The United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, sitting in The Hague, passed over a witness who failed to appear for the hearing of the case against Rwanda genocide suspect Félicien Kabuga.
“KAB009 is unwell and unable to complete his evidence,” said Presiding Judge Iain Bonomy on November 15, 2022.
KAB009, who is currently serving 30 years imprisonment for his role in the Rwandan genocide, was to continue with his cross-examination on Kabuga’s alleged involvement in fundraising and purchasing weapons that were used during the genocide.
The next witness, KAB066, spoke about Kabuga’s efforts to supply weapons to Interahamwe in Gisengyi and support them in Kigali.
KAB066 is also serving 30 years imprisonment for participating in killing the Tutsi. The witness told the court that he listened to Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM), which sensitised and incited them and other young people in Gisenyi prefecture to kill the Tutsi.
“RTLM was telling us Tutsi were evil, and that led us to hate them,” KAB066 told the court.
The witness added that listening to RTLM greatly influenced his behaviour and led to him participating in killing the Tutsi.
The trial of the genocide suspect resumed on November 8 after taking a break on October 25, 2022.
Since the trial started on September 29, 2022, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) has heard the testimony of several witnesses, including KAB38, who in 1994 lived in a mega building owned by Kabuga in Muhima, Kigali, and told the court that meetings were held on the second floor of the building. She said she heard from the Interahamwe who attended that the meetings were organised under the authorisation of Kabuga.
She added that on two occasions, she saw Kabuga in the courtyard surrounded by Interahamwe.
“The Interahamwe repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted them. Her cousin was also raped and killed, and another cousin’s wife was raped. The rapists were Interahamwe who were amongst those using Kabuga’s Muhima building,” said the prosecutor, reading part of KAB38’s testimony.
Another witness who worked in the Rwandan information security sector at the time said Kabuga failed to stop broadcasts calling for the murder of Tutsis.
Kabuga served as president of RTLM, which broadcast genocide or propaganda across Rwanda.
Although there were several warnings from the ministry about the broadcasts, RTLM did nothing to correct the situation. In fact, it went all out to continue its divisionist propaganda,” said the witness.
Francois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, who was on the witness list, also testified. He was deputy commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion. Nzuwonemeye was charged with conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, and violations of the Geneva Convention by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). He was acquitted in 2014.
Witness KAB007 testified on the role of Kabuga in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, especially in Gisengyi town, currently Rubavu district. The witness testified via video conference from Arusha, Tanzania.
He told the court that he was an Interahamwe and that the militia became a big threat in 1991.
He said that a meeting was held at Hôtel Méridien in Gisenyi on April 25, 1994, which was attended by civil and military authorities, including Anatole Nsengiyumva, who was the commander of the military operational sector in Gisenyi. Nsengiyumva was charged with crimes of genocide and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In 2008, the ICTR reduced his sentence to 15 years, but in 2011 he was released after receiving credit for time served.
The witness told the court that during the meeting, Kabuga agreed to buy weapons to give the Interahamwe to fight Inyenzi (a demeaning identity given to the Tutsi and Rwanda Patriotic Front [RPF] soldiers), which he said meant that the enemy was not only the RPF but also the Tutsi.
He added that weapons arrived in Rwanda and were carried in trucks from Goma airport, Méridien, to Gisenyi military base and were expected to be distributed from Umuganda stadium to the militia who had completed their training.
Nzuwonemeye and Nsengiyumva are among the eight Rwandans who have been living under illegal house arrest in Niamey, Niger, since January 2022, even after being released by the ICTR.
Kabuga, who is facing six counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, pleaded not guilty in November 2021. He is further charged with aiding and abetting the Interahamwe, who killed and harmed Tutsis and others in Kigali, Gisenyi, and Kibuye prefectures, by providing them with material, logistical, financial, and moral support. He is also alleged to have raised funds to purchase weapons and ammunition and to have played a role in importing arms and ammunition distributed to the Interahamwe in Gisenyi prefecture to commit crimes.
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Other witnesses who testified include Monique Mujawamariya, a human rights activist during the time of the genocide, KAB005, KAB093, KAB099, and Jean-Francois Dupaquier, who wrote an expert report on RTLM’s role in Rwanda’s genocide
During the opening statement of Kabuga’s trial, 28 years after the genocide because he was in hiding for decades, the prosecution said he used his vast wealth to set up hate media that urged ethnic Hutus to kill rival Tutsi, whom he referred to as “snakes”, and supplied the Interahamwe militias with machetes to carry out the killings. “He promised money, equipment, and vehicles to fight the Tutsi,” Prosecutor Rashid S. Rashid told the court.
He added that Kabuga led efforts to establish RTLM as a mouthpiece for anti-Tutsi propaganda while Interahamwe were indoctrinated in similar messages.
The prosecutor further argued that the evidence to be presented during the trial would show that “Kabuga, acting in the cause of extremist beliefs, played a key part in bringing about the crimes and the almost unimaginable suffering that was unleashed across Rwanda in 1994”.
On the other hand, the opening statement of the defence, led by Emmanuel Altit, tried to cast doubt on Kabuga’s involvement and motivation for the Rwanda genocide.
The defence argued that Kabuga had no editorial control at the radio station and prosecutors lacked evidence for the other charges.
The trial will likely last for months, with the prosecution expected to call more than 50 witnesses.