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Africa

Rwandan war crimes suspect Bizimana dead: UN tribunal

Augustin Bizimana, one of the top suspects wanted over Rwanda's 1994 genocide, has died. The announcement comes less than a week after the arrest in France of fugitive suspect Felicien Kabuga.

The remains of Augustin Bizimana, a fugitive key suspect from the Rwandan genocide, have been identified in the Republic of Congo, a United Nations war crimes prosecutor said on Friday.  

Bizimana is believed to have died in 2000, "based on the conclusive identification of Bizimana's remains in a grave site in Pointe Noire," according to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT).

Augustin Bizimana had been indicted in 1998 on 13 charges, including genocide. 

Read more: Opinion: Rwandan genocide arrest offers solace to survivors

Fugitive found in France

Friday's announcement came less than a week after one of the main suspects from the massacres was caught in Paris after more than two decades on the run. 

Felicien Kabuga, believed to a key financier of the 1994 genocide, was found living under a false name in an apartment near the French capital. He was arrested on May 16.

"Kabuga is, of course, the top one," said Fred Muvunyi, a journalist who covered the Rwandan genocide trials. "There were similar reactions in the small town of Muniga, Kabuga's birthplace.

"He was the one who founded the RTLM radio station, which fueled the hatred between the Rwandan ethnic groups," said one resident who wishes to remain anonymous.

"He imported and distributed masses of machetes, which killed hundreds of thousands of Rwandans. We are pleased that Kabuga has been arrested. We would prefer he was sent to Rwanda and put on trial here."

Read more: Rwanda genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga appears in court

Where will justice take place?

Rwanda's justice minister, Johnston Busingye, confirmed that the government is keen to have Kabuga tried in Rwanda. But the most important thing at the moment is that the French police finally caught him.

"According to our information, despite an international arrest warrant, Kabuga has traveled freely between several countries in Europe over the past 25 years," said Busingye.

"He was not arrested in any of those countries. We appeal to all countries who are hiding suspects to arrest these people, as France has finally done, so we can bring them to justice."

Kabuga is unlikely to be extradited to Rwanda, according to Fred Muvunyi. Instead, he will probably appear before the MICT, a successor to the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which was dissolved five years ago.

"It is not yet clear whether Kabuga's trial will take place at the MICT headquarters in The Hague in the Netherlands, or at the branch in Arusha, Tanzania," said Muvunyi.

At this stage, though, Arusha would appear to be the obvious choice — after all, it's much easier to summon witnesses from Rwanda to Tanzania than to the Netherlands.

According to the current UN protocol, the MICT is responsible for those who organized, supported, or executed the genocide in Rwanda, explained Muvunyi:

"Felicien Kabuga is undoubtedly part of this high-profile group of perpetrators. But so is the then-security chief of the president, Protais Mpiranya."

Felicien Kabuga (Public domain)

Felician Kabuga's trial will be closely watched around the world

Read more: ICTR: A tribunal that failed Rwandan genocide victims and survivors

Over 1,000 active arrest warrants

According to the Rwandan government, six high-profile genocide perpetrators are still at large — including Protais Mpiranya. There are also thousands of other lesser-known suspected perpetrators currently hiding abroad. Rwanda's prosecutors have issued over 1,000 arrest warrants against suspects in 33 countries over the past few decades.

"There is a special police search unit in Rwanda that searches for suspected perpetrators who still roam freely in different countries around the world," explained Muvunyi.

"Many of them are believed to be in Uganda or the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while others have fled to Malawi, Cameroon, and Zimbabwe. An even bigger number is believed to be in Europe, especially in Germany, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium." 

Rwandans burry victims of the 1994 genocide (Getty Images/AFP/Y. Chiba)

According to the UN Security Council more than a million Tutsis were killed

More arrests on the horizon?

But how is it possible that these suspects can go into hiding for so long?

"They are usually very rich and have connections to high government circles in the countries where they're hiding," explained Muvunyi. "We know that, for example, they were very closely linked to Robert Mugabe's regime [in Zimbabwe]." 

In Europe, too, the police and the judiciary have been accused of turning a blind eye in the past and not cooperating with Rwandan investigators.

Rwanda has already issued around 30 international arrest warrants for suspects living in France, but Justice Minister Busingye said they rarely get support from local authorities.

Watch video 28:36

Bringing the Murderers to Justice - Twenty-Five Years After the Rwandan Genocide

Read more: Belgium: Rwandan official found guilty of genocide

The trial of Felician Kabuga will provide valuable clues that could lead to the arrest of other suspected perpetrators and accomplices, said Patrick Baudouin, the honorary president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

"This case could reinforce international arrest warrants issued by the MICT, and the principle of universal jurisdiction could be revived," he told DW. In France alone, there are currently several active investigations against 28 alleged co-conspirators of the Rwandan genocide.

Muvunyi said at least one thing is clear: "An overwhelming majority of Rwandans want the suspected perpetrators to be arrested and, if found guilty, punished, no matter where or by whom. Nobody wants their crimes to be swept under the rug."

Sylvanus Karemera and Eric Topona contributed to this article.

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