French police arrest Félicien Kabuga, alleged financier of genocide in Rwanda

Monument commemorating the genocide in Rwanda. Photo from The Advocacy Project, used under license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

After 26 years on the run, Rwandan genocide suspect, Félicien Kabuga, was arrested in a Parisian suburb on May 16. He was then transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

At 84, Félicien Kabuga has long been one of the world’s most wanted fugitives. The United States State Department offered a reward of $5 million for any information leading to his arrest. After playing hide-and-seek with police in several different countries to avoid his many charges, he was finally arrested on May 16, in Asnières-sur-Seine, a Paris suburb.

He wanted to be tried in France, but French courts decided to transfer him to Tanzania, to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) on June 3. Kabuga is accused of being the financier of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, — a period of 100 days in which Hutu extremists killed nearly 1 million people, mostly Tutsi.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) charged Kabuga in 1997 on seven counts including genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, as well as crimes committed in Rwanda between April 6 to July 17, 1994.

Journalist Moutiou Adjibi Nourou summarised the charges brought against Kabuga:

Il est accusé d’avoir créé les Interahamwe (“ceux qui combattent ensemble”), des milices hutu considérés par l’ONU comme les principaux bras armés du génocide de 1994 qui fit 800 000 morts.

Visé par un mandat d’arrêt international, Félicien Kabuga présidait la Radio-télévision libre des mille collines (RTLM), qui diffusa des appels aux meurtres des Tutsi après l’assassinat de l’ancien président Juvénal Habyarimana. Il dirigeait également le Fonds de défense nationale (FDN) qui collectait « des fonds » destinés à financer la logistique et les armes des miliciens et aurait « ordonné aux employés de sa société (…) d’importer un nombre impressionnant de machettes au Rwanda en 1993 », avant de les faire distribuer en avril 1994 aux Interahamwe.

He is accused of having created the Interahamwe (‘those who fight together’), which is the Hutu militia that is considered by the UN [United Nations] to have been the main perpetrator of the 1994 genocide that killed 800,000 people.

Wanted under an international arrest warrant, Félicien Kabuga presided over the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines [RTLM], which broadcast calls for the murder of all Tutsis after the assassination of former President Juvenal Habyarimana. He also headed the National Defense Fund [FDN] which collected ‘funds’ to finance the logistics and the weapons of the militia and was said to have ‘ordered the employees of his company (…) to import a significant number of machetes to Rwanda in 1993,’ before having them distributed to the Interahamwe in April of 1994.

RTLM played a fundamental role in the genocide. Indeed, Sandra Ngoga, a junior analyst at the University of Sherbrooke, states:

Ensuite, durant les 100 jours qui suivirent, elle [RTLM] incitera quotidiennement la population hutu à faire son travail, terme qui faisait référence au massacre des Tutsis. Par ailleurs, les animateurs de cette Radio ont joué un grand rôle dans le déroulement du génocide, car ces derniers signalaient aux citoyens le nom et la localisation des victimes tutsi et incitaient la population à effectuer rapidement son travail.On estime que la RTLM a contribué à la mort d’un grand nombre de personnes.

Peu après le génocide, plusieurs journalistes qui travaillaient pour la Radio ont été accusés de complicité de génocide et de crimes contre l’humanité.

During the 100 days of genocide, every day, the RTLM would encourage the Hutu population to ‘do their job’, a term that referred to the massacre of Tutsis. Furthermore, the hosts of this radio station played a large role in the genocide, as they informed citizens of the names and locations of Tutsi victims and encouraged the population to carry out their work quickly. RTLM is believed to have contributed to the deaths of a huge number of people.

Shortly after the genocide, several journalists who worked for the radio station were accused of complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity.

Kabuga’s time on the run came to an end during France’s lockdown due to COVID-19 measures. Eric Emeraux, head of France’s Central Office for Combating Crimes Against Humanity (OCLCH), is quoted here:

La traque a commencé depuis un an lors d’une réunion à La Haye sous l’égide du Mécanisme. Les membres de sa famille sont alors placés sous surveillance par les polices belge, britannique et française, selon les pays où ils résident. L’attention des services français se porte sur un appartement où se rendent souvent des membres de la famille de Kabuga. La surveillance électronique leur permet de constater que, sur 365 jours, il y a toujours un enfant de Kabuga (il en a eu onze) présent dans cet appartement. On avait de bonnes raisons et de gros faisceaux d’indices qui nous permettaient de penser qu’il était derrière, mais jusqu’à ce qu’on ait poussé la porte de sa chambre, on n’était pas sûr. On aurait eu des certitudes si on l’avait vu sortir. Il était très discret. Et il était confiné. Il vivait sous une fausse identité avec un passeport d’un pays africain… Il a eu 28 alias quand même, en 26 ans.

The hunt began a year ago during a meeting in The Hague under the auspices of the IRMCT [the courts]. Members of his family were then placed under surveillance by the Belgian, British and French police, depending on their country of residence. The French police focused their attention on an apartment often visited by members of Kabuga’s family. Using electronic surveillance methods over the course of 365 days, they saw that one of Kabuga’s children [he had 11 in total] was still living in the apartment. We had a large body of evidence and good reason to believe that he was inside, but until we pushed open the door of his bedroom, we were not completely sure. We would have been certain if we had seen him come out, but he was very discreet and was quarantined in his home. He was living under a false identity with a passport from an African country … He had 28 aliases in total — over 26 years.

Did Kabuga receive protection?

Although many activists have celebrated Kabuga’s arrest, some are wondering how he was able to escape justice for over a quarter of a century. Alain Gauthier, president of the Collective of Civil Parties for Rwanda (CPCR) is dubious about possible complicity which could have availed Kabuga on French soil.

According to an Agence France-Presse dispatch, the Rwandan Community Association of France (CRF) has already appealed to the Nanterre [city on the outskirt of Paris] public prosecutor’s office, demanding an investigation into who may have assisted Kabuga.

Many human rights activists and journalists have been asking the same questions on Twitter.

Ida Sawyer, deputy director for Africa at Human Rights Watch, stresses:

#Rwanda: With the confirmed death of the alleged genocidaire Augustin Bizimana, just a few days after the arrest in #France of Félicien Kabuga, we must redouble our efforts so that Protais Mpiranya, the last major fugitive, is brought to justice.

Nadia Kabalira writes:

The Paris Court of Appeal orders the transfer of #FélicienKabuga to @unirmct. No doubt he will play the procedure and go to appeal. Ironically, the court of appeal is the supreme legal and moral authority and it is precisely there that Kabuga will lodge his immoral appeal.

LUCHA, a civil society and human rights organization in Democratic Republic of Congo, laments:

Suspected and wanted for genocide and crimes against humanity, the Rwandan Felicien Kabuga lived in France with a Congolese passport!

Nicolas Berrod, a young journalist for the French daily newspaper Le Parisien writes:

A neighbor of the ‘financier of the Rwandan genocide,’ Félicien Kabuga in Asnières-sur-Seine says: ‘It’s crazy. I still can’t believe it. It’s like I’m learning that Hitler or Klaus Barbie was my neighbor.’

Justice will be done, concludes Laurent Larcher, a journalist with the French paper La Croix, and author of the book “Rwanda, ils parlent – Témoignages pour l’histoire.” [Rwanda, they speak – Testimonies for history] who writes:

Justice is underway, crime will not escape. There is still time for a man to be held accountable for his choices, his acts and his crimes. And he will do it in front of his children

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