A French court ordered Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga on Wednesday to be handed over to a United Nations tribunal for trial, rejecting arguments that he should be allowed to remain in France because of his health.
UN prosecutors accuse Kabuga of bankrolling and arming ethnic Hutu militias that killed 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda during a 100-day period in 1994. He is indicted for genocide and incitement to commit genocide, among other charges.
Kabuga, whose arrest in Paris in May ended a manhunt that lasted more than two decades, has called the charges lies.
A tea and coffee tycoon and one of Rwanda’s richest men before the genocide, Kabuga is accused of having created a fund that financed the Hutu militias and imported hundreds of thousands of machetes.
His lawyers say he would not receive a fair trial at the tribunal based in The Hague and in Arusha, Tanzania. They say he is 87 and his health is too frail for him to be transferred abroad, particularly during a dangerous pandemic.
But the court, which lists his age as 84, said his health was “not incompatible” with a transfer. Kabuga cannot appeal the transfer order, but his lawyers immediately challenged two further rulings on procedure, setting in train deliberations that will last at least two months.
Ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, Kabuga’s defence team had urged the UN tribunal’s chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, to leave the case with France’s judiciary. Risking Kabuga’s life jeopardised “discovering the truth”, they wrote in a letter.
The slow pace of international justice is a concern for survivors of the genocide, said Richard Gisagara, a lawyer representing an organisation of Rwandan expatriates in France: “We are worried that once again he will escape justice.”
Kabuga’s arrest has raised questions over how one of Rwanda’s most wanted men was able to live undetected in France since at least 2016. Gisagara said he had filed a complaint to initiate an investigation into who had aided him.