana in Bordeaux containing allegations of genocide, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and asked for his arrest. They also decided to become civil parties to the subsequent proceedings. In 2001 the investigation was transferred to Paris.
In 2006 Rwanda issued an arrest warrant against Munyemana on charges of “participation in war crimes and genocide”.
In January 2008 the French National Court for Asylum dismissed the asylum application of Munyemana. The French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless persons (OFPRA) stated that the application was not sincere and aimed at hiding a truth. Furthermore, there were reasonable grounds for considering that the applicant had committed genocide and crimes against humanity. Therefore, pursuant to Art 1(F)(a) of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugee, he was excluded from such protection.
In October 2008, Munyemana was convicted in absentia by a Gacaca (traditional Rwandan) court in Butare. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes committed at the Butare hospital and to 30 years of imprisonment for the crimes committed in Tumba.
On 20 January 2010, he was arrested by the police in Bordeaux on the basis of the previous arrest warrant issued by Rwanda, which also asked for his extradition. Subsequently he was released on probation, waiting for his initial appearance in front of the Court of Appeal.
On 19 October 2010, the Bordeaux Court of Appeal dismissed the Rwandan request for extradition on grounds of an inaccuracy in the request. The Court also lifted the probation against Munyemana.
On 30 January 2011, the Collectif Girondin pour le Rwanda organized a demonstration in front of the hospital at Villeneuve-sur-Lot, near Bordeaux where he had been working for eight years, holding up signs that read “no asylum for genocidaires” or “no impunity for genocidaires”.
Munyemana filed a complaint against the Collectif and on 8 November 2011, the Collectif was convicted by the Tribunal of Bordeaux for breach of presumption of innocence though it denied his attempt to have damages paid.
On 14 December 2011, Munyemana was indicted in Paris for genocide and crimes against humanity and put again under judicial control. On 9 May 2017, the investigating judge within the Paris Tribunal informed the parties that he had completed his investigation.
On 11 May 2018, the prosecutor of the French war crimes unit issued his final submission.
On 13 June 2018, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), together with the League of Human Rights (LDH) and the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda (CPCR) in their concluding observations demanded that Sosthenes Munyemana is brought to justice.
On 3 December 2018, the investigating judges referred the case to the competent criminal court. Munyemana appealed the referral in 2019.
In 2021, the investigative judges ordered that Munyemana be sent to trial for the commission of crimes against humanity, genocide, complicity in these crimes and participation in a group formed for the purpose of preparing these crimes. A final legal appeal to further delay justice was thrown out on 23 March 2022.
In early 2023 a date for the long-awaited trial was finally given and Munyemana will appear to answer charges of genocide at the Paris Court of Assizes on 16 November 2023. Sadly many of the survivors of his alleged crimes – will not be alive to see justice – delayed for 28 – take place.
(Information provided comes from trialinternational.org and CPCR (https://www.collectifpartiescivilesrwanda.fr/sosthene-munyemana/)