Juvenal Habyarimana’s widow, who has lived in France for over 15 years, was accused of genocide and crimes against humanity for her alleged role in the massacre of 800,000 people, mostly minority Tutsis, in just 100 days.
“I’m relieved, I’ve always had faith in the French justice system,” Habyarimana said after the judge’s decision.
She was arrested under a Rwanda-requested international arrest warrant in France in March 2010, a few days after a visit by Nicolas Sarkozy to Kigali, the first by a French president since the genocide.
Habyarimana, 69, is accused of being a key member of the “akazu” (Kinyarwanda for “little house”) inner circle that planned and implemented the killings which began after her husband’s plane was shot down on April 6, 1994. She comes from a powerful Hutu family and was widely seen as providing important connections for her husband during his 20-year presidency.
Rwanda’s chief prosecutor Martin Ngoga said he was not surprised by the verdict “because we don’t have any precedent of extradition from France”.
“This is about whether or not she will be extradited, not about the substance of what she stands accused of,” he said, adding that she could be prosecuted in France.
“We have a precedent of working with foreign jurisdictions to conduct genocide trials,” Ngoga said. “We don’t have a problem if French authorities decide to conduct a trial in France; we would only have a problem if they decide to do nothing.”
John Bosco Siboyintore of the Rwandan government’s Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit said the nature of the allegations meant that Habyarimana had to be either extradited or prosecuted in France.
“I don’t think they can just leave it without taking the decision to try her,” he said. “If they decided to try her, that would also be a good development because what we insist on is that justice is done.”
The former first lady, accused of being one of the brains behind the genocide and of being more hardline than her husband, faces a 2008 civil suit for alleged involvement in the genocide brought by a French Rwandan rights collective.
“The appeal court’s decision will be a problem for the outcome of that procedure,” said Habyarimana’s lawyer, Philippe Meilhac. “The very serious accusations against Mrs Habyarimana are old and completely denied by Mrs Habyarimana.”
French troops airlifted her and members of the “akazu” to Paris after the beginning of the genocide.
Her brother Protais Zigiranyirazo is also accused of involvement in genocide.
Habyarimana is awaiting a court ruling on her appeal against a decision to refuse her a French residency permit, meaning she is currently in France without any legal status.