One of the last main suspects in the 1994 Rwandan genocide is on trial at the UN tribunal in The Hague. Félicien Kabuga is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the slaughter of about 800 000 people – most of them ethnic Tutsis.
Once one of Rwanda’s richest men, he is accused of inciting the killings through a radio station he owned, and of funding and arming the militia that carried them out. At the same time, notes Legalbrief, The Hague-based court is trying former CAR rebel commander Mahamat Said Kani who is accused of torturing opposition supporters as the country spiralled into violence in 2013.
BBC News notes that Kabuga, who’s in his late 80s, has pleaded not guilty. His lawyers had sought to halt proceedings on health grounds. ‘It is the understanding of the chamber that Mr Kabuga is this morning well, but has decided not to attend the hearing either in person or via video link,’ Judge Iain Bonomy said last Wednesday.
Al Jazeera reports that he said ‘the trial must proceed’. Kabuga, who is 87, was arrested in May 2020, in a Paris suburb after 25 years on the run. He is accused of helping create the Interahamwe Hutu militia, the main armed group of the 1994 genocide.
He has been held in detention in The Hague awaiting trial before the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which is completing the work of the disbanded International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Prosecutors are expected to call more than 50 witnesses in a trial that could last for years.
Prosecutors told the court that Kabuga’s radio station Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines broadcast genocidal propaganda – and they accuse him of arming the dreaded Interahamwe militia.
‘The charges against Kabuga reflect his status as a wealthy and well-connected insider,’ prosecutor Rashid S Rashid said in his opening statement. CNN reports that he said the case reflects Kabuga’s ‘individual responsibility for serious crimes committed during the 1994 Rwanda genocide’.
Through a statement released by his son on Wednesday, Kabuga said he didn’t trust his lawyer but claimed that the court had denied his requests to pick another one. ‘I am therefore forced to be represented by a lawyer in whom I do not trust and prevented from having access to my property to retain the lawyer of choice,’ the statement says. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.
Full BBC News report / Full Al Jazeera report / Full CNN report / Felicien Kabuga profile
In the other high-profile ICC case (the CAR matter), Said, an alleged member of the mainly Muslim Seleka rebel group, is accused of torturing opposition supporters as the country spiralled into violence in 2013.
The former French colony was plunged into a bloody sectarian conflict after the Seleka ousted President Francois Bozize. ‘I have listened to everything and I plead not guilty,’ he told judges at The Hague-based court, where he faces seven charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. ‘I plead not guilty to all charges and all situations,’ added Said.
News24 reports that prosecutors say Said was a senior Seleka commander in charge of a police compound where alleged Bozize supporters were beaten and severely tortured after they were arrested, mainly at night.
ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan noted that Said has entered not guilty pleas, which is his right, ‘but the beauty of the law is that there is no place to hide’.
CAR authorities handed Said to the ICC in January last year in response to an international arrest warrant issued in 2019. Two former anti-Balaka leaders, Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom, are also on trial at the ICC. Full News24 report
In a further significant development in another ICC matter, prominent lawyer Paul Gicheru, who was facing charges of witness interference has died. Police said Gicheru was found dead at his home in Nairobi a week ago.
As previously reported, Gicheru was accused of bribing witnesses who were to testify against President William Ruto over Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence in which more than 1 000 people were killed. He denied the allegations.
The lawyer had surrendered himself to the court in November 2020, five years after the ICC issued an arrest warrant against him. In February, Gicheru denied bribing prosecution witnesses in the case against Ruto and his co-accused, broadcaster Joshua Sang, who were both charged with fomenting ethnic violence after a disputed 2007 election in which 1 200 people died.
A BusinessLIVE report notes that that Sang and Ruto – who was sworn in as President earlier in September – denied the charges. ICC judges ruled in 2016 that the two had no case to answer, but left the door open to possible fresh charges in future, saying that the case had been hampered by political interference and threats against witnesses. Gicheru had been charged with eight counts of offences against the administration of justice. He faced a maximum of five years in prison or a fine if convicted. Full BusinessLIVE report