Félicien Kabuga is a Rwandan businessman featured in Netflix’s World’s Most Wanted docu-series, which dropped on the streaming platform on August 5. Each of the series’ five episodes focuses on a different fugitive considered “most wanted” and who has eluded authorities. One of the criminals profiled is Kabuga, a businessman who is believed by the authorities to have financially supported, participated in and profited from the Rwandan genocide.
Kabuga was born on July 19, 1935, and became a wealthy businessman through his many ventures, including his ownership of a series of tea farms in northern Rwanda. Kabuga is accused of being a leading figure in supporting and funding the genocide in Rwanda against the Tutsi, which took place between April and July 1994, as well as establishing a hate radio station, RTLM.
Where is the businessman today? Unlike the other fugitives profiled on the Netflix show, the 85-year-old Kabuga has recently been arrested, ending his 23-year run as a fugitive.
Kabuga Became a Fugitive After He Was Indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on Multiple Charges of Genocide
The United Nations’ International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Trials (IRMCT)’s case file on Kabuga says he was the president of the National Defense Fund as well as the president of hate radio station RTLM during the genocide in Rwanda between April and July 1994. He was charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) with: “genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.”
In terms of his presidency of RTLM, the ICTR accused him of inciting ethnic hatred between the Hutu and the Tutsi by promoting an anti-Tutsi message. He is also accused of having “instructed, assisted and prompted members of the interahamwe who participated in the killing and harming of persons identified as Tutsi” in various areas of the country. The interahamwe was a Hutu militia group that was at the forefront in perpetrating the genocide. Kabuga’s radio station RTLM identified Tutsi individuals publicly on its broadcasts and provided their location, calling for their “elimination,” the ICTR said.
Kabuga was also accused of establishing and funding the National Defense Fund with the goal of financially and logistically supporting the interahamwe, including by issuing them weapons. The New York Times reported that he imported several hundred machetes from China for distribution and used his company’s vehicles to transport the militia.
He Was Arrested in 2020 in Paris After Authorities Traced His Location Through His Children’s Movements
After his ICTR indictment, Kabuga became a fugitive for 23 years until he was finally arrested in May 2020, after decades of fruitless searching. He initially fled to Switzerland where he applied for asylum but was denied. He was unsuccessful in settling down in another European country so traveled to Kenya, where he lived for many years.
The United States eventually offered a reward of up to $5 million for his capture and criticized the Kenyan government for not doing enough, accusing it of harboring him. The search for Kabuga was eventually successful due to investigators following communications between family members who were visiting him and supporting him.
Kabuga was arrested on May 16, 2020, at a rented home in Paris where he was living under a false identity. Prosecutors aren’t sure how long he’d been living in France. Rwanda’s justice minister Johnston Busingye said: “It is historical on many levels. You can run, but you cannot hide. It can’t be forever.”
The chief prosecutor on the case issued a statement about Kabuga’s arrest:
The arrest of Félicien Kabuga today is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, even twenty-six years after their crimes. Our first thoughts must be with the victims and survivors of the Rwandan genocide. Advocating on their behalf is an immense professional honor for my entire Office.
Kabuga will be remanded into the United Nations’ custody and is expected to be brought to Arusha, Tanzania, for his trial in front of the tribunal. The tribunal’s chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz said, “Kabuga has always been seen by the victims and survivors as one of the leading figures. For them, after waiting so many years, his arrest is an important step toward justice.”
On June 3, the French court approved Kabuga’s transfer to the UN tribunal, but it’s unclear if he will be brought to The Hague, where the tribunal is based, or the UN’s tribunal court in Arusha. Kabuga’s lawyers are pushing for a trial in France, whereas many Rwandans want to see Kabuga returned to Rwanda to be tried there. The process could take a few more months, as RFI reported.