France approves Rwanda genocide suspect’s transfer to UN tribunal

Felicien Kabuga is accused of genocide and crimes against humanity for equipping fighters that killed more than 800,000 ethnic Tutsis.

Rwanda Felicien Kabuga genocide
Readers look at a newspaper carrying the photograph of Rwandan Felicien Kabuga [File: George Mulala/Reuters]

France’s top appeals court ruled on Wednesday that alleged Rwandan genocide financier Felicien Kabuga be transferred to a United Nations tribunal in Tanzania to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

UN prosecutors accuse the former tea and coffee tycoon of bankrolling and importing huge numbers of machetes for ethnic Hutu fighters that killed hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda during a 100-day period in 1994.

He was also accused of establishing the Radio Television Mille Collines station that broadcast vicious propaganda against the ethnic Tutsi minority, as well as training and equipping an armed group that led the killing spree.

Kabuga was close to former President Juvenal Habyarimana, whose death when his plane was shot down over Kigali sparked the 100-day genocide. Kabuga’s daughter married Habyarimana’s son.

Kabuga’s arrest in Paris in May ended a manhunt lasting more than 20 years. He has denounced the charges, including genocide and incitement to commit genocide, as “lies”.

His lawyers said at 87 he was too frail to be transferred abroad, especially during a dangerous coronavirus pandemic. The French courts list his age as 84.

Kabuga’s legal team also argued that French law violated the constitution by failing to allow for a thorough examination of international arrest warrants.

In June, a French court ruled Kabuga should stand trial at the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) in Tanzania, which took over the duties of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) when it formally closed in 2015.

Kabuga’s lawyers appealed that decision, citing what they said was his frail health and fears the UN tribunal would be biased.

But the Cour de Cassation, France’s highest appeals court for criminal cases, disagreed on Wednesday, meaning France will have a month to hand Kabuga over to the MICT.

Until his arrest, Kabuga had been the most high-profile fugitive still sought by the UN tribunal.

Seven counts

Lawyer Emmanuel Altit said, after Wednesday’s ruling, the defence team would ask the MICT that Kabuga be transferred to The Hague rather than Arusha “because in The Hague his rights will be better protected”.

During the hearing before the Cour de Cassation, another Kabuga lawyer, Louis Bore, claimed his client would not receive proper medical treatment in Tanzania for conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, and leukoaraiosis – an incurable illness that erodes physical and cognitive abilities.

Kabuga was indicted by the ICTR in 1997 on seven counts, all of which he denies.

Rwanda has said it wants to see Kabuga tried by its own courts.

However, transferring jurisdiction from the MICT would require a decision from the UN Security Council, according to MICT Prosecutor Serge Brammertz and The Hague is also a coronavirus infection hotspot where more restrictions were imposed this week.

Commenting earlier this month for the first time since Kabuga’s detention in May, President Paul Kagame said on national television the arrest could be viewed as those who sheltered him did not want the death of the ageing fugitive on their hands.

Rwanda itself carried out 22 executions of people convicted for their role in the conflict before abolishing the death penalty in 2007, a move that facilitated the extradition of suspects from other countries to its jurisdiction.

Between 2005 and 2012, some 12,000 popular tribunals know as “gacaca” tried close to two million people, convicting two-thirds of them.

European courts, notably in Belgium and France, have also tried and sentenced Rwandan genocide suspects.

Source: News Agencies