Top French Court Upholds Extradition of Rwanda Genocide Suspect

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

PARIS (CN) — Rwanda’s former richest man can be turned over to a United Nations tribunal to face charges of genocide, France’s high court ruled Wednesday. 

Felicien Kabuga, the wealthy businessman accused of bankrolling the 1994 Rwandan genocide, must now be handed over to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, or IRMCT, within 30 days, the French Court of Cassation held in a decision only available in French. 

“There is no legal or medical obstacle to the execution of the arrest warrant bearing an order for transfer,” the court said in a press release, also only available in French. The defense team had argued that the 85-year-old Kabuga, who is now claiming he is 87, was too frail for the journey. 

The French Court of Cassation in Paris. (Photo via Daniel Vorndran/Wikipedia Commons)

Kabuga was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1998 on seven counts, including genocide, for allegedly financing the purchase of weapons that Hutu militias used against Tutsis during the four-month conflict that left more than 1 million dead in the small, central African country. 

His arrest warrant also includes charges related to his ownership of 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. 

Kabuga was picked up in a wealthy Paris suburb in May after eluding capture for more than two decades. He fled Rwanda in 1994, just as the genocide was ending. He spent time in both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya before entering France without being detected. 

The IRMCT took over any ongoing cases from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda after it was wound down in 2015. Jointly headquartered in Tanzania and the Netherlands, the tribunal was set up by the U.N. in 1994 to judge the perpetrators of the genocide, eventually convicting 61 people.  

Initially, it was thought Kabuga might be transferred to a faculty in The Hague, which would have been easier with Covid-19 travel restrictions, but Wednesday’s ruling specifies he will be transported to Arusha, Tanzania. 

The Rwandan government has expressed interest in trying Kabuga in its national courts, while his legal team argued that he would be unable to get a fair trial in his homeland and wants him to face charges in Paris instead.

A French court had previously ruled that Kabuga’s health was not an impediment to his extradition but he appealed that decision, leading to Wednesday’s ruling from the Paris-based Court of Cassation.

Since his arrest, a U.N. investigation team was dispatched to Rwanda’s capital Kigali to update the 25-year-old probe. Serge Brammertz, the chief prosecutor for the international tribunal, told French news agency AFP in August: “We are working hard to update the file in order to obtain a conviction at the end of the trial.”  

In April 1994, violence broke out in Rwanda following the assassination of the country’s 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. 

Another Rwandan genocide suspect, Augustin Bizimana, was confirmed dead in May, 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 assassination.  

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