PARIS - The United Nations has hailed the arrest of a wanted Rwandan genocide suspect, Felicien Kabuga, who appeared before a Paris court under heavy police protection on Tuesday.
Kabuga’s court appearance came three days after French police arrested the 84-year-old at his apartment in the Paris suburb of Asnieres-sur-Seine, where officials say he had been living under a false identity.
Experts say French legal procedures could take several weeks or more, before Kabuga can then be transferred for trial. That’s expected to come before a special body that inherited outstanding cases from the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which closed in 2015. That tribunal indicted Kabuga on seven counts, including genocide.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she hoped Kabuga’s arrest would encourage other states to hunt down other top genocide suspects still at large.
Rights and genocide survivor groups have likewise hailed Kabuga’s unexpected arrest.
Lawyer Patrick Baudouin, honorary president of the International Federation for Human Rights, said it’s in France’s interest to ensure Kabuga is tried as soon as possible, given the years gone by and his advanced age.
Once a powerful and wealthy businessman, Kabuga had been on the run across Europe and Africa for more than a quarter-century.
He is accused of financing militia groups who helped carry out the 1994 killings of some 800,000 Rwandan Tutsi and moderate Hutus. He also co-owned Radio Milles Collines, whose broadcasts fed hatred against the Rwanda’s Tutsi minority.
One investigator told Reuters news agency the coronavirus lockdown in France and elsewhere in Europe left them time to focus on Kabuga’s trail. They reportedly traced him through internet clues left by his children, who rented the apartment where he lived.
It’s uncertain how and when he came to France, but neighbors have told local media they saw him around for several years, and he kept a low profile.
Some activists want a fuller explanation of why it took so long to find Kabuga. Baudouin said his trial might also shed light on other genocide suspects.
The genocide has long cast a shadow on French-Rwandan relations, with Kigali accusing Paris of complicity. Ties have improved in recent years. Last year French President Emmanuel Macon appointed an expert commission to look into France’s role in the killings, with a report due next year.
For the first time in April, France officially commemorated the Rwandan genocide that took place 26 years ago.