Octavien Ngenzi was born in 1954 in Rwanda. In 1994, during the Rwandan genocide, Ngenzi was mayor of the Kabarondo district in the eastern part of the country. He was also a local leader of the former political party “National Republican Movement for Development and Democracy” (MNRD).
In 2009 Ngenzi was accused by Rwanda of participation in several massacres in the Kibungo province. Most notably, Ngenzi allegedly participated in the massacre in the Kabarondo church on 13 April 1994, where close to one thousand Tutsis were murdered by Hutu militia. He allegedly organised and led the Interahamwe militia, armed with machetes, toward the Kabarondo church where Tutsis sought refuge.
In April 2009, the Rwandan authorities issued an international arrest warrant against Ngenzi for his involvement in several massacres of Tutsis in Kibungo province.
On 2 June 2010, the “Collectif des parties civiles pour le Rwanda” (an association for the protection of victims of the Rwandan genocide), filed a complaint against Octavien Ngenzi to the Public Prosecutor’s department of Mamoudzou (the capital of Mayotte, French overseas region).
On 4 June 2010, Ngenzi was arrested and detained in Mayotte. He was subsequently transferred to the Fleury-Mérogis prison in Paris, where his detention was extended.
An extradition request made by the Rwandan authorities in 2009 was rejected by the Court of Appeals of Paris on 27 April 2011.
On 5 April 2012, the Barahira and Ngenzi cases where joined. 14 victims joined the proceeding as civil parties.
On 13 May 2014, the Public Prosecutor in Paris requested the case to be referred to the Criminal Court of Paris (Cour d’Assises de Paris).
On 28 May 2014, the examining magistrate referred the cases against Barahira and Ngenzi. They were charged with genocide and crimes against humanity. Both appealed this decision, contesting the charges. In January 2015, the French Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) confirmed the indictment against Barahira and Ngenzi for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Their trial took place from 10 May to 6 July 2016 before the Criminal Court of Paris. On 6 July 2016, Baharira and Ngenzi were found guilty and condemned to a life sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity. Their lawyers announced on 7 July 2016 that Baharira and Ngenzi would appeal the decision.
The appeal hearings began on 2 May 2018. On 6 July 2018, the Criminal Court of Paris confirmed the first-instance verdict and the sentence of life imprisonment.
On 16 October 2019, the French Supreme Court upheld the life sentences of Octavien Ngenzi and Tito Barahira. The judgment is now final.
For the first time, and unlike Pascal Simbikangwa case, victims or relatives of victims had the possibility to appear before the Criminal Court of Paris, since nine of them had joined the case against Barahira and Ngenzi as civil parties.
It is also interesting to note that this is already the second trial initiated in France which led to a conviction for participation in Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Rwanda has been historically inhabited by three groups, known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Between April and July 1994, the country was torn apart by a bloody genocide, during which extremist Hutu people targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was powerless against those committing the genocide, as the peacekeeping troops were largely outnumbered the genocidaires and the international community notoriously failed to respond otherwise at the relevant period.
THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR RWANDA (ICTR)
In hopes of facilitating the process of national reconciliation and to promote peace in the country, on 8 November 1994 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 955. The Resolution established the ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.
The Tribunal’s function was to prosecute perpetrators of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994 in the territory of Rwanda, by Rwandan citizens and those committed in neighbouring states. During its existence, 93 persons have been indicted by the ICTR, the Tribunal was officially closed in 2015. Some proceedings are however still ongoing before the so-called International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (or “the Mechanism”). The Mechanism was established by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1966 (2010) and took over the remaining functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Mechanism has been functioning since 1 July 2012 in parallel with the Tribunals and nowadays as an exclusive institution It gradually took over the functions of the ICTR and ICTR, including the enforcement of sentences of those convicted and sentenced by the Tribunal, the tracking, arrest and prosecution of fugitives earmarked for trial at the Mechanism, and the protection of witnesses.
THE GACACA COURTS
In 1998, discussions began under the direction of the President of the Republic of Rwanda about the possible use of traditional courts to support the ordinary Rwandan judicial system and the ICTR. A commission was created to study this possibility, and its report provided the basis of the Organic Law of 26 January 2001, which created the Gacaca Courts.
These courts were in charge of trying the low and middle-level perpetrators of the genocide, apart from the “planners” who should have been tried before national courts. The Gacaca courts were composed of elected popular assemblies, made up of non-professional judges. The composition and functioning of such courts raised several concerns about the respect of fair trial guarantees.
According to Rwandan authorities, during their functioning, the Gacaca courts tried almost two million people. On 18 June 2012 Rwandan President Paul Kagame announced the official end of Gacaca courts’ activity.