Rwandan genocide suspect Félicien Kabuga was arrested near Paris in the early hours of Saturday 16th May, more than 25 years on from one of the worst massacres of the 20th century. The 84-year-old, who was Rwanda’s most wanted man, had been living under a false identity in a flat in Asnieres-Sur-Seine, with his complicit children. He is alleged to have been the leading financier of the militias who killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus over 100 days in 1994. Kabuga is soon expected to be placed under the custody of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), where he will stand trial.
Serge Brammertz, chief prosector for the IRMCT, expressed his gratitude to French authorities for their “sophisticated, co-ordinated operation with simultaneous searches across a number of locations.” In a later statement, he identified Kabuga’s apprehension as a milestone for justice for Rwanda, stating “the arrest of Félicien Kabuga today is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, even 26 years after their crimes.” The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has charged Kabuga with genocide and crimes against humanity, following his indictment in 1997 on seven counts of genocide. These include: attempt to commit genocide; complicity in genocide; direct and public incitement to commit genocide; conspiracy to commit genocide; persecution and extermination.
Franco-Rwandan relations have been long tainted by the genocide, with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame accusing France of having supported the ethnic Hutu forces behind the killings and of helping some of the perpetrators to escape. Last year, Emmanuel Macron created a commission of experts to look into French state archives on the matter. Despite such gestures, Kabuga’s ability to remain hidden for such a long time should indeed raise questions for the French authorities, an opinion shared by numerous figures and high profile commentators, including Rwandan political analyst Gonza Muganwa, and Human Rights Watch’s Lewis Mudge.
The genocide unfolded following the murder of then-President Juvenal Habyarimana – a Hutu – who was shot down in his private plane alongside the President of Burundi. Hutu extremists blamed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a principally Tutsi rebel group who to this day refute such allegations. In a state-sponsored ethnic purge, where local radio stations openly called for the murder of Tutsi “cockroaches”, Hutu Interahamwe militias were given kill lists of victims, many of whom were brutally hacked to death with machetes. Evidence has been found to implicate Kabuga in the importation and dispersal of vast quantities of these machetes. He has also been accused of establishing the main radio station (Radio Television Mille Collines) to broadcast hate speech against the ethnic Tutsi.
France’s reticence to bring perpetrators of the genocide to justice has long remained a sticking point in French relations with central Africa, which are now more important than ever considering French military intervention in the region in Operation Barkhane. Two other Rwandan genocide suspects, Protais Mpiranya and Augustin Bizimana are still on the run, and only time will tell whether the French will continue their efforts. Nonetheless, the arrest of the prolific Kabuga remains a monumental progression in seeking justice in the Rwandan genocide.