Paris Court Orders Transfer of Rwanda Genocide Suspect to UN Tribunal

Family photographs of some of those who died hang on display at the Kigali Genocide Memorial center in Kigali, Rwanda. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

PARIS (CN) — The wealthy businessman accused of bankrolling the Rwandan genocide should be transferred to a United Nations tribunal in Tanzania, a Paris court ruled Wednesday. 

Felicien Kabuga, once thought to be the richest man in the small, central African country, was arrested in a posh Paris suburb last month after more than two decades on the run. He has been charged with genocide for his role in the 1994 massacre that killed 800,000 people in less than three months. 

“It is historical on many levels,” Rwandan’s justice minister, Johnston Busingye, told the New York Times. 

French police arrested Kabuga based on an arrest warrant from the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, or IRMCT, which took over any ongoing cases after the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was wound down in 2015. Located in neighboring Tanzania, the tribunal was set up by the United Nations in 1994 to judge the perpetrators of the genocide, eventually convicting 61 people.  

Kabuga had appeared in the Paris courtroom two weeks ago in a wheelchair and wearing a face mask, and his lawyers argued that the octogenarian’s health was too frail to transfer him to Tanzania. His exact age is unclear. Kabuga claims he is 87 but the arrest warrant lists him as 84.

But in Wednesday’s decision – which was announced in a press release only available in French – the Paris Court of Appeal found that his health is not an obstacle to extradition. 

His legal team voiced further concerns that he wouldn’t be given a fair trial in Tanzania or that the Tanzanian government might hand him over to Rwanda, which has also expressed an interest in pursuing prosecution. Rather, his lawyers said that he should face charges in France.

Further complicating matters, the IRMCT’s chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz, wants France to send him to The Hague, Netherlands, which shares IRMCT headquarters with Arusha, Tanzania. Brammertz is concerned that Covid-19 travel restrictions will make transferring him to Africa too difficult. 

Kabuga stands accused of financing the genocide by purchasing machetes and other weapons for the Hutu ethnic group to use against the Tutsi ethnic group after violence broke out in April 1994, following the assassination of then-President Juvenal Habyarimana. In the years leading up to the genocide, Rwanda was immersed in a bloody civil war between the Tutsis and the Hutus. 

Kabuga also owned Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines, the radio station whose hatred-inducing broadcasts are widely blamed for stirring up the violence, calling Tutsis “cockroaches” and announcing the addresses of sympathizers. 

In an unrelated case at the European Court of Human Rights, researcher François Graner, who wrote a book about France’s involvement in the Rwandan genocide, saw his complaint about access to archival materials turned down Wednesday. That ruling is only available in French.

Graner was granted access to two dossiers of documents from the archives of François Mitterrand, the French president during the genocide, but was denied access to another 16 dossiers. Graner, whose book accuses French military personnel of aiding Hutu militias, told the BBC the reasons for restricting his access were political.

“It’s obviously a cover-up,” he said.

France backed Habyarimana’s Hutu government, including providing arms and training to some militias. 

Graner filed a complaint with a French court but was rejected there as well. His appeal in national courts is still pending and the European Court of Human Rights, located in Strasbourg, France, found that he has to exhaust all domestic remedies before bringing a complaint. 

Considered a court of last resort, applicants must first go through all avenues for justice in their national courts before bringing complaints before the European Court of Human Rights. The court was established by the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the civil and political rights of those living in its 47 member states. 

In another coincidental event, another Rwandan genocide suspect, Augustin Bizimana, was confirmed dead last month, less than a week after Kabuga’s arrest. Bizimana was accused of orchestrating the murder of Rwanda Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who succeeded Habyarimana after his assignation. 

Uwilingiyimana and her husband, who surrendered to protect their children, were both shot in the head and 10 Belgian peacekeeping forces, who were guarding the family, were also killed. Her body was found naked with a beer bottle shoved up her vagina. 

Bizimana’s body was identified by DNA testing after being found in the neighboring Republic of the Congo. According to United Nations investigators, he had been dead since 2000. 

Six suspects indicted by the tribunal are still at large, including Major Protais Mpiranya, who headed the Presidential Guard, the military unit that took charge after Habyarimana’s assignation. 

Kabuga can appeal his extradition decision within 10 days. 

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