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Wenceslas Munyeshyaka

Arrested by French authorities on 5 September 2007 and deferred to the French authorities by the ICTR on 20 November 2007; Decision by the French judges to dismiss the case on 2 October 2015.

In July 1995, proceedings were instituted against Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, a Rwandan citizen, by persons entitled to act on behalf of the victims.


On 25 July 1995, an official investigation was opened up against Munyeshyaka by the examining magistrate of Privas for “genocide, crimes against humanity and participation in a group already created for, or having as intent the planning of these crimes, on the basis of the principle of universal jurisdiction as provided for by the 1984 New York Convention against Torture”. A combination of articles 689-1 and 689-2 of the new Code of Criminal Procedure allows the French judicial authorities the possibility to institute proceedings and pass judgement, in France, on any person having committed acts of torture outside of French territory.

On 20 March 1996, the Trial Chamber of the Nimes Appeals Court pronounced that France was not competent to judge crimes of genocide committed abroad, by a foreigner, against foreigners.

However soon after the Statute of the ICTR had come into force under French domestic law, France’s highest appeal court, (Cour de Cassation), on 6 January, 1998, ordained that the proceedings instituted in 1995 against Munyeshyaka be reopened in consideration of the fact that the Trial Chamber had committed a breach of law by taking into account only the criminal charge of genocide, whereas the acts which were committed could also be considered as crimes of torture allowed for in Article 689-2 of the French Code of Criminal Procedure under the concept of universal jurisdiction. The case was sent back to the Trial Chamber of the Paris Appeals Court which, on 23 June 1999, extended the scope of competence of the French judge to cover genocide and crimes against humanity.

In September and October 2000, Roger Le Loire – the Parisian examining magistrate – requested that two international hearing commissions be held in Rwanda in order to proceed with the hearing of testimony from around seventy witnesses. By 2004 no international rogatory commission had been conducted.

Any progress in the enquiry then hung on the result of the analysis which was to be made of the documents sent by the ICTR. Judge Pous, who was also responsible for the affair following a decision handed down on 26 September 2005 by the court of appeal in the other “Rwandan affairs” (being tried until then in various other towns throughout the country), began sifting through the CD-Roms from the ICTR. In early 2004, judge Pous arranged for a confrontation between Father Munyeshyaka and the plaintiffs.

The slowness of the proceedings led to France being condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, which had taken up the case in 1999 on the request of Yvonne Mutimura, one of the plaintiffs in the case. This decision by the ECHR was rendered on 8 June 2004.


In December 2005, Rwanda announced that an international arrest warrant had been issued against Munyeshyaka.

In October 2006, Munyeshyaka was tried in absentia before the Military Court in Kigali as an accomplice of General Laurent Munyakazi who had been in charge of the security of the city of Kigali during the genocide. The prosecution requested the death sentence against Munyakazi. According to Rwandan law, civilians accused of complicity with members of the army are tried before a military tribunal.

On 16 November 2006, the Military Court sentenced Munyeshyaka in absentia to life imprisonment.


On 21 June 2007, the ICTR issued arrest warrants against Munyeshyaka and against the former préfet of Gikongoro Laurent Bucyibaruta, who was also exiled in France. Their indictments had been kept under seal since 2005.

In June 2007, as part of the Tribunal’s completion strategy, the ICTR-Prosecutor filed requests to transfer the cases of Munyeshyaka and Bucyibaruta to the French authorities. The French legal authorities had in principle accepted the jurisdiction. A referral bench of the ICTR, to be designated by the President, had then to decide on the referral. The arrest warrants stipulated that the men be held in custody pending a ruling by ICTR judges on whether they were to be tried at the ICTR or in France.

On 20 July 2007, both men were arrested and brought before the office of the State Prosecutor who sent the case to the investigation arm of the French Appeals Court. This court ruled that the ICTR arrest warrant was imprecise and an infringement of French law on the presumption of innocence and ordered the immediate release of both men.

The State prosecutor did not appeal this decision with the result that both men remained under judicial supervision in the framework of the proceedings already opened for “genocide and crimes against humanity”.

The ICTR issued a second revised arrest warrant on 13 August 2007 and the two men were again arrested by the French authorities on 5 September.

On 26 September, The Paris Appeals Court requested further information from the ICTR stating that it could not make a decision on the basis of the information provided.

On 20 November 2007, the ICTR decided to decline jurisdiction over this case in favour of the French judicial authorities.

On 20 February 2008, the French authorities agreed to try Munyeshyaka and Bucyibaruta in France. Both suspects were arrested, and subsequently released under judicial supervision for the time of the investigation.

On 19 August 2014, it was confirmed in the report by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, that the judicial inquiry into Munyeshyaka, led by France, was in its final phase.

 In April 2015, the investigation of the case was completed. On 2 October 2015, the investigating judge dealing with the case ordered the dismissal of the case, in accordance with the Prosecutor’s request. The judge explained that although Munyeshyaka had manifested radical opinions and had maintained friendly relations with the military and militias, this would not suffice to establish his participation to the crimes committed by the militias. 

Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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