Rwandan Genocide Suspect Félicien Kabuga Captured After Decades


On 16 May, Félicien Kabuga, a Rwandan national indicted on multiple charges of genocide, was arrested by French authorities just outside of Paris. 23 years ago, Kabuga was charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda but then fled the country and has been at large ever since. Kabuga, 84, has lived all over the world under false identities in an effort to evade justice, according to the New York Times. He has been called the “main financier and logistical backer” of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. 

According to the New York Times, Rwanda’s justice minister Johnston Busingye said of Kabuga, “you can run, but you cannot hide. It can’t be forever.” The protracted search for Kabuga, which spanned multiple countries and continents, is over. Serge Brammertz, the United Nations tribunal’s chief prosecutor, said in a statement from The Hague that “Kabuga, has always been seen by the victims and survivors as one of the leading figures” of the genocide, and “for them, after waiting so many years, his arrest is an important step toward justice.” Time reports that U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric echoed this sentiment, saying that “ending impunity is essential for peace, security and justice.” Kabuga’s capture and impending trial is crucial to the progress of justice in Rwanda. 

The 1994 Rwandan genocide was catalyzed by the death of then-president Juvénal Habyarimana when his plane was shot down by a missile, according to the New York Times. “Extremist” Hutus, the majority ethnic group in Rwanda, blamed Habyarimana’s death on the Tutsis, the minority ethnic group, the aftermath of which resulted in 100 days of killings across Rwanda. At least 800,000 people were murdered. The cataclysmic genocide also triggered a war in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. These effects continue to destabilize much of central Africa. 

After Kabuga’s capture, neighbours described him to the authorities as a “frail, elderly man who said little to neighbours and who would take a stroll most days outside of his apartment.” In Rwanda, Kabuga had been a businessman with control of many coffee and tea plantations. He had close ties to the president and enjoyed a significant measure of influence. Such influence allowed him to orchestrate the 1994 ethnic cleansing. 

An ethnic Hutu, Kabuga imported thousands of machetes during the genocide and also co-owned Radio Television Milles Collines. This infamous radio station broadcast anti-Tutsi propaganda and alerted extremist Hutus as to where the Tutsis were hiding, reports the New York Times. In his indictment, Kabuga was charged with organizing and funding the Interahamwe militia. This militia was known for “hacking people to death” with machetes and killing the most Tutsis and moderate Hutus of any group during the genocide. Prior to his arrest, Reuters reports that Kabuga had a 5 million dollar bounty on his head. 

Kabuga was arrested at 7am in Asinères-sur-Seine, an affluent suburb of Paris. He had been living under a false identity and was protected by his children. He is currently being held in La Sante prison in Paris, according to Reuters. He will first come before the Paris Appeals Court and then an international court in Arusha, Tanzania. Kabuga will be prosecuted by a United Nations tribunal. It is important to note that Kabuga played a significant role in the Rwandan genocide but did not act alone. Some of the criminals still at large include Protais Mpiranya, former commander of the Presidential Guards, and former Defense Minister Augustin Bizimana. 

Mausi Segun, Africa director of Human Rights Watch, said that the arrest and upcoming trial of Félicien Kabuga is “an important step towards justice for hundreds of thousands of genocide victims.” Kabuga’s capture, though late in coming, will hopefully lead to the apprehension of other criminals and justice for the victims and their families.