The French have arrested Rwandan Félicien Kabuga, one of the few remaining fugitives from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), in a Paris suburb. Kabuga had been chair of the board of Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), which played a central role inciting the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. The ICTR successfully prosecuted two de facto RTLM executives—Ferdinand Nahimana & Jean Bosco Barayagwiza—in the so-called “Media Trial” (2001-2003). Kabuga used his vast resources to finance, train, and supply the Interahamwe death squads, allegedly purchasing thousands of machetes. He has been on the run since 1994, spending time in Switzerland, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya (possibly in and out from 1996-2010), Germany (in 2007 for medical care), Belgium, and then France, where he was finally located over the weekend by France’s war crimes unit. Kabuga had been subject to an INTERPOL red notice (essentially an international arrest warrant) since 1997; the agency’s war crimes directorate assisted with the arrest.
The arrest illustrates the long arm of justice, leaving only a handful of fugitives from among hundreds indicted by the two ad hoc international criminal tribunals created in the 1990s to try perpetrators of the genocides in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Ambassador Stephen Rapp has been tracking Kabuga for decades, first as chief of prosecutions at the ICTR (where he personally prosecuted the Media Trial and then revised the indictment against Kabuga) and then as U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues. Upon Kabuga’s arrest, Rapp told me:
The Kabuga case is important because it involves the alleged responsibility of someone who did not fire a gun or swing a machete but provided the means and messaged the motivation to those who would kill hundreds of thousands of their neighbors.
While in government, Rapp pressed Kenya repeatedly for action, helped establish a task force of European police when it was clear Kabuga had fled to Europe, and managed the U.S. War Crimes Rewards program (WCRP), which applied to Kabuga. The U.S. Secretary of State is empowered to designate individuals indicted by an international or hybrid tribunal into the WCRP, which now includes about a dozen fugitives from the ICTR and International Criminal Court (ICC). The key text reads:
The Secretary may pay a reward to any individual who furnishes information leading to … the arrest or conviction in any country, or the transfer to or conviction by an international criminal tribunal (including a hybrid or mixed tribunal), of any foreign national accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide (including war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide committed in Syria beginning in March 2011), as defined under the statute of such tribunal.
Under the WCRP legislation, foreign government officials, including military and police, are ineligible to receive WCRP rewards if the information is furnished while in the performance of official duties, but private citizens (U.S. or foreign) are eligible if they provide information that leads to the arrest or conviction of individuals. So, none of the officials in Europe will be eligible, but tipsters (including members of Kabuga’s own family if they revealed information) would be.
The maximum award for information on Kabuga was $5 million, with wanted posters disseminated throughout Kenya when Kabuga was believed to be enjoying safe haven there. Nonetheless, he managed to avoid arrests multiple times in Kenya, including a dragnet (the so-called NAKI Operation, which spanned Nairobi and Kigali) that captured several genocide suspects. He may have been tipped off, because he had close ties to President Daniel arap Moi and the ruling KANU party. Rapp regularly saw pictures of Kabuga in Nairobi and delivered harsh words during a Nairobi news conference in 2009, when it became clear that Kenya was harboring Kabuga. (Kabuga had applied for a visa and opened a bank account for his fortune.) An informant was found murdered, adding to the urgency of the situation.
With Kabuga’s arrest, there are seven remaining ICTR fugitives. Besides Kabuga, two of these will be tried by the U.N. International Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (Protais Mpiranya, who is believed to be in Zimbabwe, and Augustin Bizimana). The files of the others have been transferred to Rwanda. The Mechanism is handling legacy issues for the two ad hoc tribunals, such as retrials, requests for release, archiving, witness protection, etc. All 161 individuals indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) have been accounted for—either prosecuted by the ICTY or transferred to domestic authorities for prosecution under Rule 11bis.
The one fugitive from the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Johnny Paul Koroma, was first alleged to have died in 2003 in Liberia (perhaps murdered by forces loyal to Charles Taylor). Details were sketchy enough that the indictment was not withdrawn at that time; DNA tests, arranged by Rapp, did not match the remains thought to be Koroma’s. It was later determined definitely that Koroma had died in 2017 in Sierra Leone in his home village.
Ambassador Rapp noted that Kabuga’s arrest “is a reminder that time and distance will not protect those charged with responsibility for mass atrocities from the reach of justice.”
Words that should offer some small hope to survivors in Syria, Myanmar, Yemen, and elsewhere who rightfully fear that impunity reigns.