The appeal trial of Pascal SIMBIKANGWA opened this morning at then Assizes Court of Bobigny. The media has spread the word : no one is there, almost. It is true that “the Tutsi genocide does not interest anyone”.
The morning began with a brief examination of the identity of the accused. Then the President of the Court, Mr. Régis De JORNA, conducted a draw for 9 holder jurors and 5 alternate jurors who were then sworn in. The morning ended with the mention of the associations bringing the civil suits : the CPCR, FIDH, LDH, SURVIE and LICRA.
A good part of the afternoon will be devoted to reading the somewhat tedious “indictment order of the investigating judges” (OMA) : an opportunity to discuss the historical context and the charges against Mr. SIMBIKANGWA and recall the entire procedure. The President then wished to only read two pages of the “motivation sheet” released to the public during the first trial. But Mr. SIMBIKANGWA requested that the full sheet be read. Probably a mistake on his part because this revealed why he was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment by the Assize Court of Paris : much more relevant to the jurors than the OMA that probably lost them with it’s profusion of detail.
As the day drew to a close, we had to hear the defence lawyers, Mrs Bourgeot and Mr EPSTEIN, presenting a review of their “Conclusion aux fins de nullité” (nullity request) sent late last night to the parties : denunciation of the summons, this morning, of SIMBIKANGWAs’ “brother”, Bonaventure MUTANGANA to the Appeal Court of Versailles (no coincidence here for the defence); denunciation of the CPCR who would have “numerous contacts in Rwanda”; denunciation of the conditions in which their client was arrested and detained in Mayotte; denunciation of an “inequality of arms”, in comparison with the plaintiffs, the prosecution… remarks that seem somewhat “whiny” : “Being here everyday, it’s very complicated. We have practices. If we had been paid a little more.. We would not have been too many with 3 people”.
They compare the situation of french justice with those of other jurisdictions (Canada, ICTR, forgetting to recognise that these are completely different systems), they claim, as in the first trial a “transport to the sites” they know for a fact is impossible, they highlight the “lack of critical capacity to face the civil parties”, they regret the problems they’ve had to access the file… and the keep bringing up their mantra so often heard : “When you testify in Rwanda in favour of a person suspected of having participated in the genocide, you’re in danger…”.
For the defence, the trial is “impossible” to hold. Mr. EPSTEIN, citing the existence of a specialised hub (with specialised judges), calls for a “special defence”. He ends his intervention by him too demanding in turn transport to the sites with the ability to hear other witnesses : “Going to Rwanda is absolutely essential.”.
Mrs Domitille PHILIPPART, lawyer for the CPCR alongside Mr Simon FOREMAN, will have no trouble dismantling point by point the defences’ arguments that “want to discredit this trial”. Jurors are in no way affected by this nullity request : only the Court can deliberate. It is therefore neither the place nor the time. Most complaints concern the statement : “It’s too late. He had to ask for nullity before the end of the investigation.”. The defence did not file appeals on time ? “The defence only had to hand over the case to other lawyers if they did not believe in the action.” It was added that “everything is purged by the indictment order”. Neither the detention conditions in French prisons, nor the poverty of legal aid are grounds for invalidity. Mr. PHILIPPART finds that the attacks made by the defence against the CPCR are “unfair”. As for the fear that would be related to the pressure against witnesses, it is rather present for the prosecution witnesses. Concluding “the CPCR wants a trial as fair as possible”.
Then comes the turn of the FIDH council to denounce the request of the defence. To quote the judgment made by the Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation, court of final appeal) dismissing the appeal against the refusal to grant travels to the scenes and to denounce the fact that the defence has presented the findings of 40 pages, with 70 pieces of evidence on the eve of the trial, late in the evening.
Mrs Safya AKORRI for SURVIE, indicates that she has not received the text of the conclusions and that it is not the place to call for the creation of a “specialised defence pole”.
The General Council, Mr Rémi CROSSON du CORMIER, will address the jury by saying that this debate does not concern them. It is the President and his two assessors that will have to make a decision. He refuses the statements of the defence that suggested that there was a “conspiracy” to arrest Bonaventure MUTANGANA, cousin of SIMBIKANGWA, on the opening day of the trial : he was not aware. “The prosecution would have a lot more means” ? He learns. Comparing the french situation with that of Canada ? “The system is very different”. Ditto on means the lawyers have. The General Council prefers to recall the concept of “universal jurisdiction”. “We defend common, universal values”. This is why a trial is possible in France. A specialised defence ? “It would be a defence working for the state !”.
The General Council recognises that all issues raised by the defence have already even mentioned at the previous trial, and settled. He adds, addressing the Court : “We ask of you things that are not feasible. We cannot transport an Assize Court to a foreign country”. Asking for additional actions ? “Why on the eve of the trial ? The defence had over two years to do so.”
To conclude, always to the court : “You will refuse the request for the release of SIMBIKANGWA, and all other requests that have been rejected in the first trial”.
Hearings adjourned at 7:25 pm.
Alain Gauthier, Chairman of the CPCR
(translated by Léah TSHABALALA)