“The arrest of Kabuga today is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, even 26 years after their crimes,” said Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of The Hague-based Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT).
“Our first thoughts must be with the victims and survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Advocating on their behalf is an immense professional honour for my entire office.”
Kabuga was indicted by the UN International Criminal Tribunal (ICTR) for Rwanda in 1997 on seven counts of genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, persecution and extermination, all in relation to crimes committed during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Rwandan prosecutors say Kabuga was the chief financier during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The 100-day pogrom left at least a million Rwandans, the majority of them Tutsi, dead.
Kabuga held the purse-strings of hate media Kangura newspaper and RTLM radio, which incited ethnic Hutu to kill minority Tutsi, according to the Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit (GFTU), a special team created in 2007 to prosecute the architects behind the ethnic slaughter.
The operation to arrest Kabuga was run by French authorities in conjunction with the IRMCT. It involved “a sophisticated, coordinated operation with simultaneous searches across a number of locations,” the French justice ministry said.
He was arrested him at 0530 GMT (8930am) on Saturday.
Rwanda government has for long accused France of complicity in the genocide and of frustrating justice for the victims since many of the suspects fled to the European country when the government of Juvenal Habyarimana fell in July 1994.
France has admitted it made mistakes but insists it never had a role in the massacre.
In April 2013, Pascal Simbikangwa, a former Rwandan army captain, became the first fugitive to face charges of complicity in genocide and complicity in crimes against humanity in a French court.
Simbikangwa, arrested in the French island of Mayotte in 2008, was a month later joined in the dock by Octavien Ngenzi, 58, and Tito Barahira, 64, two former mayors accused of playing a direct role in the massacre of hundreds of Tutsi refugees in a church in the eastern town of Kabarondo on April 13, 1994.
However, the current government of Emmanuel Macron has appeared more forthcoming with Kigali after several meetings with President Paul Kagame.
In May 2018, Macron hosted Kagame and then openly backed Rwanda’s Louise Mushikiwabo to head the world association of French-speaking nations.
Mushiwabo won the seat, Rwandan fugitives lost their haven. The arrest of Kabuga could send strong signals to the rest of the fugitives in France.
It is not yet clear if Kabuga will be extradited to Rwanda to face justice but Brammertz suggested that the suspect will be transferred to the custody of the Mechanism, where he will stand trial.
Rwanda’s Genocide Fugitive Tracking Unit has issued 1,012 international arrest warrants for suspects in 32 countries.
Several are in neighbouring nations like DR Congo, Uganda and Tanzania. Others are further afield in Kenya, Malawi and Zambia. And still others fled to Europe, North America or even Australia.
GFTU listed Kabuga on its top list. The other is Augustin Bizimana, a former defence minister believed to be hiding in DR Congo.
Who is Kabuga?
Félicien Kabuga was born in 1935 in Muniga, in present-day Gicumbi district, 30km from Gatuna-Katuna border. He was an extremely rich businessman who was closely allied to the family of President Habyarimana.
He was also the main financial contributor to and silent partner of Habyarimana’s party, National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development MRND, and led an extremist wing of the party.
When he bankrolled Kangura newspaper and RTLM radio, he reportedly used them for such fierce ethnic propaganda that the Information ministry was once compelled to order him to cease distribution of messages aiming at inciting inter-racial hatred.
In June 1994, confronted with the advance of RPF troops, Kabuga fled Rwanda. He first reached Switzerland but on receiving an order to leave, he then went to Kinshasa in DR Congo. He later hid in Nairobi, Kenya, until he found haven in France.
Genocide suspects transferred or extradited to Rwanda
Name From Date
- Charles Bandora: Norway, March 2013
- Jean-Paul Birindabagabo: Uganda, May 2017
- Enos Kagaba: US, May 2005
- Jean-Pierre Kwitonda: Uganda, November 2010
- Jean-Claude Iyamuremye: Netherlands, November 2016
- Emmanuel Mbarushimana: Denmark, July 2014
- Jean-Marie Vianney Mudahinyuka: US, January 2011
- Léon Mugesera: Canada, January 2012
- Jean-Baptiste Mugimba: Netherlands, November 2016
- Marie-Claire Mukeshimana: US, December 2011
- Bernard Munyagishari: ICTR, July 2013
- Léopold Munyakazi: US, September 2016
- Jean de Dieu Munyaneza: Netherlands, March 2015
- Augustin Nkundabazungu: Uganda, August 2010
- Ladislas Ntaganzwa: ICTR, March 2016
- Agnès Ntamabyariro: Zambia, 1997
- Henry Jean Claude Seyoboka: Canada, November 2016
- Jean Twagiramungu: Germany, August 18, 2017
- Jean Uwinkindi: ICTR, April 2012