After 25 years on the run, Rwanda genocide suspect Félicien Kabuga has been arrested near Paris, according to the French justice ministry. The 84-year-old was arrested by French security forces Saturday morning in a flat in Asnieres-Sur-Seine, where he was living under a false identity apparently with the help of his children.
A Hutu businessman, Kabuga is believed to have been the main financier of militias that massacred about 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus over 100 days during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Rwandan prosecutors say Kabuga used his companies to import machetes and gardening tools that were used to slaughter people in the East African country. The businessman is also accused of setting up the Radio Television Mille Collines that urged people to kill anyone who was from the ethnic Tutsi. He further trained the notorious Interahamwe militia, one of the militias that led the massacres, according to Rwandan prosecutors.
“Since 1994, Felicien Kabuga, known to have been the financier of Rwanda genocide, had with impunity stayed in Germany, Belgium, Congo-Kinshasa, Kenya, or Switzerland,” a justice ministry statement said.
In 1997, the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda indicted Kabuga 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.
The wealthy businessman became Rwanda’s most-wanted man and the U.S. offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
The Rwanda tribunal formally closed in 2015 and its duties have since been taken over by the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), which also handles cases left over from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
“The arrest of Felicien 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 MICT in The Hague.
“Today’s arrest underlines the strength of our determination.”
The prosecutor commended French authorities, saying the arrest “could not have been made without their exceptional cooperation and skill”, and also expressed appreciation to other countries that helped including Rwanda, Belgium, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the US, and other international organizations such as Europol and Interpol.
Kabuga is now expected to be transferred to the custody of The Hague to stand trial “following completion of appropriate procedures under French law.”
Rwanda’s genocide began on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. The two died. At the time, Kabuga was said to be a close friend of Habyarimana, and his daughter even married one of the former president’s sons.
Hutu extremists blamed the Tutsi rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), for the plane attack, then launched a well-organized slaughter campaign that claimed the lives of over 800,000 people, most from the minority Tutsi community.
France was said to be a close ally of the Hutu-led government of Habyarimana prior to the killings. Reports said that even though France had troops stationed in Rwanda at the time as part of a UN peacekeeping operation, they did not intervene until June – two months after the genocide had started.
France has insisted that its soldiers deployed did their best under the circumstances and saved lives. Other reports said that scores of suspected war criminals, wanted for trial in Rwanda, later sought refuge in France.
In 2010, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted that his country had made “serious errors of judgment.” He said France had “a sort blindness when we didn’t foresee the genocidal dimensions of the government.”
Relations between the two countries have begun to improve, and French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Paris recently. Macron has also become the first French president to hold a meeting with representatives of the largest association of survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
At the moment, two other Rwandan genocide suspects – former defense minister Augustin Bizmana and military leader Protais Mpiranya – remain at large.