The Paris Court of Appeal is to rule this Wednesday, June 3 on the surrender to international justice of Félicien Kabuga, accused of being the “financier” of the genocide in Rwanda and who is trying by all means to be tried in France after more than twenty-five years on the run. The octogenarian, long time one of the most wanted fugitives in the world, invokes his state of health and the fear of partial justice to refuse his transfer to Arusha, in Tanzania, where sits the court of the UN which must judge for genocide and crimes against humanity. The investigating chamber of the court of appeal should presumably give a favorable opinion on the execution of the arrest warrant, to the chagrin of the defense.
Read also Félicien Kabuga’s arrest: a “thunderclap” and many “questions”
Courts are only required to have a fairly formal check on the validity of the arrest warrant issued by the Mechanism for International Criminal Courts (MTPI), the structure responsible for completing the work of the International Tribunal for Rwanda ( ICTR).
Even in the event of a favorable opinion, Félicien Kabuga will still be able to seize the Court of Cassation, which will have two months to rule on it, before handing it over to the MTPI within one additional month.
At the hearing on May 27, the lawyer for the businessman however asked the court to suspend his decision to transmit a priority question of constitutionality (QPC). According to them, French law violates the Constitution by not providing for a more in-depth control of the arrest warrants of international justice.
Félicien Kabuga, arrested on May 16 in the Paris suburbs, is notably accused of having created, with other individuals, the Hutu Interahamwe militias, the main armed arms of the genocide of 1994 which claimed, according to the UN, 800,000 deaths, mainly within the Tutsi minority. And having used his fortune to send thousands of machetes to the militia.
In a quarter of a century on the run, the presumed financier of the genocide in Rwanda relied on his fortune and a large family support to hide between Africa and Europe, before being arrested in mid-May, in the Paris suburbs, betrayed by the geolocation of his children.
But the former president of the infamous Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM), which broadcast calls for the murder of Tutsis, disputes all of the seven charges.
The Hague or Arusha?
“These are all lies. The Tutsis, I helped them in everything I did, in my business, I gave them credit. I was not going to kill my clients, “said Félicien Kabuga, in Kinyarwanda, at the May 27 hearing.
During the two and a half hours of debate, the old man, 84 years old according to the arrest warrant, 87 years old according to him, remained seated on a wheelchair in the center of the room, close to his family, almost motionless, but regularly forced to take off his mask to spit and blow his nose.
The state of health of Félicien Kabuga, who underwent a colon removal in a Parisian hospital last year and suffers from “delusions” according to his lawyers, is also at the heart of the defense challenges. It highlights the case of seven ill-treated ICTR accused, including one who died before his trial. In addition to endemic diseases and the state of the Tanzanian health system, lawyers also invoke the health crisis linked to Covid-19.
To take account of the pandemic, the MTPI prosecutor had also asked a judge to modify the arrest warrant to organize a surrender of the suspect to the antenna of the international court in The Hague, in the Netherlands. Request refused, which however does not prevent a stopover in this city, the time to organize a safe transfer to Tanzania.
Finally, lawyers for the former businessman fear that, once in Tanzania, the MTPI will decide to hand over their client to the Rwandan authorities, thereby circumventing France’s refusal to deliver the genocide suspects to Kigali. This is why the defense wrote Tuesday to the MTPI to officially ask it to divest for the benefit of French justice, which has already tried and convicted three genocidaires.
Since the beginning, in 1996, trials of the alleged genocidaires, 22 condemned to death have been executed in Rwanda. Kigali abolished the death penalty in 2007, removing the main obstacle to the transfer of accused persons from the ICTR to Rwandan justice.
Between 2005 and 2012, more than 12,000 “gacaca”, people’s courts, tried almost 2 million people, for a conviction rate of 65%, generally to imprisonment.
Read also Rwandan genocide: who is Félicien Kabuga, arrested near Paris?