Lawyer Dov Jacobs told judges at the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals that the case against Félicien Kabuga was based on “weak, unverified, unauthenticated and baseless evidence riddled with unverified hearsay.”
The defense’s opening statement came a day after prosecutors opened Kabuga’s trial by saying he played “a central role in provoking hatred of Tutsi, dehumanizing innocent civilians and paving the way for genocide.”
Kabuga has pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide, incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, as well as persecution, extermination, and murder. If he is convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“This trial will demonstrate that the prosecution takes a very flexible approach to corroboration,” Jacobs said. “It should be noted that many of the prosecution’s allegations are unsubstantiated, raising serious questions about the strength of the prosecution’s case.”
Kabuga, 87, did not appear in court for the first two days of his trial, amid an ongoing conflict over his legal representation. He is the latest major genocide suspect to stand trial in the UN court.
He was arrested near Paris in May 2020 after years on the run from justice and transferred to the Mechanism, a tribunal in The Hague that deals with remaining cases from the now-closed UN tribunals for Rwanda and the Balkan wars. . Kabuga’s lawyers unsuccessfully argued that he was not fit to stand trial.
The mass murder of Rwanda’s Tutsi minority was sparked on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down and crashed in the capital, Kigali, killing the leader who, like most Rwandans He was of Hutu ethnicity.
Tutsis were blamed for shooting down the plane. Gangs of Hutu extremists began massacring Tutsi and those they considered supporters, with the help of the army, police and militias. In a 100-day genocide, some 800,000 people were killed, many of them hacked with machetes.
Kabuga, was one of Rwanda’s wealthiest businessmen and had close ties to the political elite at the time the genocide unfolded. He is accused of inciting genocide using the Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) station he helped establish and of raising funds and buying weapons and other supplies for the Hutu militias known as the Interahamwe.
But his lawyers dispute that version of events, telling the judges that the prosecution’s case was built to implicate Kabuga.
Defense attorney Emmanuel Altit said prosecutors built a flawed narrative “around Félicien Kabuga’s name to make him the perfect culprit.”
The first prosecution witness is scheduled to testify next week in a trial expected to last many months.
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