Genocide survivors have welcomed the decision to begin the trial of suspected genocide financier Felicien Kabuga on September 29, who faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The decision by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (Mechanism) in The Hague to start the trial was announced Thursday, over two years after Kabuga’s arrest in 2020.
Felicien Kabuga, 80, was arrested in France in May 2020 after 25 years on the run and has been detained in The Hague since October 2020.
His trial had been postponed in December last year after Kabuga’s associates, whose bank accounts were frozen on suspicion they could aid him to avoid arrest, filed a motion to the court seeking access to their funds.
“We welcome the court’s decision to begin the trial as soon as September. It was long overdue. Kabuga’s trial is a significant step in delivering justice to survivors. His old age and health problems are other reasons why his trial should be prioritised if justice is to be delivered,” said Naphtali Ahishakiye, Executive Secretary of Ibuka, an umbrella body of survivor organisations in Rwanda.
Mr Ahishakiye added that constant delays and complacency by some countries and courts to try or extradite genocide convicts is a threat to justice for the survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Rwanda’s prosecution indicates it issued over 973 indictments for genocide fugitives abroad over the past eight years. The largest number of those indicted are in DR Congo and Uganda. Five new indictments were issued in 2020 to France, Italy, and Sweden.
Only about 20 suspects have been deported or extradited for trial in Rwanda since 1994 to 2020, and only 23 have been tried and convicted by their host countries.
Kabuga, once Rwanda’s richest man, is alleged to have armed militias with machetes and other weapons and incited them to take part in Rwanda’s 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi that took more than one million lives.
Kabuga appeared before the IRMCT for the first time in November 2020 and pleaded not guilty to seven counts of genocide and crimes against humanity.
After his trial was delayed in December 2021, UN judge Iain Bonomy announced Thursday that the trial will begin on September 29.
“The Chamber orders the trial to commence at The Hague branch with opening statements on the 29th of September... and evidence to start on the 5th of October,” Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) judge Iain Bonomy said.
Bonomy added that the defendant would appear three times a week for two hours at a time and he will be allowed to attend hearings through a video link if necessary.
More than 50 witnesses are expected to appear for the prosecution, which will need about 40 hours to wrap up their case.
Kabuga was initially scheduled to appear in court in Arusha, where the other arm of the MICT resides, but judges had ruled he would remain in The Hague “until otherwise decided.”