A ‘homeless’ Kabuga stuck at the court that freed him early

Sunday March 10 2024

A document with a wanted poster depicting a photograph of Rwanda genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga. PHOTO | REUTERS


Rwanda’s genocide suspect Félicien Kabuga may have been freed early by the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), but his freedom has not actually come, as he remains detained at the temporary facility.

A panel of 20 judges of the Mechanism, formed as a conclusion institution for various UN-endorsed tribunals on various past conflicts around the world, were last week held a two-day plenary in Arusha seeking a final solution to the matter, among other issues.

Kabuga, 89, remains detained at the UN detention facility in The Hague, Netherlands, even though he is not awaiting trial, or relocation to a new prison as is the case with those found guilty.

His final destination depends on which country agrees to host him. At the plenary from February 26, the judges directed the Registrar of MICT to continue seeking possible hosts.

Read: Hague court: Kabuga unfit for trial

The judges were informed that all the nine countries that were approached to offer him a home in South America and Europe rejected the requests.


Kabuga was one of the most wanted suspects of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda in which more than one million people died.

He went on the run for years, slipping through a global search, until May 16, 2020, when he was arrested in France.

Kabuga was indicted in 1997 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.

Kabuga already told MICT officials he does not want to go back to Rwanda, where he was accused of fuelling the genocide. The ageing and ailing suspect has reportedly flatly rejected going back to Rwanda, where he is entitled to go as a right of return since it is his country of birth.

He cannot be returned to France, where he was arrested, as he was an illegal immigrant. He was seized near Paris by French authorities following a joint investigation with the Mechanism’s office of the prosecutor, ending his 26 years on the run.

Read: Kabuga had key role in financing genocide, prosecutors say

Rwanda will be commemorating 30th anniversary of the deadly genocide in April.

In an earlier media briefing in Kigali, Government Spokesperson Yolande Makolo was non-committal about receiving the man.

“We will cross that bridge when we reach there,” she told The EastAfrican.

“But we’ve worked with the tribunal since its establishment and if there’s something to be worked out, we will work out together.”

Kigali, she said, respects the decision of the MICT but remains disappointed.

“It’s unfortunate especially for the victims. It would look like he has got away with very serious crimes that he is suspected of having committed,” she said.

The MICT is looking for a country that will accept his early release using the provided mechanism by the court statutes.

Read: Rwanda genocide victims slam Kabuga release ruling

A detainee can be released temporarily, say, on medical grounds on condition that if he recovers he goes back to detention. The MICT could also find that, owing to a person’s deteriorating condition, he can spend his last days with his family.

Efforts by Kabuga to fight his handover to the Mechanism were thwarted after his appeal was rejected by French Court September 30, 2020.

In October, his case was assigned to a Trial Chamber presided over by Judge Lain Bonomy, with Graciela Susana Gatti Santana as president and judge Elizabeth Ibanda-Nahamya, for hand-over to the Arusha branch of the Mechanism.

In June 2023, UN Court of Appeal judges directed that the war crimes trial for the suspect be suspended because of his failing health, but indicated that alternative procedures take place.