Theoneste Bagosora became the first perpetrator of the 1994 Tutsi genocide to be convicted by the International Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha-Tanzania. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. The genocide left more than one million Tutsi and some Hutu dead.
Bagosora and other two co-defendants were found by the tribunal to have led a committee that plotted the massacre of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
The two former military commanders Anatole Nsegiyumva and Alloys Ntabakuze were also found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. They were also sentenced to life imprisonment.
Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi, the former chief of military operations, who was also on trial, was cleared of all charges and ordered to be released from custody immediately.
In another verdict on Thursday, the tribunal sentenced Protais Zigiranyirazo, 57, to 20 years in jail for his part in the genocide. He will however serve about 13 years because he has already had 7.
Mr Zigiranyirazo, a brother-in-law of former President Juvenal Habyarimana, who had all means to exterminate the Tutsi at his disposal.
Who is Bagosora?
He was born on 16 August 1941 in the commune of Giciye in the northwest of Rwanda. Bagosora pursued a career in the Rwandan Army.
In 1964, he graduated from the Ecole des Officiers (School for Officers) in Kigali with the rank of second lieutenant. He later underwent military training in Belgium and France, receiving a certificate in advanced military studies from France’s staff college.
In 1993, Bagosora started a regional-based programme popularly known as civilian self-defence force. It gathered non-professional recruits commanded by retired soldiers or other military men.
What started as a proposal, was accepted by senior army officers and in early 1994 a document called ‘Organisation de l’Auto-Défense Civile’ (Organisation of Civilian Self-defense) was produced. There is no doubt that his background, shaped him to what he is up today- a Rwandan Milosevic.
Bagosora believed that an apocalypse was vital, in order to eliminate all the Tutsi and thus ensure lasting peace for the Hutu.
Bagosora, 67, the cabinet director in Rwanda’s defence ministry at the time, announced the apocalypse after declaring the Tutsi as the principle enemy.
Bagosora, who was arrested in Cameroon, had circulated a document to all military personnel and gendarmeries to that effect. He started the killing of Tutsi immediately after the death of Habyalimana.
“There is evidence beyond reasonable doubt that Bagosora planned the killing of the former Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana Agathe, 10 Belgian soldiers and four leading political leaders,” said the judge who was reading the verdict on 17/12/2008.
In fact, the UNAMIR commander General Romeo Dallaire, described him in his book, as thus, “Bagosora was the Kingpin of the genocide. He controlled extremists and the genocidal militias”.
The militia leaders that Bagosora introduced to Romeo Dallaire, later made the title of his memorable book, “Shaking Hands with the Devil.” This was after General Romeo Dallaire, shook hands with one Interahamwe who had blood stains on his clothes.
Gen Dallaire, the former UNAMIR commander, was one of those who testified for the prosecution against Bagosora in Arusha.
What is the implication of Bagosora’s and his other colleagues’ verdict?
There is no punishment on earth, which would suit a devil like Bagosora- the apocalypse architecture. Life sentence as opposite to capital punishment, is however so controversial and in most cases fail to serve the purpose.
It becomes more meaningless when a devil like Bagosora, is to enjoy or all the luxuries on earth as offered by the ICTR in the so-called confinement.
Bagosora will for example, go on ‘retirement’ on a country probably of his choice, in the pretext of serving life sentence. The wife could probably join him if the request in pipeline granted.
I call it pretext because it can only be punishment, if he was pushed to Rwanda. It is in Rwanda where he committed the crimes, only Rwandans therefore would make him understand what he committed.
There is nothing as humiliating, as watching the persons you wanted exterminated on earth, continue to live alongside you everyday. The fact that they forgive you, is even more tormenting.
It is only when such torment becomes your life experience, that life imprisonment can be meaningless. That is the essence of punishment.
But what is the ICTR recommending? That Rwanda has no capacity to hold the convicted in prisons and therefore alternative countries must be chosen. This is so absurd and actually ridicules the justice they (ICTR) offer to Rwandans.
Rwandans have been denied justice in that way. Criminals, who massacred babies in this country, do not stop to be Rwandans by virtue of their crimes.
The y should therefore, be brought to Rwanda where their conscience will be touched, by viewing the effect of their actions. This is what would bring them down to their knees, and make them feel remorseful-at least in their minds. Only such a move would make us feel the justice made in Arusha.
ICTR and the UN in general should be able to understand the need to send Rwandans to serve their sentences in Rwanda. Sending them to other countries, does not serve any purpose-be it the international or Rwandan.
Otherwise, we shall continue to see people who committed crimes against humanity, on white cross-with perpetual freedom.