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Félicien Kabuga during his Initial Appearance at The Hague on November 11, 2020. © 2020 Leslie Hondebrink-Hermer/UN-IRMCT

A United Nations tribunal in the Hague this week suspended the trial of Félicien Kabuga for crimes committed during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Victims and their families have long waited to see Kabuga held to account for his alleged role in planning, ordering, and carrying out the genocide.

According to media reports, judges said Kabuga, now 90, was “unfit to participate meaningfully in his trial and is very unlikely to regain fitness in the future.” He had refused to attend hearings in person since the trial began in September 2022, and medical experts found him to suffer from “severe dementia.” The judges proposed an alternative legal procedure that “resembles a trial as closely as possible, but without the possibility of a conviction.”

Kabuga was first indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1997. He is accused of being a mastermind of the genocide, having acted as chief financier of the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, which during the genocide instructed people to erect barriers and carry out searches, named persons to be targeted and pointed out areas to attack.

Kabuga is also accused of aiding and abetting the Interahamwe, a militia attached to Rwanda’s then-ruling party, which hunted down and slaughtered ethnic Tutsi. He is being tried by the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals on charges of genocide, incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and crimes against humanity.

Between April and July 1994, Hutu political and military extremists orchestrated the killing of approximately three-quarters of Rwanda’s Tutsi population, leaving more than half a million people dead. Many Hutu who attempted to hide or defend Tutsi and those who opposed the genocide were also killed.

Many perpetrators of the genocide, including former high-level government officials and other key figures behind the massacres, have since been brought to justice. While Rwandan courts carried out most of the trials, the ICTR tried the highest-level criminal suspects. Other trials continue to take place before domestic courts in Europe and North America.

Last month, the arrest of Fulgence Kayishema in South Africa brought renewed hope that fugitives alleged to have orchestrated the genocide would face justice, despite the passing of time. This week’s ruling has underscored the urgent need for judicial authorities globally to redouble efforts to deliver justice before it is too late.

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