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France president admits 'mistakes' made during Rwanda conflict

[JURIST] French President Nicholas Sarkozy [official website, in French] admitted [text, PDF, in French; video, in French] Thursday that France and the international community made "mistakes" in handling the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Sarkozy spoke while on a visit to Rwanda to meet with President Paul Kagame [official website; BBC profile], the first visit to Rwanda [BBC report] by a French president since the genocide of the Tutsi people by the Hutus. Sarkozy said France and the rest of the world made errors that allowed the genocide to happen but did not offer a formal apology. The trip is intended to strengthen ties between the two countries after France severed ties with Rwanda [JURIST report] in 2006 when a French judge accused Kagame of being involved in shooting down a plane carrying the former Rwandan president, which initiated the genocide. Kagame, the leader of the Tutsi rebels who took control of the country, ending the conflict, claims the plane was shot down by Hutu extremists to justify the mass killings during the genocide.

Prosecutions of those responsible for the genocide are ongoing. Earlier on Thursday, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website] convicted [JURIST report] ex-army officer Ephrem Setako [case materials; Trial Watch profile] of genocide, crimes against humanity, and murder and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. Also this month, the ICTR convicted former Rwandan army officer Tharcisse Muvunyi [case materials; Trial Watch profile] of direct and public incitement to genocide and sentenced [JURIST report] him to 15 years imprisonment. In January, French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner [official profiles] announced plans to create a special judicial service [JURIST report] to investigate and charge individuals accused of crimes against humanity and genocide in France or in other countries. The new judicial unit would streamline the prosecution of Rwandans living in France who are accused of war crimes committed during the 1994 conflict.

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