A United Nations judge on Wednesday ordered that Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga, who has been in a French jail since May, be sent to a detention unit in The Hague out of health considerations amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision means that Kabuga, 84, is likely to spend at least several months in The Hague and be brought before an international judge there for an initial appearance in his war crimes case, rather than in Arusha, Tanzania as originally planned.
“I hereby amend the arrest warrant and order of transfer,” Arusha-based judge Iain Bonomy said, ordering the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals “to modify Kabuga’s conditions of detention to allow for his detention there”.
“I consider that there are exceptional circumstances and that it would be in the interests of justice” to have Kabuga sent to The Hague, Bonomy said in a written decision from Arusha.
Kabuga, a Hutu businessman and once one of Rwanda’s wealthiest people, was indicted in 1997 on seven criminal counts including genocide.
UN prosecutors accuse the former tea and coffee tycoon of bankrolling and importing huge numbers of machetes for ethnic Hutu militias who killed hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda during a 100-day period in 1994.
Kabuga, who has yet to appear before the UN court, dismissed accusations against him as “lies” during French extradition hearings.
It had been uncertain where exactly Kabuga would be sent after France’s top civil court ruled on September 30 he could be turned over to the UN custody in Arusha, Tanzania.
Former UN tribunals for war crimes in Rwanda and Yugoslavia have been rolled over into a successor court that has dual offices in The Hague, Netherlands, and Arusha.
Bonomy’s order said the court has yet to receive Kabuga’s medical files, and that the relatively short distance between Paris and The Hague meant Kabuga’s transfer there would pose “far less risk”.
He said the date of Kabuga’s initial appearance is not certain due in part for a need for him to be quarantined for 10 days after arrival.
The Netherlands is one of Europe’s COVID-19 hotspots, while Tanzania’s president has said its coronavirus outbreak is over. However, the country has been criticised by the World Health Organization (WHO), accused of not sharing enough data.