Félicien Kabuga, one of the key suspected architects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, was arrested Saturday, May 16, in a Paris suburb after more than two decades on the run.
“C’est une bombe (it’s a bomb),” Alain Gauthier, president of the France-based Collectif des parties civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR), told The New Times an hour after news of Kabuga’s arrest broke out.
Gauthier’s group has worked, for the past two decades, to bring genocidaires on French soil to book.
But Kabuga, a high profile genocide suspect, was not on the list of fugitives they knew to be residing in France.
Like Gauthier, very many people were shocked by the development, but not surprised.
To candid observers, it is not his capture that stands out, but the many unanswered questions.
Genocide researcher Tom Ndahiro said: “He was caught in France. But, how and when did he get there? Why was he where he was caught?”
French prosecution and police said 85-year-old Kabuga was living under a false identity in the Paris suburbs.
“How was it possible for France not to know Kabuga lived close to its Capital? Who was involved in keeping him safely in that French suburb?” Ndahiro posed.
According to Ndahiro, in 1994, slightly after the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana, Kabuga’s family was supposed to be evacuated by France among the people who were at risk.
Majority of these people considered “at risk”, he noted, were genocidaires. And this begs the question: “Was he in France as a protected man?”
Ndahiro noted that in December 1994, Switzerland expelled Kabuga, and he relocated to Nairobi, Kenya.
“Why didn’t France do the same? Let us hope France will hold accountable people who were or are responsible in protecting this Genocide against the Tutsi fugitive.”
Three years in Paris?
As per what he has gathered so far, regarding how long Kabuga could have been in France before his arrest, on Monday, May 18, Gauthier told The New Times that: “A neighbour is said to have seen him for three years.”
Gauthier noted: “The arrest of Kabuga gives us great satisfaction. It marks the end of a 26-year-old chase. But this arrest raises questions.”
Gauthier is also pondering over how long Kabuga has been in France; and, “what complicity did he benefit from, other than that of his children?”
“How is it that a man who was wanted by the police all over the world, assuming that he was really being searched for, could have arrived in France and lived there incognito?” Gauthier asked.
“What relations did he have with the Habyarimana family, and in particular Agathe Kanziga herself who was subject to a complaint the CPCR filed in 2007?”
Agathe Kanziga, wife of former President Juvénal Habyarimana, is number one among the known Genocide fugitives living in France, despite an arrest warrant issued by Rwanda and a lawsuit by CPCR.
Kanziga and Kabuga have strong ties as, among others, their children tied knots. Most of the family members, both ends, are in France.
Unlikely French authorities did not know
Phil Clark, a Professor of International Politics at SOAS University of London, in England, said “it seems unlikely that Kabuga could’ve lived in France for so long” without the French authorities knowing.
“He’s well connected among French elites, given his ties to senior (French) officials in the 1990s. He also seems to have received support from family members and the large Rwandan diaspora in Paris,” Clark said.
Clark, a political scientist specialising in conflict and post-conflict issues in Africa - observed that the fact the French authorities cooperated in the multinational investigation that led to Kabuga’s arrest underlines the improving relations between France and Rwanda “in recent years.”
Where will Kabuga be prosecuted?
But Clark also stressed that the key unanswered questions are: how long has Kabuga been in France, and, did the French harbour him for so long because handing him over would risk a trial that exposes French complicity in the Genocide against the Tutsi?
He said another critical question is, “where will Kabuga be prosecuted now?”
The UN residual mechanism has stated that it wants to try Kabuga. Clark noted that the UN residual mechanism’s Statute is “heavily geared” towards this outcome.
“However, there are legal and political avenues that Rwanda can pursue to bring the Kabuga trial to Kigali,” Clark added.
Emphasising the importance of a trial in Rwanda, Clark drew similarities between the trial of Kabuga and an historic event in the history of Israel, the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, in the 1960s.
“Prosecuting Kabuga in Kigali will have a similar impact to the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem,” Clark said.
“Such trials are most powerful when they are held in full view of the communities directly affected by the crimes in question, rather than in international courtrooms thousands of kilometres away.”
Clark noted that Rwanda has a track record of prosecuting cases transferred from the now defunct ICTR and the UN residual mechanism.
International investigation needs to happen
British journalist Linda Melvern, who has authored books on the 1994 Genocide, suggested that every stone must be turned to know Kabuga’s full story as a fugitive.
She told The New Times that Kabuga is a dangerous man and an international investigation needs to happen to explain how he was allowed to have 26 years on the run.
Melvern added: “We need to know the story of his life as a fugitive, who helped and protected him, his connections to the wider diaspora and the role of his children -- all this might be a by-product of the trial.”
Melvern recently published a new book on how masterminds of the 1994 Genocide and their supporters continue to deny the atrocities.
She added: “We need to know his role in influencing and financing the on-going campaign of genocide denial that has done so much harm to survivors.”
Kabuga was charged before the ICTR with genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, committed in Rwanda between April 6 and July 17, 1994.Follow https://twitter.com/KarhangaJames