One of the most wanted men suspected of committing genocide crimes and crimes against humanity in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi Félicien Kabuga, on Wednesday, appeared in a Paris court for the first time since his arrest last weekend.
The wealthy businessman who is accused of bankrolling the genocide against the Tutsi and importing thousands of machetes in the country which were used by Interahamwe militia to massacre over one million people revealed he was born on March 1, 1933, making him 87 instead of 84.
Reports in French media indicate that Kabuga, who made his first public appearance since his arrest and seen for the first time in 26 years was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair, clad in jeans, and a blue sweater as well as a protective mask.
The businessman appeared in court amid tight security and is reported to have spoken with a weak but audible voice, opting to speak in Kinyarwanda with the held of an interpreter. He confirmed his identity and parents’ names before clarifying on his date of birth.
No single photo has emerged from the court room or scene of arrest. A statement released earlier by his defence team, said that like any other suspect, Kabuga is presumed innocent until proven guilty, a statement which has angered genocide survivors.
The Octogenarian told court that he would wish to be tried in France as opposed to being handed over to the United Nations Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) with the possible trial taking place in Arusha, Tanzania or The Hague, Netherlands.
Rwanda’s National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG) and the Umbrella Association of Genocide Survivors-Ibuka said it would be better for Kabuga to be tried in Rwanda where he committed the crimes.
“We still hope that the court in Paris and the UN will make the right decision and transfer Kabuga to Rwanda. This would bring some closure to survivors who would wish to witness the trial process,” said Dr Jean Damascene Bizimana, the Executive Secretary of CNLG.
Genocide survivors too have demanded that Kabuga, like many other high-profile fugitives who have been transferred to Rwanda, should be sent to Kigali to face the alleged crimes where he committed them.
His children, whom he was living with, in a plush suburb, north of French capital Paris, have launched social media campaigns to defend their father.
The Defence lawyer Laurent Bayon told the court that Kabuga wished to be tried in France for health reasons.
“We have eight more days to prepare his defense. It is unacceptable to do such a fast procedure when justice has waited for 25 years. Justice can wait another 10 days before wanting to send it I don’t know where,” Bayon was quoted.
Sources in France indicate that the first court appearance was attended by Kabuga’s children and family members of former President Juvenal Habyarimana, who was a close friend of Kabuga and shared family ties.
Reuters reported that the IRMCT’s Chief Prosecutor Serge Brammertz said they had already requested that Kabuga be transferred to UN custody, with initial reports ruling out a possible transfer to Africa soon due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions.
Initial reports indicate that the French court granted a request by the defence to push the hearing to a later date and set the next appearance for May 27.
The 87-year old reportedly raised his clenched fist as he left court to his family members and allies who were present at the court. The businessman bank rolled the hate media Radio Television Milles Collines (RTLM) which fuelled ethnic divisions and campaigned for the killing of the Tutsi.
He was arrested last Saturday from an apartment in Paris he was living in under a false identity, having evaded arrest for 26 years.