On 29 September 2022, the trial of the former businessman, Félicien Kabuga, began with the opening statement of the prosecutor, in The Hague, before the Mechanism in charge of the last cases of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). This trial is passionate on the one hand because it contributes to the settlement of the Rwandan conflict, and on the other because Félicien Kabuga is one of the last key actors of this conflict.
During the hearing on 29 September, the prosecutor, in his opening statement, detailed “the charges against the accused and assured him that he intends to present the evidence of his charges at trial in order to obtain the conviction of Félicien Kabuga.” The businessman is charged with six counts of genocide and crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda between April and July 1994. Considered one of the key actors in this conflict, the justice suspects him of having financed the genocide of the Tutsi, an ethnic minority in Rwanda. At the outset of the trial, the prosecution stated that Mr. Félicien Kabuga had a “substantial” role in the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
That’s the crux of the charge. The whole case against the former businessman revolves around the word “substantial”. The court blames Kabuga for having provided «material, logistical, financial and moral support» to the Interahamwe militias. The prosecutor accused him of having created the “national defence fund” to raise money and arm the interahamwes militias. Moreover, he accused Félicien Kabuga, one of the founders of the Radio-Télévision libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), of having to distil «an anti-Tutsis speech with the aim of eliminating the Tutsi ethnic group in Rwanda».
For thirty years, Félicien Kabuga, after a short stay in Switzerland from where he was deported, went underground. Thanks to money and a network of loyal friends, he thwarts the operations of Interpol and the ICTR every time. On 16 May 2020, in the Paris suburbs, he was arrested by the French police. At 87, this tired and sick octogenarian must face justice. For health reasons, his lawyers tried every avenue possible to request a stay of proceedings. The courts dismissed them. He will be tried. Until 29 September 2022, the day before his trial, the accused sent letters to the judges. He said he was not going to appear in court for the opening of his trial. The reason: he wants to change lawyers: Me Emmanuel Altit, one of the lawyers of the former Ivorian Head of State, Laurent Gbagbo before the International Criminal Court. The Court did not grant his request. Félicien Kabuga will therefore be satisfied with Emmanuel Altit. While the latter wished to be defended by Me Peter Robinson.
Egide Nkuranga, president of the main survivor organization, Ibuka, remains “concerned.” According to him, “His lawyers and family [Félicien Kabuga] are trying to flee justice.” “He continues to flee justice as he has always done.” It is still a long legal procedure that opens with this trial.