Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tracking Down Kabuga

Renewed efforts to apprehend leading Rwandan genocide indictee, on the run for eight years.
By Stephanie Nieuwoudt
In a photograph circulating the globe, Félicien Kabuga looks like an affable uncle with his mop of grey hair and old-fashioned spectacles.



But in the modern world, with its loss of innocence, it is known that uncles can often not be trusted. And Kabuga, the most wanted man on the list of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, most definitely does not fit the profile of a benign, avuncular and loving older relative.



His goodwill certainly did not extend to his Tutsi countrymen. A fabulously wealthy Hutu businessman, he is one of 18 people still being sought by the ICTR, based in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha, on charges of genocide.



He is alleged to have bankrolled the Rwandan radio station Radio Télèvision Libre des Milles Collines which in 1994 daily spewed hate speech against Tutsis and incited Hutus to kill their countrymen. "Let's exterminate them all," urged Milles Collines in its agitation for mass murder. "The graves are not yet quite full. Who is going to do the good work and help us finish them completely?"



Rwanda's ethnic intolerance, whipped up into xenophobic hatred by Milles Collines, climaxed in a 100-day genocide during which between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutus.



Kabuga is also accused of financing the importing of hoes, pangas and firearms which were used during the genocide and of drawing up lists with the names of Tutsis to be killed. He was the main financial contributor to the ruling National Revolutionary Movement for Democracy and Development, MNRD, under President Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, and of the Coalition for Defence of the Republic - an extremist wing of the MNRD, which openly campaigned against Tutsis and secretly trained death squads to kill them.



It is further alleged that Kabuga gave logistical assistance to the Interahamwe, the main Hutu militia whose members slaughtered their Tutsi countrymen. Kabuga is charged with giving the Interahamwe weapons, uniforms and transport.



Kabuga - who is indicted on eleven charges, including genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitation to commit genocide and extermination as a crime - has been evading justice since 1998 when the ICTR issued a warrant for his arrest.



There have been many rumours of sightings of Kabuga in different parts of the world. Just after the genocide, in July 1994, he tried to settle in Switzerland, but the government expelled him.



According to a report by Trial Watch, a Geneva-based organisation which monitors international justice tribunals and other human rights processes, the heavy costs of deporting Kabuga, his wife and seven children in August 1994 were paid by the Swiss government. For short periods after that he lived in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC.



Trial Watch reported that Kabuga was spotted in Southeast Asia in September 1998 and in 2000 in Belgium, where his wife has settled. However, Kabuga seems to have set up his current semi-permanent base in Kenya. Numerous reports say he keeps moving in and out of the country amid persistent rumours that he is being aided by high- ranking officials. It is alleged that he has particularly close ties with the family of former president Daniel arap Moi, and in December 2002 the United States accused the former permanent secretary for Kenyan National Security, Zakayo Cheruiyot, of helping Kabuga. The US alleged that Kenyan government institutions were used to prevent Kabuga's arrest.



In September this year, the ICTR prosecutor, Gambia's Judge Hassan Bubacar Jallow, met Kenyan justice minister Martha Karua and deputy foreign minister Moses Wetangula to discuss apprehending Kabuga. It was the second time in twelve months that Judge Jallow had held high-level talks on the subject in Kenya. At a press conference, he made it clear that Kenya was not playing by the rules imposed by its status as a United Nations member state. The ICTR is a creation of the Security Council. Kenya and all other member states of the UN have an obligation to assist the ICTR.



The judge said he undertook his second visit to Kenya because it seemed that the Nairobi government had done nothing to apprehend Kabuga following his previous meeting with officials in October last year. He was accompanied to his latest meeting by diplomats from 25 foreign embassies in Kenya.



“I came to remind the Kenyan government that it has a legal obligation to aid us in apprehending Kabuga and any other fugitives," said Judge Jallow, who is categorical that Kenya is Kabuga's main bolthole. "It is evident no progress was made since my last visit.” He added, perhaps more diplomatically than in expectation, that this time round there was a commitment to cooperate to bring Kabuga to justice.



The Kenyan government has time and again denied that it knows the whereabouts of Kabuga. Yet according to local newspaper reports the man is seen often in Nairobi and that he moves back and forwards between Kenya and the DRC, where he has business interests.



In August one of Kenya's leading newspapers, the Sunday Nation, quoted diplomats as saying the UN believed the Kenya police and senior figures in the government of President Mwai Kibaki were blocking efforts to arrest Kabuga. The exhaustive report, widely quoted in world media, caused an international stir.



The newspaper said Kabuga was seen in June at the Nairobi home of a former cabinet minister in the administration of Kibaki’s predecessor, Moi. There are also rumours that he frequently enjoys the company of other high-ranking officials of the previous administration.



According to the Sunday Nation report, Kabuga has major business interests in Kenya. It is rumoured that he owns four companies outright, including a trucking firm, and has shares in others and owns two houses as well as an unknown number of hotels.



Judge Jallow said he had no evidence that the present Kenyan government is aiding Kabuga. But he added there was evidence that officials in the Moi government help the fugitive.



European countries where Kabuga had bank accounts have frozen his assets. The judge declined to say which countries were involved, but said Kabuga uses his vast wealth to buy protection. A master of disguise, he travels on a variety of passports. He has in the past used the aliases Faracean Kabuga, Idriss Sudi, Abachev Straton, Anathase Munyaruga and Oliver Rukundakuvuga.



The US is offering 5 million dollars as a reward for information leading to Kabuga’s arrest. But even this huge amount has not been sufficient incentive for those with knowledge of his whereabouts to come forward. It could be that those with information are simply too afraid of what could happen to them, knowing the fate of 27-year-old William Munuhe.



In 2002, Munuhe tried to lure Kabuga into a trap at the behest of the US Federal Bureau of Investigations, FBI, and the Kenyan police. Kabuga did not arrive for the meeting and two days later the would-be informant was found dead in his house from inhalation of poisonous gases.



According to Trial Watch, a Kenyan police officer warned Kabuga about the trap and he was allowed to escape.



There are conflicting reports about who Munuhe was. Some sources claim he was a freelance journalist while others say he was a crony of Kabuga who turned against him when a business deal went sour.



Rafael Tuju, Kenya's foreign minister, said that in the Kabuga case nothing is impossible regarding his whereabouts. “With a 5 million dollar reward on his head, if anybody told me where he is, I would become an instant partner to the informer,” Tuju joked to IWPR.



The foreign minister admitted it would be inappropriate to categorically deny that Kabuga is in Kenya. “There was the recent case of the Austrian girl who was hidden by her abductor for ten years. And she was held captive only a few kilometres from her home. Anything is possible,” he said.



Tuju insisted that those who report sightings of Kabuga should be clear about where, when and with whom he was seen. “The reports about him being in Kenya are not substantial,” he said, before further admitting that there is a crisis of confidence in the Kenyan police system in which officials are underpaid and open to corruption.



“We have been compromised by the police," the foreign minister told IWPR. "But the Criminal Investigation Department, which consists of members of the regular police and National Intelligence Security Services, is one of the best in the world. It is through their intervention that other people on the ICTR list were apprehended in Kenya.”



The Kenyan government has in the past arrested and turned over ten top Rwandan fugitives from justice. Among them were Pauline Nyiramasuhuko, former minister of women in Rwanda and her son, Arsene Ntahobali, a former soldier. Nyiramasuhuko is now on trial in Arusha on charges of inciting rape and selecting Tutsi women to be raped by her son and other members of the Interahamwe. They were arrested in Nairobi in July 1997.



Tuju was not clear in his remarks to IWPR about whether Kabuga has bank accounts in Kenya. “It would be a criminal offence for any bank to do business with Kabuga, but it is possible that he may have had accounts in the past," he said. "Kenya is a free market economy, and thousands of refugees from Uganda, Somalia and elsewhere have accounts here. The ICTR should engage constructively with the Kenyan government in investigations into Kabuga’s finances. It is not OK for the ICTR to run to the newspapers with allegations.”



A Kenyan magistrate, who asked not to be identified, snorted derisively when asked by IWPR if he thought Kabuga is paying for protection in Kenya. “It is incredibly easy for a person like Kabuga with his reported wealth and connections to hide in this country," he said. "Just look at the facts.



“The police are demotivated and underpaid. If Kabuga is being protected by politicians in the current or previous government, there is not one policeman who will be willing to apprehend him. Politicians have too much power and they can exert swift retribution.”



The magistrate said the murder of the would-be informant Munuhe is a stark warning. “Four years after his [Munuhe's] death no one has been apprehended," he said. "The investigation has seemingly died a silent death and nobody is complaining.”



Police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Gideon Kibunjah claimed the police are working very closely with the FBI and the ICTR to apprehend Kabuga. But he too had vague answers to questions about bank accounts. “It is a mystery how he is funding his lifestyle," said the superintendent. "But there is no record of him using an account under one of his names. If he uses it through these names it would be easy to catch him. It is possible that he may use accounts through other people."



Kibunjah said that the police would soon start publishing wanted posters, complete with photographs of Kabuga, in the national press. “Members of the public may just come across him where he does not expect to be spotted," he said. "We are relying on ordinary citizens to help us.”



With the deadline of 2008 by which all the cases at the ICTR have to be heard, time is running out for the tribunal to apprehend and bring Kabuga to justice.



Judge Jallow admitted that even if Kabuga is apprehended soon, the ICTR would probably not have enough time to complete his trial. In that case, it is possible that the ICTR would try to transfer his case to another national jurisdiction. This strategy is already being followed in an effort to lighten the ICTR's heavy caseload, but transferral brings its own problems. Recently, one of the ICTR trial chambers denied tribunal prosecutors permission to transfer a case to Norway because that country does not have specific legislation dealing with genocide.



“There are very few countries with genocide legislation, which limits our options,” said Judge Jallow. “But war crimes and crimes against humanity never expire, so the international community will find a way to deal with Kabuga and other outstanding cases even after the ICTR deadline is reached.”



Among 27 Rwandans - most of them senior political and military figures in the Hutu regime that organised the genocide - so far sent to Arusha for trial was former premier Jean Kambanda. He has been convicted and is serving a life sentence in a prison in Mali.



Stephanie Nieuwoudt is a freelance South African journalist based in Nairobi who frequently reports from Arusha on the ICTR trials.