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Rwandan genocide arrest offers solace to survivors

Fred Muvunyi
Fred Muvunyi
May 16, 2020

Felicien Kabuga, a Rwandan fugitive who allegedly planned, financed, and executed one of the worst genocides in recent history, has been arrested. DW's Fred Muvunyi says his arrest gives confidence to genocide survivors.

A newspapers shows a wanted photo of Kabuga
Image: Reuters/G. Mulala

Who could imagine that a man wanted by a UN tribunal, powerful governments, Interpol, and the government of Rwanda would be arrested in France on Saturday — two decades after an arrest warrant was issued?

The news of Felicien Kabuga's arrest caught me off guard. Kabuga was once said to be hiding in Kenya and later in a European country.

There were also rumors that Kabuga had died. Then in 2002, two Kenyan journalists discovered his whereabouts, but when they reported it, they were threatened and forced to flee their country.

Kabuga was later thought to be a ghost — invisible to ordinary eyes. There were myths and mysteries surrounding him all over — especially in my home country of Rwanda.

Fred Muvunyi
DW editor Fred MuvunyiImage: DW/F. Görner

From a ghost to a man in handcuffs

Now we know that all these were just theories. The man the US government had put a bounty of $5 million (€4.6 million) on is currently in the hands of the law. He was found in France, not even very far from the headquarters of Interpol.

It is believed Kabuga paid bribes to state and security officials for his safe haven. On August 18, 1994, he slipped away from the grasp of Swiss security services.

The United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) indicted him on seven counts of genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, persecution and extermination of Tutsis.

Kabuga allegedly established the RTLM radio, famously known for spreading hate and calling out the names of Tutsi Rwandans who were hiding from militias. At the time — when no mobile phones or other means of communication were used — the radio was, and to some extent still is, a vital information tool.

Genocide left a million dead

Kabuga equipped the Interahamwe youth militia, the Hutu group whose members would be among the main perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, and used his companies to import vast quantities of machetes from China, according to financial documents found in Kigali. 

His investments allegedly helped to exterminate over 1 million innocent Tutsi people and few moderate Hutus in my home country.

Hutu Rwandans who refused an order to kill or betray their neighbors were not spared.

His time in a hideout has now ended. Twenty-six years of running, changing identities and threatening those who got closer to him are over. He is due to be transferred to Arusha, home to the UN's tribunal for Rwanda.

Try the suspects or send them home

His arrest is significant. It gives confidence to genocide survivors that all monsters will one day have their day in court and that they will never find a safe haven where they are safe from justice.

There are hundreds of Rwandan genocide suspects still hiding in Europe and Africa. Most governments know where they live, but they are looking the other way.

Shielding the perpetrators of genocide is a failure to render justice to the survivors of genocide and to the victims of crimes against humanity.

The countries harboring these suspected perpetrators should arrest them and put them on trial. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, then the suspects should be extradited to the home countries to face justice and the victims still struggling to come to terms with the genocide.

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