A UN tribunal in The Hague has opened the long-awaited trial of one of the last prominent suspects in the genocide against minority Tutsis in Rwanda, despite his decision to boycott the hearing from his jail cell.
"It is the understanding of the chamber that mister Kabuga is this morning well but has decided not to attend the hearing this morning either in person or via video link," Judge Iain Bonomy said on Thursday.
"The trial must proceed" with the opening statement of the prosecutor, judges decided.
Felicien Kabuga, a former businessman and radio station owner, was captured in France in 2020 after decades on the run.
He is one of the last suspects sought by a UN tribunal prosecuting crimes committed in the 1994 genocide when the ruling Hutu majority gunmen killed more than 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutu moderates in 100 days.
'Justice can be done'
Kabuga is in his mid-to-late 80s, though his precise date of birth is disputed.
He was arrested in May 2020 in Paris between Covid-19 lockdowns and extradited to The Hague where he has entered a not-guilty plea.
During his extradition hearings in France, he described the accusations against him as "lies".
Prosecutors have charged the former coffee and tea tycoon with three counts of genocide and two counts of crimes against humanity, primarily for promoting hate speech through his broadcaster, Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines.
He is also accused of arming ethnic Hutu militias.
According to prosecutor Rashid Rashid, Kabuga was a "wealthy and well-connected political insider" in Rwanda at the time of the genocide.
UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz told Reuters the trial's opening would bolster international justice.
"Even if it's taken more than 20 years, justice can be still be successful and that justice can be done," he said.