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Mme Agatha Habyarimana (born Kanziga)

Court Appeals Commission for Refugees (2nd Division), France
Case number 564776
Decision title Decision
Decision date 15 February 2007
  • Agathe Kanziga Habyarimana
  • French officer of Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons
Categories Genocide
Keywords genocide, jurisdiction
Other countries involved
  • Rwanda
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Agathe Habyarimana (maiden name: Agathe Kanziga) is the widow of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, whose death on 6 April 1994 marked the beginning of the Rwandan genocide that was to result in the death of some 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus within the lapse of a few months. Agathe Habyarimana is frequently regarded as one of the powers behind Juvénal habyarimana’s Presidencey and as part of the inner circle responsible for the planification and organisation of the Rwandan genocide. On 9 April 1994, she was airlifted to France.

In July 2004, she applied for refugee status but her application was denied by the French Office of Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA). By the present decision, the Appeals Commission for Refugees confirmed the rejection and concluded that she had participated in the planning, organising and direction of the genocide in Rwanda since 1990. 

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Procedural history

On 8 July 2004, Agathe Kanziga Habyarimana, the widow of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, filed an application for asylum in France with the French Office of Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA).

On 4 January 2007, the Director General of OFPRA rejected the request for asylum. Agathe Habyarimana appealed the decision.

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Related developments

On 24 December 2007, Agathe Habyarimana appealed the decision of the Appeals Commission for Refugees to the Conseil d’Etat, the highest administrative court in France. By a decision of 16 October 2009, the Conseil d’Etat rejected the appeal.

On 2 March 2010, Agathe Habyarimana was arrested in France in fulfilment of an international arrest warrant issued by the Rwandan government for genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, creation of a criminal gang, murder and conspiracy to commit murder, extermination, and public incitement to commit genocide. She was released on condition that she remain in France.

See also L. Davies, 'Widow of Assassinated Rwandan President Arrested, The Guardian, 2 March 2010; and P. Gourevitch, 'The Arrest of Madame Agathe', The New Yorker, 2 March 2010.

Absent an extradition treaty between France and Rwanda, cases are decided on an individual basis. On 28 September 2011, the Court of Appeal for Paris rejected Rwanda’s extradition request for Habyarimana.

See also BBC, 'France Rejects Rwanda’s Habyarimana Extradition Bid', BBC News, 28 September 2011; AP, 'France Must not Extradite former Rwandan President’s Wife, Court Rules, The Guardian, 28 September 2011; and P-A Souchard, 'Agathe Habyarimana, Rwanda Ex-First Lady, Won’t Be Extradited', The Huffington Post, 28 September 2011.

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Legally relevant facts

Agathe Kanizga Habyarimana is the widow of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana whose plane was shot down on 6 April 1994, sparking the genocide in Rwanda that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.

Although legally confined to the powers attributed to a First Lady, several witnesses have suggested that Agathe Habyarimana occupied a key role within the Rwandan government and was able to appoint and dismiss various women to high political posts who later became instrumental in the organisation and operation of the Rwandan genocide. She is alleged to have been, prior to her fleeing Rwanda in April 1994, the leader of feared death squads responsible for the disappearance of political prisoners and former leaders of the First Republic, as well as endorsing the running of anti-Tutsi newspapers and radio stations. She was instrumental to the planning of the Rwandan genocide (pp. 1-2).

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Core legal questions

Article 1(F)(a) of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees excludes from the category of persons eligible for refugee status those in respect of whom “there are serious reasons for considering that he has committed [...] a crime against humanity.”

  • Did the French Office of Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (OFPRA) err in implicitly rejecting the asylum request of the appellant by basing its decision that she fell within the terms of Article 1(F)(A) on, inter alia, records produced in proceedings before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda?
  • Furthermore, does the appellant’s appearance on a list of names compiled by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees identifying her as a person suspected of involvement in genocide satisfy the “serious reasons” to believe test in Article 1(F)(a)?
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Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Article 1(A)(2) and (F)(a) of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
  • Article L. 712-2 of the Code of Entry and Stay for Aliens and Asylum Seekers.

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Court's holding and analysis

Despite the persistent denial of the Appellant as to her involvement in the planning of the Rwandan genocide prior to her departure from the country, it results from numerous sources including public documents, case law of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, witness testimony, reports of NGOs, that the Appellant formed part of the “Akazu” inner circle of the Presidency responsible for crimes committed between 1973 and 1994 (pp. 6-7).

Taking into account the Appellant’s infamy and her de facto position at the heart of the former regime in Rwanda, despite the reality of her fears of persecution at the hands of the Rwandan authorities, there exist serious reasons within the meaning of Article 1(F)(a) of the Geneva Convention to believe that she committed a crime against humanity (p. 9). The documents introduced to demonstrate the absence of proceedings against the Appellant for genocide have no incidence on the current review of her request for asylum (p. 9).

Consequently, the Appellant should be excluded from the application of the 1951 Geneva Convention pursuant to her falling with the category of individuals identified in Article 1(F)(a). The appeal is rejected (p. 10).

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Instruments cited

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Related cases

  • Conseil d’Etat (France), Mme H., Decision, 16 October 2009.

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Additional materials