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Genocide warlord Felicen Kabuga’s trial has started at ICC

Rwandan genocide suspect Felicen Kabuga, in a past court session in the Hague.

The 1994 Rwandan genocide warlord suspect Felicen Kabuga’s trial has started. Mr Kabuga has been on the run, and was just arrested in 2020.

The fugitive was arrested in Paris, France, in May, where he was hiding under an assumed name. Before his ultimate arrest, Kabuga had been on the run for 26 years. Felicen Kabuga is being tried for having been directly involved in escalating tension in Rwanda, which led to the historic bloodbath that left the Eastern African nation ravaged beyond repair.

He is being tried before the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) for what prosecutors say is his “substantial” contributions to the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

The Prosecutors say Kabuga’s radio station, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), broadcasted genocidal propaganda and 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.

As president of RTLM, he had been one of Rwanda’s wealthiest and most influential men among the Hutu elite. IRMCT prosecutors further observed that Kabuga himself did not wield a machete, or pick up a microphone to broadcast hate, but his conduct since 1992 pointed to a consistent anti-Tutsi animus.

In his first appearance before the court, Kabuga confessed not guilty to the charges that were read against him. But in yet another twist, the warlord complained that he was not assure of his lawyers’ fidelity to him. He asked the prosecution to allow him change his lawyers, but the court refused.

“I am therefore forced to be represented by a lawyer in whom I do not trust – and I have prevented from having access to my property to retain the lawyer of choice,” the statement said. Kabuga faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, if convicted. His lawyers have previously argued that he was too ill to be tried, but judges and court-appointed doctors disagreed.

The aftermath of the 1994 Rwandan genocide has since left a very united country – such that someone is likely to be imprisoned if he is heard to have discriminated a fellow Rwandan resident on tribal grounds. The two main ethnic groups in Rwanda are Tutsi and the Tutu, the main protagonists in the 1994 genocide.

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