France to push for genocide panel in Paris court

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PARIS (AP) — France’s foreign and justice ministers said Wednesday they want to create a special investigative service for crimes against humanity and genocide that are committed in other countries.

Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner want to establish the service in Paris court as part of a legal reform bill to be put before parliament in the first half of the year.

The ministers wrote in a column published Wednesday in Le Monde newspaper that the aim is to speed up judicial treatment of war crimes and genocide cases that can drag on for years.

“The homeland of human rights, France will never be a sanctuary for those behind genocide, war crimes, or crimes against humanity,” the ministers wrote.

Guillaume Didier, a Justice Ministry spokesman, told The Associated Press that the proposed service would handle crimes against humanity and genocide that occurred in other countries and that involved people who have taken refuge in or traveled to France.

French investigators of genocide or war crime claims abroad face problems because information linked to them often is spread over vast areas, the ministers said. Many cases are complex and require technical expertise.

The ministers said the proposed Paris investigative section would not seek to compete with the “universal” jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, but would rely on national jurisdictions authorized as part of the 1998 Rome Treaty that created that court.

For instance, French prosecutors are investigating the 1994 Rwanda genocide, and there are several Rwandans in France accused of a role in it. The prosecutors have gotten bogged down — partially because of staffing shortages.

“The rising number of pending cases, notably involving more than 15 Rwandans awaiting trial, is prompting us to act quickly,” the ministers wrote in the newspaper.

Separately, Rwanda has maintained that French soldiers there bore responsibility for the slaughter of minority Tutsis by Hutu extremists. It was not immediately clear how or whether the new French investigative unit would handle such claims.