20 years on, French courts take up Rwanda's genocide and hold unflattering mirror for France

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Unusually, and against defense lawyers' wishes, the trial will be filmed by court officials for posterity.

French courts refused to allow the extradition of Simbikangwa to Rwanda. "The government of Rwanda is able to influence the outcome of trials, particularly on political cases, or cases that are sensitive," said Carina Tertsakian, a senior researcher in Human Rights Watch's Africa division.

The U.N. tribunal on the Rwanda genocide, based in Arusha, Tanzania, as well as several Western countries — including Belgium, Rwanda's former colonial overseer — have brought dozens of people to justice. The U.N. tribunal will close later this year. Over the years, France handed over three suspects to the tribunal, a dribble compared to the 27 cases now in the Paris court, tribunal documents show.

Ties between France and Rwanda eroded after the genocide. A low point came in November 2006, when a French anti-terrorism magistrate delivered nine arrest warrants for people close to Kagame. Serious French casework resumed after a political thaw, when Kouchner was foreign minister.

France, he said, "wasn't accused of participating in the genocide, it was accused of making grave political errors."

"For many years, France prevented justice from being done — let's be clear — blocked it for reasons of unease and bad memories of its behavior," Kouchner said.

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Bastien Innzauralde in Paris contributed to this report.

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