After 25 years on the run, Félicien Kabuga, a high-profile fugitive in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, was arrested by police outside Paris to stand trial in a U.N. criminal court, French authorities said on Saturday.
Kabuga, a wealthy 84-year-old businessman who had a US$5 million bounty placed on him for his capture, stands accused of providing machetes to militias that carried out the genocide, and of broadcasting propaganda urging on the Hutu extremism that led to it.
He was found living under an assumed name in Asnieres-Sur-Seine, north of Paris, prosecutors said.
More than 800,000 Tutsis and the moderate Hutus who tried to protect them were massacred by the majority Hutu population in Rwanda over a 100-day period, in what remains the worst genocide in recent history.
Kabuga's arrest resulted from France's joint investigation with the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, or IRMCT, where Kabuga was expected to stand trial. IRMCT was created by the U.N. Security Council in 2010.
IRMCT's chief prosecutor, Serge Brammertz, said Kabuga's arrest is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to justice even a quarter-century after their crimes.
"Our first thoughts must be with the victims and survivors of the Rwandan genocide," he said in a statement. "For international justice, Kabuga’s arrest demonstrates that we can succeed when we have the international community’s support."
Brammertz noted the arrest also involved law enforcement officials and prosecutors from Rwanda, Belgium, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United States, Europol and Interpol.
Kabuga has been charged with "genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and crimes against humanity, committed in Rwanda between 6 April and 17 July 1994," the court said in a statement.
Seven fugitives still at large
Unlike national courts, the United Nations-sponsored IRMCT, which has two branches in Arusha, Tanzania, and The Hague, Netherlands, has no police force or powers of arrest, so it must rely on cooperation from national governments to detain fugitives.
It is the successor to the former International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, or ICTR, and former International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY.
ICTR indicted Kabuga in 1997 in part based on financial documents found in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, indicating that Kabuga used some of his companies to import machetes used in the genocide. He also reputedly established Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, which strongly incited the killings.
His apprehension "sends a powerful message that those who are alleged to have committed such crimes cannot evade justice and will eventually be held accountable, even more than a quarter of a century later," U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres's office said in a statement.
Rwanda's genocide began hours after a plane carrying its then-President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down with surface-to-air missiles as it approached Kigali on the evening of April 6, 1994. Rebels led by current President Paul Kagame ended the slaughter by ousting the extremist Hutu government that orchestrated the killings.
The plane's downing remains a great mystery of the 20th century, and Kabuga's arrest may also help to further mend relations between France and Rwanda, a priority of French President Emmanuel Macron.
A French magistrate opened an investigation in 1998 into the shooting down of the plane, which had a French crew, and concluded it was carried out on Kagame's orders. Rwanda broke off diplomatic relations with France.
Rwandan investigators in 2010 blamed Hutu extremists within the administration of Habyarimana, a Hutu, for downing the plane to "torpedo a power-sharing agreement" known as the 1993 Arusha Accords that aimed to bring an end to a three-year civil war.
French authorities reopened an investigation into the plane crash in 2016, based on a judicial complaint involving French citizens killed aboard the flight. They dropped that investigation in 2018, saying there was not enough evidence to determine what happened. Then last year Macron created a commission to investigate France’s alleged role.
The U.S. State Department applauded Kabuga's arrest as "a milestone for international justice, and a message to all fugitives indicted for genocide that they will be brought to justice," spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. "We hope this arrest brings the victims and their families some peace."
Seven other Rwandans wanted for genocide by the IRMCT remain on the run. The United States has offered up to US$5 million for information that leads to their arrest.