Habyarimana v. Kagame, No. 11-6315 (10th Cir. 2012)Annotate this Case
In 1994, two surface-to-air missiles brought down an aircraft carrying then Rwandan and Burundi Presidents Juvenal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, both of Hutu ethnicity. The killings fueled the Rwandan genocide, which spread violence across East Central Africa and killed millions of innocent victims. Some believe the then Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front headed by current Rwandan President Paul Kagame was behind the killings. The widows of the two former heads-of-state, Madame Habyarimana and Madame Ntaryamira, blamed President Kagame for their husbands' deaths. They filed suit in Oklahoma federal court seeking to hold him liable under the Alien Tort Claims Act, the Torture Act, the Racketeeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, and multiple state and international laws. During the pendency of this case in the district court, the United States, at the request of the Rwandan Government, submitted a "Suggestion of Immunity" on behalf of President Kagame. The Tenth Circuit upheld the district court in dismissing this case due to President Kagame's immunity: "[quoting case law precedent] 'the precedents are overwhelming. For more than 160 years American courts have consistently applied the doctrine of sovereign immunity when requested to do so by the executive branch. Moreover, they have done so with no further review of the executive's determination.' Simply stated, '[i]t is . . . not for the courts to deny an immunity which our government has seen fit to allow.'"