Federal appeals court upholds immunity for Rwanda president

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit [opinion, PDF] against Rwandan President Paul Kagame [official website; BBC profile] alleging he ordered the killings of the former presidents of Rwanda and Burundi. The lawsuit was filed by the widows of Juvenal Habyarimana, the former president of Rwanda, and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the former president of Burundi, who were killed when their plane was shot down on approach to Rwanda. The widows have alleged that Kagame ordered the attack, which was allegedly carried out by a rebel army in Rwanda. They sought $350 million in damages. In its decision, the court ruled that Kagame is immune from suit because he is the leader of a foreign state. The court's decision upholds a district court ruling finding the same and is consistent with a suggestion of immunity [text, PDF] filed by the US government last year.

A report compiled by a French court in January appeared to clear Kagame of accusations [JURIST report] that he orchestrated the 1994 assassinations of Habyarimana and Ntaryamira. It concluded that the missile came from an area held by the Rwandan army, a unit of elite presidential troops, making it unlikely that Kagame could have been behind the attack. The death of Habyarimana is one of the incidents which sparked the 1994 Rwandan genocide [JURIST news archive; HRW backgrounder]. Rwanda has been continually scrutinized in relation to the 1994 genocide. In a report released in June of last year, Amnesty International (AI) urged Rwanda to review laws it claims have a "genocide ideology" [JURIST report] that are being used to silence critics and dissenters. AI claims that Rwanda has broadly drafted hate speech laws passed since the 1994 genocide that are being used to criminalize legitimate criticism and expression that does not rise to the level of hate speech. In April 2010 Rwandan authorities arrested [JURIST report] opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, accusing her of denying the 1994 genocide. The arrests come at a time when Kagame has received criticism from Human Rights Watch (HRW) for his treatment of opposition parties.

 

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