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Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga goes on trial

September 29, 2022

Felicien Kabuga, who is alleged to have helped finance Rwanda's 1994 genocide, is being tried by a UN tribunal. The 87-year-old has refused to attend the opening of his trial, judges said.

 Defense lawyer Emmanuel Altit (C) of Felicien Kabuga in court at the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) in The Hague.
Defense lawyer Emmanuel Altit (c) is seen at the court in The HagueImage: Koen van Weel/REUTERS

A wealthy businessman who prosecutors say played a "substantial" role in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, in which around 800,000 people were killed, went on trial at a UN tribunal in The Hague on Thursday.

Felicien Kabuga, 87, is one of the last people charged over the genocide to face justice after succeeding in evading arrest until May 2020, when he was detained near Paris. 

He was transferred to The Hague to stand trial at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, a court that deals with remaining cases from UN tribunals for Rwanda and the Balkan wars, which are now closed.

Judges at the tribunal said Kabuga would not be present at the opening of the trial but said proceedings would go ahead nonetheless. Kabuga's lawyers had argued unsuccessfully that he was not fit to stand trial. However, on the advice of doctors who examined Kabuga, the trial will run for just two hours per day.

Rwanda's genocide saw hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis, but also moderate ethnic Hutus, killed by members of the country's Hutu majority.

What charges is Felicien Kabuga facing?

Kabuga is charged with genocide, incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide as well as persecution, extermination and murder in connection with Rwanda's 1994 ethnic slaughter.

The indictment against him alleges that he helped incite the killing of ethnic Tutsis through the radio broadcaster he co-founded and financed, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM). 

He is also accused of having financed the purchase of weapons that militias used to kill Tutsis and those suspected of supporting them.

Felicien Kabuga
Kabuga rose from poverty to become one of Rwanda's richest menImage: Simon Wohlfahrt/AFP

 According to the indictment, Kabuga and his associates "operated RTLM in a manner that furthered hatred and violence against Tutsis and others perceived as 'accomplices' or 'allies' ... and agreed to disseminate an anti-Tutsi message with the goal to eliminate the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda.''

The indictment also said RTLM provided Hutu militias with information on the location of Tutsis, allowing them to be hunted down and killed.

Kabuga has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

What happened during the Rwandan genocide?

The mass killing of the Tutsi minority in Rwanda is widely thought to have been triggered by the shooting down of a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, a member of the Hutu majority, in the capital, Kigali, on April 6, 1994.

After Tutsis were blamed for the plane crash, Hutu extremists began indiscriminately killing members of the minority group and those seen as supporting them, aided by the army, police and militias.

The slaughter, which occurred against the background of the Rwandan Civil War, continued for some 100 days.

tj/sms (Reuters, AP)