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Rwanda genocide

France agrees to extradite Rwanda genocide suspect Kabuga to UN court

Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga
Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga © United Nations/AFP

A French court has ordered Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga be handed over to a United Nations tribunal to face charges over bankrolling and arming ethnic Hutu militias that killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. 

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Kabuga is indicted for genocide and incitement to commit genocide, among other charges.

The 84-year-old, whose arrest in Paris in May ended a manhunt that lasted more than two decades, has called the charges lies.

His lawyers say he will not receive a fair trial at the tribunal, which is based in The Hague and in Arusha, Tanzania. They also say his health is too delicate for him to be transferred to Africa, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kabuga had his colon removed last month, and is said to be suffering from delusions, owing to more than two decades on the run swapping and changing identities.

However, a French court decided Wednesday that his health was “not incompatible” with his transfer into UN custody, where judges have been waiting to prosecute him since 1997.

Where does he go?

The one-time tea and coffee tycoon could be transferred to The Hague before a trial in Arusha, where a new UN court is handling cases dating back to the 1994 genocide.

Once in Tanzania, lawyers for the ex-businessman fear that the UN’s International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), which replaced the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 2015, may decide to hand their client over to Rwandan authorities.

But Kabuga’s lawyers want a domestic trial in France, which has already tried and convicted 3 Rwandan genocide suspects and blocked the extradition of 20 others because of legislative concerns.

Many Rwandans beg to differ. They feel that Kabuga should be tried in the country where he is suspected of masterminding the massacre of an estimated 800,000 people.

Following an RFI article published last week, dozens took to Twitter to call for Kabuga to be tried in Kigali.

As the co-founder of the notorious Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), Kabuga is accused of using the station to incite hatred between Hutus and Tutsis. Other charges claim he bankrolled the militias that staged the 100-day massacre.

After the 1994 genocide, Kigali set up special “gacaca” or people’s courts to try genocide suspects, with 65 percent of cases resulting in imprisonment.

Move to Rwanda?

However, reports also emerged revealing that around 20-people accused of genocide, were executed in a sign of retributive justice.

In 2007, Rwanda abolished the death penalty in a bid to encourage countries to hand over genocide suspects, removing the final obstacles for a transfer of jurisdictional authority from the UN to Kigali.

For now, the ball is still in the UN’s court.

Kabuga's lawyers addressed a letter to the tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, ahead of Wednesday’s ruling urging him to leave the case with France's judiciary. That attempt failed.

However, Kabuga can still appeal Wednesday’s extradition ruling by challenging the validity of the 1999 arrest warrant issued against him.

Appeal judges would then have two months to deliberate their decision before handing Kabuga over to UN custody, which could take an additional month.

Kabuga's case has led to a tussle between UN, French and Rwandan states about who gets to try him. Beyond the legal ramifications, observers are looking more closely at what the trial stands to reveal about the harrowing details of the genocide and how it occurred, regardless of when and where it takes place.

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