Rwanda tribunal’s most wanted remains elusive

Félicien Kabuga has a reward of several million dollars on his head, and tops the list of fugitives of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Yet, he’s managed to escape justice for years.

The ICTR was set up in Arusha, northern Tanzania, by the United Nations in 1995 to bring high-level perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide to justice. Between 800 000 and a million minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the Central African nation over a period of about 100 days in 1994.

It is alleged that the fabulously wealthy Kabuga was one of the masterminds of the genocide, his money aiding in the large-scale importation of hoes, machetes, shovels and firearms used to carry out the massacres.

He also owned Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC, or Thousand Hills Independent Radio and Television), a radio station that whipped up hatred of the Tutsis, referred to as ”cockroaches”.

There are persistent rumours that Kabuga, a master of disguise, is living in luxury in Kenya under the protection of persons who served as high-ranking officials in the former government of Daniel arap Moi. The current government, led by President Mwai Kibaki, has often declared its commitment to helping the ICTR in any way possible to track down Kabuga.

There have also been rumours that he is hiding in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, a vast and mostly lawless area to which many of those who conducted the genocide fled when Paul Kagame and his then rebel forces took over the Rwandan capital, Kigali. Kagame is now President of Rwanda.

The killers included Hutu extremists known as Interahamwe, which means ”those who stand together”.

A reward of up to $5-million for information leading to the arrest of Kabuga is being offered by the United States State Department under its Rewards for Justice programme.


Until recently, a total of 18 people were being sought by the ICTR; however, four of these fugitives have been apprehended in recent months.

According to ICTR spokesperson Tim Gallimore, Augustin Ngirabatware was arrested on September 17 by German authorities working with the ICTR tracking team. Ngirabatware was a minister of planning in the Hutu-led government that was in power when the genocide began, and a shareholder in RTLMC. His detention marked the first arrest of an ICTR fugitive in Germany.

Earlier this month, Dominique Ntawukuriryayo — formerly a senior official and reportedly a son-in-law of Kabuga — was arrested in the south of France. ”Ntwakukuriryayo’s arrest was the result of cooperation between Interpol and the French government,” Gallimore said.

Two other génocidaires, Laurent Bucyibaruta and Wenceslas Munyeshyaka, were arrested and released under judicial supervision twice earlier this year, the multiple detentions stemming from lack of certainty over where the men should be tried.

Munyeshyaka is a priest who allegedly killed a number of Tutsis in his church, while Bucyibaruta — previously a high-ranking official in Gikongoro, southern Rwanda — is accused of direct and public incitement to commit genocide.

It remains unclear whether these suspects will travel to Arusha. The two men, who have been living in France for a decade, will appear in a French court on November 21 when their cases are to be re-examined.

The latest arrests are seen as a strong message to génocidaires elsewhere that the wheels of justice at the ICTR are turning, albeit slowly.

However, with only 13 months to go before the tribunal has to wrap up proceedings, what will become of suspects arrested in the coming year? Although certain trials have been concluded in a few months, others have taken years. And, what about those who are still on the run after 2008?

During a speech to the United Nations Security Council in June this year, ICTR chief prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow said Rwanda was the ”main possible destination” for those already in custody at the ICTR, as well as for most of the fugitives.

Those fugitives who will not be transferred to Rwanda include Kabuga. The others are Protais Mpiranya, former commander of the presidential guard; Augustin Bizimana, former minister of defence; Callixte Nsabinamana, former minister of youth affairs; Augustin Ngirabatware, former minister of planning; and Idelphonse Nizeyimana, a former military official.

These men will face international justice because they are considered to bear particular responsibility for the killings.

Should the fugitives still be at large by the end of 2008, the tribunal will ”need guidance form the Security Council as to how their cases should be dealt with. The solutions may include authority for the ICTR to proceed with such cases beyond the end of 2008 or the referral of the cases to [another] national jurisdiction for trial,” said Jallow.


Rwanda is eager to try ICTR cases on its own soil. However, the international community has long been sceptical about the country’s ability to manage such high-profile cases. Rwanda already has thousands of genocide suspects in its jails who have yet to be tried, and authorities have turned to traditional forms of justice to ease the load on the country’s overburdened legal system.

Amnesty International and other human rights watchdogs have also expressed concern over rights abuses in the country — and there have also been fears that Hutu perpetrators may not get a fair hearing in a country that is now mainly Tutsi-led.

Another major concern related to Rwanda’s use of capital punishment. But earlier this year, Kigali repealed the death penalty.

Authorities have also built a new detention facility to accommodate persons who might be transferred from the ICTR, which is now working closely with the government to prepare for transfers. In addition, the tribunal is involved in training legal personnel in Rwanda to assist in high-level genocide trials.

African countries approached by the ICTR to try genocide cases have not been willing to do so. Certain analysts argue that these states, which include South Africa and Botswana, are wary of taking on cases that Rwanda feels it is capable of handling on its own.

European countries appear similarly reluctant to offer their services. Although Norway was investigated as a possible venue for future trials, it was found that the country’s laws were not adequate for dealing with genocide cases. However, a case has been transferred to The Netherlands, where the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is based.

According to statistics on the ICTR website, 27 cases have been completed since the court began work, and three suspects acquitted; 29 cases are currently in progress; and nine people are awaiting trial.

In a groundbreaking case, former mayor Jean Paul Akayesu was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1998 on several counts, some relating to rape and other forms of sexual violence. This marked this first instance in which rape as a crime of genocide was recognised by and punished in an international court. — IPS

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