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France court agrees to transfer Rwanda genocide suspect to UN tribunal
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France court agrees to transfer Rwanda genocide suspect to UN tribunal

The Paris Court of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed a lower court decision to transfer Felicien Kabuga to Arusha, Tanzania, to be tried for his role as the primary financier of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Kabuga will be handed over to the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), which is primarily based out of The Hague but also includes a branch in Arusha. A judge in The Hague ruled last month that Kabuga would be tried at the Arusha site of the IRMCT, which took over for the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) after it closed in 2015.

The now 84-year-old Kabuga has been on the run for 26 years. During that time, he adopted a fake identity and utilized his vast resources alongside a network of family connections to evade international authorities in numerous countries throughout Europe and Africa. Kabuga was once of Rwanda’s richest men before he was indicted by the ICTR in 1997 on a variety of charges. During his time as fugitive, authorities offered a $5 million reward in 2002 for information leading to his capture.

The seven counts against Kabuga included the charge of genocide as well as “direct and public incitement to commit genocide” by using his position as the chairman of Rwanda’s FDN national defense fund to funnel money to militia groups. Kabuga has also been accused of forming the infamous Interahamwe militia that carried out many of the massacres as well as the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines, which is prominently recognized as having incited many to support the genocide and to commit acts of violence. It is believed that Kabuga supplied “an impressive number of machetes and other weapons to the Interahamwe militia” and may have even directly supervised Interahamwe massacres in Gisenyi, northwestern Rwanda, and in the Kigali district of Kimironko.

Kabuga was arrested on May 16 in Asnieres-sur-Seine in the Hautes-de-Seine department outside of Paris. Kabuga had originally asked for a trial in France, citing concerns of bias in the UN African courts, fears that he would be returned to Rwanda and his failing health. Kabuga attended the hearing in a wheelchair with a mask and barely reacted to the decision as it was read out.

He is expected to be transferred within 30 days to Arusha for trial, but, if the current pandemic affects travel, Kabuga will likely be tried instead at The Hague in the Netherlands. However, his lawyers are planning to appeal the ruling to France’s highest court of appeal, the Court of Cassation, which could delay the transfer further.

The 1994 genocide resulted in the estimated death of 800,000 people. The end of the more than two-decade search for Kabuga, which resulted in his title as Africa’s most wanted man, marks the beginning of closure for one of the most significant outstanding wounds from the tragedy.