Rwanda Genocide Tribunal’s Most Wanted Man Finally Faces Trial

Félicien Kabuga lived on the run for 23 years before his arrest in France in 2020. He is accused of backing the groups that oversaw the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in 1994.

Individuals killed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, from a display at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. At least 800,000 died.Credit...Ben Curtis/Associated Press

Prosecutors in The Hague thought it would never happen.

The tribunal’s most wanted man, once among Rwanda’s wealthiest and most influential people, had managed to escape for 23 years, living under ever-changing false names, switching countries and homes in Africa and Europe until he was finally arrested two years ago in a suburban apartment not far from Paris.

Now 86 and frail, Félicien Kabuga went on trial on Thursday on multiple charges of genocide. He refused to appear in court, saying in a note that this was in protest against a refusal to let him change lawyers, but judges ordered that the proceedings should go ahead and asked the prosecution to read its opening statement.

He is accused of being a financier and logistical backer of the groups that led the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutus.

During that three-month blood bath in the spring of 1994, at least 800,000 people, maybe as many as a million, were killed in the small central African nation of six million. Tutsi women were raped on an immense scale.

Mr. Kabuga played a crucial role in the genocide, his prosecutors say, as a founder and director of the popular radio station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines. They say it had started to broadcast racial slurs and incite fear and hate months before the Hutu majority went on the attack.

As the murderous campaign got underway, the radio station spurred on its listeners across the country. It broadcast information about where citizens should set up roadblocks and where to search for “enemies,” according to the indictment of Mr. Kabuga at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The charges against him include paying for training and distributing machetes and other weapons to the militia groups that drove much of the slaughter.