A United Nations tribunal in The Hague has opened the genocide trial of a Rwandan businessman captured two years ago after decades on the run, with judges saying the hearing must go on despite the suspect’s decision to boycott it from his jail cell.
Felicien Kabuga, a former businessman and radio station owner, is one of the last suspects sought by the tribunal prosecuting crimes committed in the 1994 genocide, when ruling Hutu majority fighters killed more than 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates in 100 days.
“It is the understanding of the chamber that mister Kabuga is this morning well but has decided not to attend the hearing this morning either in person or via video link,” Judge Iain Bonomy said. “The trial must proceed” with the opening statement of the prosecutor, judges decided.
Kabuga is in his mid-to-late 80s, though his precise date of birth is disputed. He was arrested in May 2020 in Paris between COVID-19 lockdowns and extradited to The Hague where he has entered a not-guilty plea.
During his extradition hearings in France, he described the accusations against him as “lies”.
Prosecutors have charged the former coffee and tea tycoon with three counts of genocide and two counts of crimes against humanity, primarily for promoting hate speech through his broadcaster, Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM).
He is also accused of arming ethnic Hutu militias.
Charges against Kabuga
“In support of the genocide, Kabuga did not need to wield a rifle or a machete at a road block. Rather, he supplied weapons in bulk and facilitated the training that prepared the Interahamwe [Hutu militias] to use them,” UN prosecutor Rashid Rashid said in his opening statement.
He added that similarly Kabuga did not need to pick up a microphone himself to call for the killing of Tutsi, but founded a radio station that “broadcast genocidal propaganda across Rwanda”.
Prosecutors said the genocide charges cover rapes and sexual assaults, as well as killings. Hutus were encouraged in RTLM broadcasts to “taste” Tutsi women, they said.
UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz told Reuters news agency the trial’s opening would bolster international justice.
“Even if it’s taken more than 20 years, justice can still be successful and that justice can be done,” he said.