PARIS — A Paris court delivered France’s first-ever conviction for genocide Friday, sentencing a Rwandan former intelligence chief to 25 years in prison over the 1994 killings of at least 500,000 people in the African country.
The landmark trial of 54-year-old Pascal Simbikangwa sets off what could be the first of dozens of French trials into one of the 20th century’s greatest atrocities — two decades after it happened.
In a late-night verdict after 5 ½ weeks on trial, he was found guilty of genocide and complicity to crimes against humanity. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Simbikangwa’s lawyers would appeal.
While the French government wasn’t on trial, critics say France was too supportive of the Rwandan government and for too long turned a blind eye to the genocide.
Simbikangwa proclaimed his innocence and insisted he never saw any of the bodies that littered the country’s roads and towns at the time.
In his final appeal to the jury Friday morning, Simbikangwa insisted that the ‘‘authenticity of my innocence needs no more proof.’’
Prosecution and defense lawyers noted the seminal nature of the trial, the first in which a French court has decided a case of genocide.