The presence of Félicien Kabuga in Paris is an indictment against France that underscores its role in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. France is the most convenient hiding place for genocide perpetrators, and it has never been a priority for the French government to arrest its many disgraceful guests who had sought and were granted asylum in France.
The arrest of Kabuga on Saturday 16, 2020 raises many questions, and almost all answers point the finger to France. One of the crucial questions raised by Kabuga’s arrest relates to the role of France in facilitating the crisscrossing of genocide fugitives in Europe; equally important is the question about how long Kabuga has been hiding in France, and from where he travelled to France.
According to various reports, the arrest was carried out at the request of the UN International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunal (UNIRMCT) that was established to track and bring to justice the remaining genocide fugitives wanted by ICTR. The dynamics of the arrest are certainly complex, and some details are not yet public.
From available facts, there is no doubt that France either acted under the pressure of the IRMCT based on verified clues about Kabuga’s fake identity, his network and possible whereabouts. At any rate, it is safe to say that it is unfortunate that France did not arrest him on its own initiative; it is rather a case where something got to give – and it gave.
The “homeland of human rights” is a haven for genocide fugitives
France had hit a wall. It couldn’t have kept the secret of Kabuga’s presence in Paris forever. What French PR made look like a spectacular arrest is in reality a staged termination of Kabuga courtesy visit to France.
There has been no change in France’s policy vis-à-vis genocide fugitives. As suggested by a Rwandan commentator, “before absolving France for arresting Felicien Kabuga ask yourself the question why it is in France that he was arrested”!
It is reported that Kabuga had been hiding in Paris, aided by his children who had set up an “effective system” to conceal him. It is not a coincidence that 26 years ago, the French government evacuated and helped the family of Kabuga to settle in Europe. At the height of the genocide against the Tutsi, some French officials relocated relatives of genocide masterminds to Europe in what now looks like an orchestrated plan to create pawns who coordinate the movement of genocide fugitives around the world, to say the least about their genocide denialist activism.
In April 1994, the French government evacuated President Juvenal Habyarimana’s family and Kabuga, together with the families of other genocide architects. Two daughters of Kabuga married respectively to two sons of Habyarimana were among those that France evacuated.
The matriarch of genocide fugitives and Habyarimana’s widow, Agata Kanzinga, who lives comfortably in France, is the mother-in-law of two daughters of Kabuga; another daughter of Kabuga is married to Fabien Singaye, a former diplomat in Europe who used to work as a consultant in the office of the infamous French Judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who concocted evidence to absolve Habyarimana’s army of the responsibility in the downing of his plane, as has now been proven.
Further, it has been established that Kabuga’s children, presumably together with Habyarimana’s family, have been helping Kabuga to evade justice. Which raises more questions, whether it is not a crime in the “homeland of human rights” to aid and abet a genocide fugitive, and whether such conduct shouldn’t trigger the revocation of their asylum protect and begin the process of deportation.
Kabuga or a symbol of genocide denial and impunity
Kabuga Félicien is notable at the patron of the media used for genocide propaganda which was essential in the execution of the “final solution”. As the founder of RTLM radio and sponsor of other hate media, he contributed to the radicalization of Interahamwe through such incitement.
RTLM, his radio, was instrumental in directing the killings, encouraging listeners to commit genocide and “fill the half-empty mass graves.” Meanwhile, a close ally of President Habyarimana’s Hutu Power government, trained the militias who carried out the killings using machetes paid for by Kabuga.
During his many years on the run, Kabuga was a symbol of genocidal denial and resistance. He was the perpetrators’ symbol of impunity. He made them feel beyond the reach of justice and represented impunity and untouchable status despite genocide crimes. The mystery and conspiracies surrounding his whereabouts, and failure to arrest him, were a shot in the arm of deniers. For genocide fugitives and deniers, he was a symbol of a successful genocide project. And so, by hiding in France that country was equally culpable in this mythologizing of Kabuga.
While during the genocide, the killers were portrayed as “angry and uncontrollable orphans” of Habyarimana, Kabuga remained the patriarch of those “orphans” of Hutu Power, and as long as he remained elusive, they believed everything was not lost. These “orphans” were tireless in his defense, and through him a part of Habyarimana lived and could “avenge” for the death of their father, even when the truth of Habyarimana’s death would actually direct such vengeance within.
In 2014, a well-known network of deniers based in Belgium ironically called ‘Centre for the fight against Impunity and Injustice’ (CLIIR) released a statement in defense of Kabuga. That release, signed by CLIIR coordinator Joseph Matata, dismissed genocide related charges brought against Kabuga as “State lies.” It said that Kabuga is simply a wealthy businessman demonized by those who have taken over his properties in Rwanda.
When Kabuga was arrested, the same Hutu Power “orphans” complained that before even being tried, he is presented as a genocide perpetrator, with the presumption of innocence thrown in the trash! These “orphans” of Hutu Power are most definitely inconsolable at the death of Habyarimana and, now, the arrest of Kabuga.
France’s deflecting and sharing guilt
The arrest of Kabuga is not a reason to applaud France. France’s complicity in the genocide against the Tutsi is not only its indifference, but more importantly its wicked pursuit of “strategic interests.” On Saturday, as France’s complicity was exposed by the presence of Kabuga in Paris, the French Ministry of Justice sought to subtly deflect by sharing guilt with other countries that have hosted Kabuga in the past.
While all details on his support network are still unknown, the travels of Kabuga in many European countries over the past 20+ years is a clear representation of the remarks of former French President Francois Mitterrand who said that “in those countries, genocide doesn’t matter”.
In the case of the genocide against the Tutsi, France’s strategic interests were all that matter, irrespective of the amount of pain and anguish caused in the process. For France, genocide and criminality against Africans don’t really matter. It is also an indictment against claims of these European countries where Kabuga was free to roam that they don’t really value human rights; it is evidence that human rights are a ruse they use to arm-twist poor countries to align themselves to those “strategic interests.”
The arrest of Kabuga is more of a symbol than an olive branch.
The Government of Rwanda has been very open in its efforts to normalize relations with France. Since the election of President Macron, there have been signs of readiness on the part of Rwanda to turn the page and improve the relationship between the two countries.
Rather than maintain the normalization momentum, on March 9th, 2020 – less than a month to the 26th commemoration of the Genocide Against the Tutsi – the French Senate hosted a denialist conference that Rwanda considered “an act of enmity towards Rwandans but also as a provocative gesture for the survivors.” If after that France sought then to arrest Kabuga as a good will gesture towards Rwanda, it is an unconvincing olive branch, even insulting.
France’s Janus-faced stance towards Rwanda has, among other things, demonstrated consistent loyalty to their Hutu Power protégés and hostility towards the RPF-led government. When it comes to the genocide against the Tutsi, this commitment to Hutu Power has translated to a policy of blowing hot and cold air depending on the occasion and sometimes simultaneously.
As long as France was convinced that it could overthrow the RPF led government, it had no problem hosting genocide fugitives. Today, not only is France convinced that it can’t achieve that objective, but also that it needs Rwanda to reorganize itself in Africa.
However, in that context of France’s efforts to recalibrate its relations with Africa for its geo-strategic interests, if France is using the arrest of the most wanted genocide fugitive in order to absolve itself from its responsibility in the genocide against the Tutsi and thereby strengthen its partnership with Rwanda, then Kabuga’s arrest is a gesture that can only have a “coup d’éclat” effect.
What France needs, in addition to bringing perpetrators of the genocide to justice, is a real change of dynamics with Rwanda by telling the whole truth about its role in the genocide against the Tutsi.
The process of turning the page must involve reading and reflecting on a letter dated 5th July 1994, a day after RPF captured of Kigali and effectively stopped the genocide against the Tutsi. Gen. Jean-Pierre Huchon, Director of French “Mission Militaire de Coopération” in charge of France’s security policy in Africa, defined three pillars of the new French relations with the RPF led government in Rwanda, namely:
- the majority of the population is Hutu;
- RPF will always be our adversary (enemy) because it is irremediably opposed to our democratic and humanistic culture;
- our future political objective for Rwanda is of interest to other African leaders. They wait, observe and judge. What’s our plan?
So, what is France’s plan that requires to sacrifice Kabuga whom they had welcomed as their accomplice to the crime of genocide?