Rwandan president named in wrongful-death suit in Oklahoma City federal court
Zelbst and two other attorneys are representing the widows of two assassinated African presidents. The widows allege Kagame, then leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, ordered the presidents' deaths in 1994.They also allege his army's actions brought about the mass civilian massacre known as the Rwandan Genocide.
Juvenal Habyarimana, the president of Rwanda, and Cyprien Ntaryamira, president of Burundi, were on a jet that was hit by surface-to-air missiles on April 6, 1994. Everyone aboard, including the French flight crew, died.
A French judge in 2006 blamed Kagame for the deaths but said Kagame is immune from prosecution because he is president. The Kagame government has in the past denied the accusation.
The widows do not live in the United States. They argue a federal court in Oklahoma City has jurisdiction over their claims because of Kagame's substantial contacts with Oklahoma Christian University.
"There is no independent functioning judiciary in Rwanda and any suit against defendants there would have been and would still be futile and would result in serious reprisals," the attorneys stated in the lawsuit.
A university spokesman said, “President Kagame is at Oklahoma Christian as the head of Rwanda to honor the 10 outstanding Rwandan Presidential Scholars who are graduating today.
"We do not want to distract from their remarkable accomplishments by getting involved in the politics of Rwanda and surrounding countries. We cannot comment on pending lawsuits.”