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Long-awaited Rwanda genocide trial starts despite suspect’s boycott

Felicien Kabuga, a former businessman and radio station owner, is one of the last suspects sought by a U.N. tribunal prosecuting crimes committed in the 1994 genocide, when ruling Hutu majority extremists killed more than 8,00,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates in 100 days.

Nyabimana (first name unknown), 26, shows machete wounds at an International Committee of the Red Cross Hospital in Nyanza, some 35 miles southwest of Kigali, Rwanda, on June 4, 1994. A frail 87-year-old Rwandan, Félicien Kabuga, accused of encouraging and bankrolling the 1994 genocide in his home country goes on trial Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, at a United Nations tribunal, nearly three decades after the 100-day massacre that left 800,000 dead. (AP Photo/Jean-Marc Bouju, File)

A U.N. tribunal in The Hague opened the long-awaited trial of one of the last prominent suspects in the Rwandan genocide on Wednesday, despite his decision to boycott the hearing from his jail cell.

Felicien Kabuga, a former businessman and radio station owner, was captured in France in 2020 after decades on the run. He is one of the last suspects sought by a U.N. tribunal prosecuting crimes committed in the 1994 genocide, when ruling Hutu majority extremists killed more than 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates in 100 days.

“It is the understanding of the chamber that mister Kabuga is this morning well but has decided not to attend the hearing this morning either in person or via video link,” Judge Iain Bonomy said. “The trial must proceed” with the opening statement of the prosecutor, judges decided.

Kabuga is in his mid-to-late 80s, though his precise date of birth is disputed. He was arrested in May 2020 in Paris between COVID-19 lockdowns and extradited to The Hague where he has entered a not-guilty plea. During his extradition hearings in France he described the accusations against him as “lies”.

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Prosecutors have charged the former coffee and tea tycoon with three counts of genocide and two counts of crimes against humanity, primarily for promoting hate speech through his broadcaster, Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines.

He is also accused of arming ethnic Hutu militias.

According to prosecutor Rashid Rashid, Kabuga was a “wealthy and well-connected political insider” in Rwanda at the time of the genocide.

U.N. prosecutor Serge Brammertz told Reuters the trial’s opening would bolster international justice.

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“Even if it’s taken more than 20 years, justice can be still be successful and that justice can be done,” he said

First published on: 29-09-2022 at 04:12:54 pm
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