On May 17, twenty-six years after the Rwandan genocide, Félicien Kabuga was finally arrested outside of Paris. A wanted man for decades, he was the most notorious architect of the 1994 atrocities still at large. Kabuga bankrolled the massacre, financing the Interahamwe militias and importing to Rwanda an astounding number of the machetes that were then used to slaughter men, women, and children. He co-founded and co-owned the hate-radio station Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines, which repeatedly and expressly urged listeners to participate in mass murder.
Kabuga then devoted the same resources and connections he had used to fuel the genocide to protecting himself and evading justice. Although he was indicted in 1997 by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, he found safe harbor in various African and European countries over the years, purchasing enough complicity to ensure he would not be held accountable for his actions.
Of course, no arrest or prosecution can erase the trauma of the genocide. But the apprehension of Kabuga does bring a measure of relief to some survivors and to those who worked for years to bring him to justice. It should also strike some fear in the hearts of those responsible for atrocities; clearly justice does not simply give up over time. But the Kabuga saga also raises important questions. Who helped him live in freedom for so many years? Who facilitated his movements across borders and his financial transactions? Who tipped him off when the law got too close? Will those complicit parties be held accountable?
Kabuga’s story also sheds some light on the pathologies of the Rwandan government today. Critics of the government—and its problematic human rights record—are by no means all sympathetic to the perpetrators of the genocide. Some of those critics were victims of the genocide themselves, while others came to care passionately about Rwanda because they were so horrified by what unfolded in the spring of 1994. When these critics are smeared as enemies of peace, genocide deniers, or worse, it is a grotesque distortion of reality. Yet for years some small and twisted circles of humanity continued to protect the likes of Félicien Kabuga, which helped feed the conflation of honest dissent with the darkest of motives. It’s easier, after all, to imagine that all opponents are part of a vast and evil conspiracy when there is evidence that a conspiracy somewhere—even one with the reduced aims of simply evading arrest—is still afoot. Leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of those who perpetrated the genocide, and those who protected them, remains essential for Rwanda’s future.