Kabuga is alive, in Paris; now to deserved justice

Tuesday May 26 2020


A courtroom sketch made on May 20, 2020 shows Felicien Kabuga, a Rwanda genocide suspect, as he appeared publicly for the first time at the Paris Court of Appeal. MICT chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said Kabuga is expected to be tried in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO | BENOIT PEYRUCQ | AFP 

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Last Saturday, May 16, Rwandans woke up to the news of the arrest of one of the masterminds of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi Felicien Kabuga.

The search had taken so long that one would be forgiven for thinking it was over.

Indeed, for many, their first reaction was suspicion; it sounded like another big Internet hoax. Soon, major international news channels began sharing the news and it became clear that the hunt which took approximately 23 years had actually ended in a flat in Paris.

The once powerful man who allegedly financed the killing of over a million people had been found alive but frail.

While genocide survivors have welcomed the arrest, it is coming a little bit too late. For one thing, at 84 years of age, Kabuga has lived a relatively long and privileged life compared to his victims who survived his atrocities.

This was only possible because his wealth made it easy for him to get protection not only from corrupt officials but also governments around the world that had supported the genocidaire regime.


Genocide survivors have expressed their wish to have him face trial in Rwanda, a wish that is unlikely to be granted because the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) based in Arusha, Tanzania is the designated tribunal to handle Kabuga’s case.

Yet based on the experience of other international tribunals it will take a year before the trial begins.

This begs the question as to whether Kabuga in the next one year will remain in a healthy condition to stand trial. Genocide fugitive Joseph Nzirorera died after 10 years of trial and there was no judgment yet. A speedy trial of Kabuga would at least help the survivors get some answers.

To lingering questions such as Who protected him and at what cost?

While the dead cannot be resurrected, survivors deserve justice beyond seeing him charged and imprisoned.

They need to be compensated. It is inconceivable that many genocide fugitives who killed over a million people are offered protection and live comfortably while their victims continue to bear the brunt – permanent, physical and emotional scars - and sometimes living hand to mouth.

Justice without restitution is insufficient. For 26 years they have patiently waited for justice which comes in a piecemeal; the wait is not just long but painful.

We have the collective duty and responsibility to make this less painful by at the very least amplifying the survivors voices to ensure that justice is delivered. As US science fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold said: “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is the duty of the living to do so for them.”

Therefore, we have the collective responsibility to support the survivors in their calls for justice and resist the temptation to carry on and leave the burden of seeking justice to genocide survivors. In the interest of fostering diplomatic ties, the government must also resist the temptation not to seek answers from those who protected him and continue to protect other genocide fugitives. History will absolve us!