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Former defence ministry official sentenced to life

Video by Oliver FARRY

Text by Marie VALLA

Latest update : 2008-12-19

A UN court has sentenced a former Defence Ministry official, Theoneste Bagosora (pictured), to life in prison. Bagosora, a onetime army colonel, was accused of involvement in the killings of thousands of Tutsis. His lawyer says he will appeal.

Hear more about the verdict in FRANCE 24's programme The Week in Africa


After nearly 15 years, the UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has ruled on individuals believed to have been crucial in the implementation of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people were slaughtered.

Today former Rwandan army colonel Theoneste Bagosora, the most senior official on trial, received a life sentence for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Bagosora plans to appeal the verdict, his lawyer told journalists.

“This is a crucial and subtle judgment,” André Guichaoua, a sociologist and ICTR expert witness told FRANCE 24. “The tribunal resisted the temptation of making the responsibility for the genocide general. Unlike the Nuremberg Trial, it ruled on individual actions rather than on official functions.”

This approach, he added, explains why General Gratien Kabiligi, one of Bagorosa’s codefendants, was acquitted due to lack of evidence. On the other hand, fellow former officers Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva and Major Aloys Ntabakuze were sentenced to life for genocide.


Former army colonel sentenced to life

The tribunal ruled that Bagosora was responsible for the assassination of former Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, as well as the killing of 10 Belgian peacekeepers and several politicians. It also ruled that Bagosora, the cabinet director of Rwanda's defence ministry when the genocide began, was behind the massacre of Tutsis at road blocks in the capital Kigali and in his home region of Gisenyi in the north.

“The judges rejected the charge of conspiracy to carry out genocide for lack of evidence,” says Stéphanie Braquehais, RFI correspondent for FRANCE 24 in Arusha, Tanzania, where the tribunal is taking place. Bagorosa, in a dark suit and red tie, remained unflinching as the head of the tribunal read the verdict, she added.

“The fact that the judges indicated that they didn’t have evidence of a pre-existing conspiracy behind the genocide is an act of humility which contradicts the thesis supported by the prosecutor,” says Guichaoua. “It doesn’t make the crimes less monstrous but it assigns a responsibility and the date to the events.”

Bagosora pleaded not guilty. “I never killed anybody, neither did I give orders to kill. You are the ones who can rehabilitate me back into society,” he said during the trial. He argued that he was a victim of propaganda by the current Tutsi-dominated Kigali government.

“We’re finally getting to the crucial cases,” Guichaoua concluded. “But it isn’t the end. Bagosora was a key element in the genocide but he was only the operational executioner. He was acting on behalf of others, of the interests of President Juvénal Habyarimana’s clan.”


‘Genocide financier’ receives 20-year jail term


Earlier, the ICTR had sentenced former President Habyarimana’s brother-in-law, Protais Zigiranyirazo, to 20 years in jail for genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity.


As he listened to the verdict, the white-clad Zigiranyirazo closed his eyes several times, Braquehais reported.


“The ICTR prosecutor said he was satisfied with the sentence,” Braquehais said. “But the representative for the Rwandan government at the Tribunal found the sentence insufficient given the charge of genocide.”


Known as ‘Monsieur Z,’ Zigiranyirazo had no official role in the government but is believed to have helped fund the genocide. Zigiranyirazo, who at 72 has difficulty walking, has already served seven years.


“There have already been convictions but the interesting thing, this time, is that we’re touching the core of the genocide organisers,” said FRANCE 24 international news editor Gauthier Rybinski. “This tends to prove that international justice can achieve its goals.”



The court’s shortcomings


The ICTR has so far convicted 31 suspects and acquitted five.


The ICTR has been criticised for not prosecuting the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi military and political organisation that has become the dominant political party in today’s Rwanda.


Unlike the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which has prosecuted crimes committed by all parties to the conflict, the ICTR has thus far prosecuted only persons charged with committing genocide in Rwanda in 1994, Human Rights watch complained in a statement last week.


"The tribunal has not prosecuted even one of the serious Rwandan Patriotic Front crimes from 1994," Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch's International Justice Program was quoted saying. "This glaring omission means delivering one-sided justice and risks tarnishing the important work that the court has done to date."


The court has until the end of the year to wind up its activities and until 2010 to hear all appeals. The UN general Assembly is discussing whether to extend the court’s mandate. This would open the possibility to bring the RPF cases before the court.


Date created : 2008-12-18