Global Policy Forum

Rwanda Genocide Trial Finishes after 5 Years


By Xan Rice

June 1, 2007

The five-year trial of Théoneste Bagosora, the alleged mastermind of the Rwandan genocide, ended today with the 65-year-old former colonel insisting he was "a victim of ignominious propaganda". Dressed in a pink dress shirt and pink tie - the same colour worn by convicted "genocidaires" in Rwandan prisons - and speaking without emotion, Mr Bagosora denied responsibility for any killings and urged the judge to "rehabilitate" him into society.

Together with three other top army commanders appearing alongside him in the so-called "Military 1" trial, Mr Bagosora was accused of planning and coordinating the slaughter by Hutus of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. Prosecutors at the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda have described the case as "the most important genocide trial" since the term was legally defined in 1948. Seated behind their defence team in the narrow court in Arusha, Tanzania, the accused men listened impassively as prosecutor Drew White closed his case by describing them as "enemies of the human race".

Gratien Kabiligi, the former chief of military operations who read a Reader's Digest magazine during the closing arguments, and Aloys Ntabakuze, the former head of Rwanda's para-commandos, declined to make final statements but have pleaded not guilty to charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Anatole Nsengiyumva, who commanded the army in the Gisenyi sector, said the accusations against him were "cock-and-bull stories".

Mr Bagosora retired from the military in 1993 but kept a cabinet post in the defence ministry. On April 6 1994, President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was killed after his plane was shot down as he returned from peace talks, and Mr Bagosora assumed control of the military. What followed, he said, was beyond his control."I request people of goodwill to free their minds of intoxication and poison," he said in a defiant tone similar to that he used during his 17 days of testimony in 2005. "I solemnly declare that I did not kill anyone or issue orders for anyone to be killed."

Prosecutors produced evidence that they said painted a very different picture, that the mass killing that ensued was not a spontaneous act carried out in a time of war against Tutsi rebels, as all four defendants claimed, but one they had planned for years. In 1991, Mr Bagosora, Mr Ntabakuze and Mr Nsengiyumva helped draft a document that described the minority Tutsi ethnic group as the enemy and was widely circulated in the Hutu-dominated army. Together with Mr Kabiligi, the men are also accused of supporting media outlets that spread the hate messages, and drawing up lists of victims.

At dawn on April 7 1994, Mr Bagosora is alleged to have given the order for the genocide to start. Hutu soldiers sexually assaulted and shot dead the Tutsi prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and hours later, three other opposition cabinet ministers were killed with their families. In a move allegedly designed to push the UN out of Rwanda, ten Belgian peacekeepers were also killed. General Romeo Dallaire, the UN commander in Rwanda and one of the prosecution's 82 witnesses, said that while these murders were occurring, Mr Bagosora was calmly sitting behind his desk as if everything was going to plan.

Arrested in Cameroon in 1996 and charged a year later, Mr Bagosora made little attempt to win over the three judges. Asked to illustrate how a subordinate would carry out an order, he gave the example of assigning someone to kill a member of the courtroom. Asked about a report that he had appeared at roadblocks alongside the death squads, he said it was an insult to a man of his rank. Referring to a prosecution statement comparing him to Hitler, he said, "Neither Hitler, Himmler or Goering ever went running around in Berlin to flush out Jews to be killed," he said. He refused to acknowledge the genocide, instead referring to "excessive massacres".

Raphael Constant, Mr Bagosora's lawyer, said: "He has a very cold attitude. But the point is not whether he is a charming fellow, but to analyse the evidence." He was not holding out much hope of an acquittal. "This tribunal was established to some extent to convict Mr Bagosora. If that does not happen, it will shut down the next day."

A verdict is expected this year.

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