‘Judges hammered a nail into an open, bleeding wound’ : Genocide survivor’s open letter to IRMCT on trial of Kabuga

On 14 August 2023 at 03:05

Charles Butera, a writer and a resilient survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, has penned an impassioned open letter addressed to the judges of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT).

This missive revolves around the trial of Félicien Kabuga, a Rwandan businessman who stands accused of being a key financier behind the heinous Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Kabuga’s alleged involvement in orchestrating acts of genocide and crimes against humanity has cast a shadow of profound gravity over his trial.

Recently, on August 7, 2023, the Appeals Chamber of IRMCT, tasked with presiding over his trial, handed down a verdict of "indefinite suspension" for the proceedings against Kabuga.

This decision has sparked mixed reactions where organizations overseeing the interests of Genocide survivors rose concerns about the potential repercussions of this suspension on the pursuit of justice for the victims and survivors of these unspeakable atrocities.

One such collective, the umbrella organization of genocide survivors’ associations, known as IBUKA, has voiced their profound apprehension.

They express their disquiet over the apparent divergence of the IRMCT from its central mission: to deliver justice to the individuals who suffered and survived the ruthless 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

This apprehension was eloquently stated in their official statement on August 11, 2023, following the decision by IRMCT’s appeals judges to indefinitely halt the trial of Félicien Kabuga, ostensibly due to his purported illness.

Charles Butera, himself a survivor with an intimate understanding of the trauma inflicted upon his community, echoes these concerns in his open letter.

He laments the decision to indefinitely suspend Kabuga’s trial, likening it to driving a painful nail into an already open and bleeding wound endured by the Genocide survivors.

Below is Butera’s full letter:

Open letter to the judges of the Appeals Chamber of the UN Mechanism entrusted with conducting the final trials of the ICTR

It is said that François Mitterrand once declared, regarding Rwanda, that "in those countries, a genocide is not too important."

His bias and support for the genocidal regime of former Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana were well-known, but only a few understood the full extent of his statement. Sadly, the observed facts and the way the famous international community handles the consequences of the genocide against the Tutsi unfortunately prove him right.

The date of August 7, 2023, has now been added to the long list of dark dates that any survivor of this genocide must remember. The judges of the Appeals Chamber of the UN Mechanism entrusted with conducting the final trials of the ICTR have definitively hammered the nail into an open, bleeding wound. They have clearly shown the Tutsi survivors that the hand holding the lever of the powerful justice machinery is far out of their reach and that justice itself can be a "variable science."

The arrest of the "financier of the genocide," which took place with great fanfare in France in May 2020, raised hopes that finally the survivors would obtain justice. Unfortunately, this euphoria lasted only a blink of an eye because what was supposed to be a trial has now ended like a deflated balloon in the middle of the game.

The honorable judges who have blown the final whistle even go further by demanding the immediate release of this amnesiac, demented dying man.

The judges, still firm in their boots, have based their ultimate decision on the report of distinguished psychologists who have examined every millimeter of the accused’s brain and confirmed his incapacity.

According to other experts, it seems that the accused had been so active in using, even abusing his brain, trying to play and outwit those who were on his trail! This mental exercise spread over two decades unfortunately precipitated the onset of this nasty and terrible premature disease that attacked this 86-year-old deadwood, unfortunately rendering him unable to prove his innocence to the world.

Speaking of age, this reminds me that elsewhere, true judges committed to fairness, peace, and justice do not hesitate to judge and sentence even those who have reached the venerable age of one hundred, accused of serious crimes. Two recent examples come to mind: Josef Schütz, aged 101, was tried and sentenced to five years in prison in 2022 for complicity in murders when he was a non-commissioned officer of the Waffen SS.

While Irmgard Furchner, a former secretary of a concentration camp, aged 97, was also tried and sentenced to two years of suspended imprisonment in 2021 for complicity in murders. Without seeking to minimize the charges against one or the other, I leave it to the readers to compare the charges brought against the centenarians and those against the "financier of the genocide" committed against the Tutsi.

Our illustrious psychologists and judges have rendered a decision that will mark history, and I hope they will have the courage to assume its repercussions. It is very difficult to separate the genocide committed against the Tutsi and the name of Mr. Kabuga, as the two are inseparable.

He is the mastermind and financier of this same genocide, and his involvement weighed heavily. His name evokes the infamous Radio-Télévision des Mille Collines, known for its messages calling for murder. I can bet my finger that without his active participation in financing, planning, equipping, training, his charisma, social status, strategic influence, and his connections with the presidential palace, the genocide would not have reached the same magnitude.

I would have liked the same judges to take a moment and show compassion in order to think about the victims. I can understand that they were misled by the brilliant report of expert psychologists and the nightmarish image of a sleeping monster on the other side of the screen. But honorable judges, what do you say to all those victims killed in both atrocious and indescribable conditions?

The buried remains and those that still lie on the surface cry, mourn, and demand justice. They haunt you! The cries of the octogenarian Tutsi killed at the accused’s age tell you that Mr. Kabuga’s accomplices did not spare them despite their senility and weakened faculties. The crushed and battered babies against the walls cry out and call for justice.

The judge who turns a deaf ear to these cries will no longer be able to sleep, as the noise of these infants prevents it today and forever. And what do you say to the survivors wounded in their hearts and bodies? These raped women, left for dead and infected with HIV, tell you that they hate you. But as believers, they do not wish harm upon you; they simply want you to live long enough to see what they have seen and experience what they have experienced.

As for the orphans picked up among the corpses, they do not hide their anger, but they tell you that this two-tiered international justice only gives them the strength and courage to survive. They tell you that this tendency towards paternalism and dependency will be fought against and abolished forever. These young people regretfully tell you that the United Nations has once again missed a favorable opportunity to restore its image.

After so many failures before, during, and after the genocide, the only chance left was to deliver justice. If they have never made loud claims or taken to the streets to demand compensation, it was not due to forgetfulness or short memory. It was because they still had faith in an organization to whom they had given the benefit of the doubt. The release of the "financier of the genocide" cuts the umbilical cord.

Those who are familiar with the case seem to be the only ones not surprised by your decision. They assert that it perfectly fits into the preconceived architectural plan. Everything went according to plan, without obstacles: you have blessed and implemented the decision of non-prosecution pronounced by our distinguished psychologists.

This is the justice of the powerful. Shame on all of you who have contributed, directly or indirectly, to this degrading charade. How shameful it is to have no shame. In the typical case of Rwanda, this famous organization continues to lose feathers. From its pinnacle to its ground troops, including its judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, this organization has never ceased to discredit itself.

It shines through decisional incoherence in all its organs. The Tutsi survivors barely had time to forget the incongruous decisions of Judge Theodor Meron, which left indelible scars on their minds. For those who preferred to erase this infamous name from their heads, let us simply recall that he is the villain who, for two decades, tirelessly worked to exonerate and free criminals or revise their sentences downward. And yet, didn’t Gandhi warn us: "To progress, we must not repeat history, but produce a new one." The United Nations organization has still not learned anything.

Before concluding, I leave you with this: whether you are believers or not, I find this biblical passage appropriate for you: "Cursed is he who disregards the rights of the stranger, the orphan, and the widow!" Deuteronomy 27, 19.

What the Tutsi survivors should remember:

 Let us avoid continuing to rely on external justice - Let us fight to have the executioners on our territory and judge them at any cost.

 The passage of time does not diminish the guilt of the killers.

 Finally, I ask myself the same question as you: what is the purpose of the non-prescriptible crime of genocide if a group of individuals can sit down at any time and decide that an alleged criminal is unfit to stand trial based on easily debatable subjective facts?

Charles Butera, is a writer and a resilient survivor of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.