UN appeal judges have ruled that the war crimes trial of Félicien Kabuga, a 90-year-old Rwandan genocide suspect, should be indefinitely suspended due to his dementia. The judges rejected plans for an alternative simplified procedure. This decision, made on Monday, implies that Kabuga’s trial, which began last year in The Hague, will likely remain incomplete.
Earlier in June, judges at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals had ruled Kabuga unfit to stand trial but had suggested considering alternative procedures. Prosecutors had argued against halting the trial, claiming that it would be unfair to the victims. They stated that Kabuga’s own actions had led him to face trial at an advanced age with diminished capacity.
However, the appeal judges declared on Monday that the lower court had committed an “error of law” by opting for an “alternative finding procedure” instead of a trial for Kabuga. They instructed the trial chamber to impose an indefinite stay of proceedings due to Kabuga’s lack of fitness to stand trial. The judges also instructed the trial chamber to rapidly assess the circumstances under which Kabuga could be released.
While acknowledging that this decision might be disappointing to the victims and survivors of the 1994 genocide, the appeal judges emphasized that justice could only be served through fair trials conducted with full respect for the rights of the accused.
Félicien Kabuga, a former businessman who amassed wealth in the tea trade, is one of the last suspects pursued by the tribunal for crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. In this genocide, members of the country’s Hutu majority killed over 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates in just 100 days. Kabuga is accused of financing Hutu militias and disseminating hate speech through his radio station, Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM).
After years on the run, Kabuga was arrested near Paris in May 2020. He was transferred to The Hague to stand trial at the residual mechanism, which deals with remaining cases from the now-closed UN tribunals for Rwanda and the Balkan wars. Kabuga pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide, incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, as well as persecution, extermination, and murder.
Prosecutors accused Kabuga of encouraging genocidal propaganda through RTLM broadcasts, inciting violence against Tutsis. He was also alleged to have supplied Hutu death squads with machetes. Kabuga had consistently denied these charges. The tribunal has previously convicted 62 Rwandan genocide suspects.