Rwanda genocide survivors want speedy trial for Kabuga, but court faces delays

Eric Emeraux, head of the Gendarmerie's Central Office for Combating Crimes Against Humanity, Genocides and War Crimes (OCLCH), diplays documents with a wanted poster depicting a photograph of Felicien Kabuga during an interview with Reuters at his office, about the arrest of Rwandan genocide fugitive suspect Felicien Kabuga, in Paris, France

A special U.N. tribunal in Tanzania should quickly try elderly tycoon Felicien Kabuga on charges of financing the 1994 Rwandan genocide, survivors said on Thursday, after France’s top civil court ruled he could be handed over for prosecution.

“The case of Kabuga should be speedy,” Naphtal Ahishakiye, the executive secretary of genocide survivor organization Ibuka told us by phone. He lost his parents and three brothers in the genocide. “He is elderly, I think a quick trial would enable the victims get justice.”

But the tribunal in Tanzania’s northern town of Arusha faces both legal challenges and bureaucratic delays as it prepares for trial, experts told us.

Emmanuel Altit, Kabuga’s defence lawyer, said he would fight for Kabuga to be tried at The Hague branch of the U.N. Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, instead of its Arusha branch. The body was set up to handle final appeals and other remaining cases from the Yugoslav and Rwanda war crimes tribunals, which are being wound down.

“We will go to court to tell the judges that a transfer of Felicien Kabuga to Arusha would entail such risks that his rights would be violated as a result of the transfer,” he told us.

He declined to elaborate, but one line of argument might be that the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak in Tanzania is unclear since the government has not updated its case numbers for months, saying the pandemic is over.

Kevin Hughes, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office at The Hague tribunal, declined to comment on questions about when Kabuga might be tried or where he might be held in custody.

U.N. prosecutors accuse Kabuga, a former tea and coffee tycoon, of importing machetes for ethnic Hutu militias that slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Kabuga’s arrest in Paris in May ended a manhunt lasting more than two decades. He has denounced the charges, including genocide and incitement to commit genocide, as “lies.”

At the time of Kabuga’s arrest, sources in The Hague tribunal said getting the case to court would require a lot of work because the file hadn’t been updated in many years.

A French court ruled on Wednesday he could be sent to Arusha for trial.

Rwandan authorities did not comment on the court’s decision, and a spokesman for the Arusha tribunal declined to comment.

Survivors have complained about some Arusha tribunal decisions, particularly where jail terms were cut on appeal.

Genocide survivor Ahishakiye said he would be satisfied with a trial in Tanzania as long as it was fair. A previous judge had angered survivors by reducing the sentences for some convicts, he said. “We condemned it,” he said. “We beseech the current leadership of the court to ensure that does not happen again.”

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