A ruling by UN war crimes judges states that Felicien Kabuga, an elderly suspect in the Rwandan genocide, is unfit to stand trial. However, he will undergo a simplified legal process, as announced on Wednesday. Kabuga, who officials claim is 88 but asserts he is 90, is a former wealthy individual accused of establishing a hate broadcaster that played a role in the massacre of approximately 800,000 people in 1994.
Kabuga’s trial began in The Hague in September of last year, but the judges have now revealed that medical experts have determined he suffers from “severe dementia,” rendering him unable to actively participate in the courtroom proceedings. The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals has consequently concluded that Kabuga is not fit for trial and is unlikely to regain his fitness in the future.
The judges have proposed an alternative process that resembles a trial, although without the possibility of a conviction, in order to address the genocide crimes attributed to Kabuga. They emphasize the significance of ensuring that these crimes are addressed in court for the sake of the victims, survivors, and the international community. However, one judge dissented from this decision.
Prosecutors allege that Kabuga, once among Rwanda’s wealthiest individuals, played a key role in establishing hate media that incited ethnic Hutus to murder rival Tutsis, as well as supplying machetes to death squads.
Kabuga initially refused to appear in court, both physically and remotely, at the beginning of his trial and has since followed the proceedings via video-link from a wheelchair at the court’s detention center. The trial was previously halted in March due to health concerns, despite earlier attempts by Kabuga’s defense lawyers to declare him unfit for trial.
In their recent order, the judges revealed that three court-appointed medical experts observed a significant deterioration in Kabuga’s mental faculties since before the trial commenced. Consequently, he is incapable of comprehending the court proceedings, understanding the evidence, providing instructions to his lawyers, or testifying.
While canceling the trial was deemed inappropriate, the court emphasized the importance of addressing the charges of crimes against humanity and genocide against Kabuga for the sake of the victims, survivors, and the international community. The concept of an alternative legal process, previously implemented in some Commonwealth countries, will be employed to respect Kabuga’s legal rights. Furthermore, his attendance will not be mandatory during this new legal procedure.
Kabuga, who was arrested in Paris in 2020 after evading capture for decades, was subsequently transferred to The Hague for trial. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of involvement with a notorious Hutu extremist radio station that incited violence against Tutsis during the 1994 genocide. He also denies supplying machetes and supporting the Interahamwe Hutu militia, which carried out the killings. Kabuga is one of the few remaining Rwandan genocide suspects to face justice, as 62 individuals have been convicted by the tribunal thus far. Another suspect, Fulgence Kayishema, was apprehended after 22 years on the run and appeared before a court in Cape Town, South Africa, in May.