After evading justice for almost 26 years, 84-year-old Felicien Kabuga, the infamous co-founder of the Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) and the most-wanted absconder of Rwanda genocide was arrested in Paris on May 16, 2020.
It was Kabuga’s radio station, Radio Rwanda that played the instrumental role in the horrendous events in Rwanda in 1994. The announcers of Radio Rwanda used inflammatory rhetoric against the Tutsi minority, calling them ‘cockroaches’ which had to be terminated so the Hutu majority would emerge as winners.
Over eight hundred thousand Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred in 100 days during the genocide in 1994. Kabuga was held accountable for financing militias and importing machetes which were used in killing.
Claver Irakoze, a survivor of the 1994 events, says, “We prayed to die softly and to go to heaven. People were negotiating over how they should be killed - that was the level of trauma”. Beatrice Uwera, another survivor, recalls that the soldiers went from house to house with lists of names of all the Tutsis and slaughtered people with weapons like machetes and guns.
Felicien Kabuga was implicated on multiple charges like genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, persecution and extermination.
His capture is not only an event of celebration amongst the people of Rwanda but also an indication of improving relations between France and Rwanda. “In the past two months, we came to a conclusion that he was most likely in France and in the region of Paris. We intensified cooperation with French authorities. They were very instrumental in locating the specific apartment where he was. So, cooperation with the police and prosecutor general office in Paris was excellent” says Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT).
Kabuka’s ability to evade law for so long also raises certain queries. For instance, how long was Kabuga residing in France before the officials finally gave him up? “It is difficult to believe that such a high-profile suspect, even with a new identity, could live openly without the French authorities knowing it” states Phil Clark, a professor of International Politics and scholar of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi at the London-based School of Oriental and African Studies.
One possible explanation is that Kabuga might have several contacts in Europe who helped him remain under the radar for so long. “It is clear that Kabuga could not have escaped international justice for so long without an extensive network of accomplices, which enabled him to enjoy facilitation from Government institutions in the several African and European countries” says Valentine Rugwabiza, Rwanda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
As Kabuga is being put on trial (so far, he has denied all accusations against him), other complications pop up. International criminal trials and hearings take quite a lot of years, and whether Kabuga will remain alive till all the trials are complete, is still a doubt. Secondly, many questions hover around how the mechanism will judge the monetary parts of Kabuka’s involvement in the genocides.
At last the chief genocide suspect is detained and the Rwandan Government and people hope that the trial does not fall for procedural hurdles and proceed without any unnecessary delay.