Long-Overdue Arrest of Felicien Kabuga: A Crucial Step Toward Justice for Survivors of 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi

18/05/2020
Press release
en fr

Paris, 17 May 2020 — French police arrested Felicien Kabuga, one of the alleged architects of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, in a suburb of Paris yesterday morning. FIDH – the International Federation for Human Rights – and the Ligue des droits de l’Homme (LDH, French Human Rights League) welcome the news of his long-overdue arrest, more than two decades after he was indicted by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for five counts of genocide and two counts of crimes against humanity. He should be prosecuted promptly to afford survivors with a measure of justice, and authorities should investigate and prosecute those responsible for helping him to evade arrest for more than two decades.

During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, Felicien Kabuga, a millionaire businessman involved in the running of the infamous Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, is alleged to have provided the financial and logistical support to enable various political and militia groups to carry out the genocide. He was the most high-profile fugitive on the ICTR’s wanted list, evading arrest for more than 23 years.

“Kabuga’s arrest means that survivors in and outside Rwanda can finally hope to see him held accountable for the horrific crimes committed against them and their loved ones. As survivors have been waiting for this moment for over a quarter-century, it will be crucial that he is prosecuted promptly and that survivors’ rights, perspectives and needs are at the centre of this process. Any assets belonging to and recovered from Kabuga must be used to benefit the survivors and their families,” declared Patrick Baudouin, honorary President of FIDH.

How and when he arrived in France is currently unclear. According to French authorities, he lived under a false identity in what was described as a sophisticated cover-up, including with the assistance of his children. He fled Rwanda in June 1994, seeking refuge in Switzerland, from where he was expelled the same year, and ended up living in hiding for many years in Nairobi, Kenya. While his presence there was an open secret, leading to multiple attempts to arrest him, he used his fortune to protect himself against arrest, notwithstanding a $5 million USD reward for his arrest issued by the US State Department. He reportedly had also traveled through Germany, Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Multiple national and international police agencies were involved in his arrest, underlining the importance of State cooperation and collaboration in holding fugitives from justice to account.

“Felicien Kabuga’s arrest shows that justice will eventually pierce the mantel of impunity. It may take its time, but eventually it catches up with those seeking to hide. It also raises important questions as to how he could fly under the radar for such a long time, and why he was not found and arrested much sooner. How was he able to get to and live in France undiscovered up until Saturday? We call on the French government to investigate so as to get answers to these questions,” said Michel Tubiana, LDH honorary president.

As Mr Kabuga is one of the main fugitives sought by the ICTR, it is expected that French authorities will transfer Mr Kabuga into the custody of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), established by the United Nations Security Council in 2010 to address matters previously carried out by the ICTR, which closed in 2015, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The IRMCT indicated that Mr Kabuga will stand trial before it. In past cases, the government of Rwanda sought the transfer of suspects from the ICTR and the IRMCT for prosecution in Rwanda. It is unclear whether Rwandan authorities will similarly request Mr Kabuga’s transfer to Rwanda. In a statement, the authorities highlighted that they will collaborate with the IRMCT to ensure that justice is delivered.

Background

In response to the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, the international community established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute those most responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes committed in 1994. The ICTR closed down in 2015, having indicted 93 individuals. It was succeeded by the IRMCT.

In parallel to the proceedings before the ICTR, hundreds of thousands of perpetrators were prosecuted in Rwanda before so-called gacaca courts. Several perpetrators who fled Rwanda have been prosecuted before European and Canadian courts on the basis of extraterritorial, including universal, jurisdiction. FIDH and LDH have been actively calling for, and supporting survivors in, prosecutions of Rwandan genocide suspects living in France. To date, three perpetrators have been prosecuted in France, with approximately 29 further cases reportedly ongoing.

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