Felicien Kabuga, one of the leading suspected architects of the Genocide against the Tutsi was arrested Saturday in a Paris suburb after nearly 26 years on the run, the International Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) confirmed.
French prosecution and police said in a joint statement that Kabuga, once one of the richest men in the country, was living under a false identity in the Paris suburbs.
The 85-year-old had used his deep connections and wealth to corrupt leaders, allowing him safe haven in countries like Kenya, Switzerland, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and later in France.
This enabled the former notorious businessman, who’s charged by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) with seven counts of genocide and related crimes, to run away from justice.
His arrest paves way for different legal procedures, part of which could see him transferred to the custody of the Residual Mechanism where he will be able to stand trial.
Dr. Alphonse Muleefu, an international criminal law expert, says there are possibilities of Kabuga being transferred to Hague in the Netherlands or Arusha in Tanzania after French courts complete relevant legal processes.
“The Paris court of appeal to which he has been submitted is going to examine his arrest warrant, because he now has his legal team, to see if he has reasons to why he should not be transferred,” he says.
He indicates that the French courts’ role is to find out whether the arrest process does not violate procedural rights or whether there is reasonable basis to suspect the person might have committed the alleged crimes.
“The decision will then be made to be transferred to the Residual Mechanism in Hague, after which the process of trial will follow. He could either be tried in Hague or Arusha,” he adds.
Dr. Muleefu does not necessarily believe that it is easy for Kabuga to be sent to be tried in Arusha given that recent cases of appeal have been taking place in Hague where the Mechanism has active operations.
“If activities of the court were still active in Arusha, we would see him being sent to Arusha,” he notes.
Kabuga is 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 6 April and 17 July 1994.
Phil Clark, a professor of International Politics at SOAS, said he was surprised by “broad acceptance of Kabuga going to the UN residual mechanism rather than Rwanda.”
In the recent past, the ICTR sent suspects to be tried in Rwanda, including Jean Uwinkindi, Ladislas Ntaganzwa, Bernard Munyagishari, a former commander who created a special unit for the rape and murder of Tutsi women.
“The ICTR/IRMCT has already transferred 8 cases to Rwanda (3 trials, 5 suspects at large) so why not Kabuga? Time to walk the talk of supporting national courts, complementarity,” he said in a tweet.
Genocide survivors have also requested Kabuga to be tried in Rwanda.
Kabuga was among the last of the most wanted prominent criminals still roaming freely in different countries, who oversaw the killings of more than a million Tutsis in 1994.
Can France try him?
Some experts suggest that the Residual Mechanism can decide to allow France to try him, but France’s past actions of holding such cases has left a dirty legacy, and creates pessimism over how it would handle Kabuga’s case.
The country has been accused of being a haven of genocide fugitives notwithstanding, about 12 years ago they were given by ICTR the files of two fugitives who were being sought by the court to try them locally in France, and up to now nothing has happened.
Both Wenceslas Munyeshyaka and Laurent Bucyibaruta are hiding in plain sight in France, despite extreme gravity of their criminal acts in the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Munyeshyaka is a former vicar at Sainte Famille Catholic Church in Kigali who openly commanded the militia as they descended on the helpless fleeing Tutsi at the church.
Dr. Muleefu rather suggests that Rwandan Prosecution could rather apply expressing request for Kabuga to be tried in Rwanda, even though the decision lies with IRMCT which has primacy over national courts.
According to Martin Ngoga, the former special representative of Rwanda to ICTR says that any referral to national jurisdiction would require the amendment of the Statute.
“If that happens, Rwanda would have stronger jurisdictional link (to try him) than any other nation,” the current Speaker of East African Legislative Assembly said in a tweet.Follow https://twitter.com/Julio_Bizimungu