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Arusha: Bagosora Case Nears End

Verdict in trial of man held most responsible for 1994 Rwanda genocide expected later this year.
By Stephanie Nieuwoudt
The trial of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, the alleged mastermind of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which some 800,000 to one million people were slaughtered in just one hundred days, is approaching its end.



According to witnesses at the United Nations-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, ICTR, in Arusha, Tanzania, Bagosora created the Interahamwe, the most important militia formed by the Hutu ethnic majority of Rwanda, that spearheaded the genocide which began on the morning of April 7, 1994.



Witness hearings at Bagosora's trial in this northern Tanzanian town have come to an end. The court's verdict will be issued by international judges headed by Norway's Erik Møse some time after May when the prosecutor and Bagosora's defence team will make their final statements. Bagosora, now 65, faces a potential life sentence: the ICTR has no power to impose death sentences. The Bagosora trial is without doubt the most important and defining trial to come before the ICTR.



Bagosora, who has been in custody since 1996 after being apprehended in Yaoundé, Cameroon, has been on trial since 1997 with three other high ranking officers of the former Hutu-dominated Rwandese Government Forces, RGF, in what has become known as the "Militaries 1" trial (or, the trial of the military in Court One). His co-accused are the former head of military operations of the army, General Gratien Kabiligi; the former RGF commander of the northern Gisenyi region, Lieutenant Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva; and Major Aloys Ntabakuze, the former commander of Kanombe paramilitary battalion based in Kigali.



The charges against Bagosora include allegations that four years before the genocide he developed a plan of action for the extermination of Rwanda's ethnic minority Tutsi, who he and other Hutu extremists referred to as inyenzi ("cockroaches" in Kinyarwanda). In total, Bagosora is charged with twelve different international war crimes.



In his testimony before the ICTR, General Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian commander of the UN Mission in Rwanda, Unamir, at the time of the genocide, sketched a portrait of Bagosora as a cold hearted man. Dallaire told the tribunal the day after the genocide started, he was astonished to see how calm Bagosora was after he was informed that mass killings of Tutsis and Hutu moderates had begun, "I had never seen anyone so calm and at ease with what was going on. It was surreal."



In his award-winning, best-selling account of the Rwanda genocide, Shake Hands with the Devil: the Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Dallaire describes Bagosora as "a bespectacled and pudgy man" who, on his last meeting with the Canadian, "yelled and promised that if he ever saw me again he would kill me."



Bagosora was born in Giceye, near Gisenyi on the shores of Lake Kivu. Gisenyi was the seat of Rwanda's provisional government formed after the signing on August 4, 1993, of a set of five peace agreements collectively known as the Arusha Accords. These pacts were signed by the government of Rwanda and the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front, RPF, and were supposed to bring to an end the civil war in Rwanda at the time.



The RPF consisted mainly of Tutsis who opposed the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government. Many of the RPF leaders - among them Paul Kagame, the current head of state of Rwanda - were stationed in Uganda, where Kagame had become a major in the Ugandan army. Thousands of Tutsis had fled to this neighbouring country during a number of bloody clashes between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda in which tens of thousands of people were killed.



After decades of civil war, the Arusha Accords were meant to lay the foundation for the establishment of a broad-based power-sharing structure involving both the RPF and the Rwandan government. Bagosora was strongly opposed to the Arusha peace talks and stormed out of negotiations with the threat that he was returning to Rwanda to prepare "the apocalypse".



Alleging that Bagosora was behind both the plotting and implementation of the genocide, the ICTR indictment says he took control of Rwanda's military and political affairs immediately after the plane carrying the then president, Juvénal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down on approach to Kigali, Rwanda's capital, on the night of April 6, 1994.



This shooting down of the plane, in which Habyarimana died, unleashed the 100-day orgy of killings in Rwanda.



Bagosora was one of Habyarimana's most trusted men. The president had established a military commission under Colonel Bagosora's command. Other members included Anatole Nsengiyumva and Aloys Ntabakuze.



The publicly stated goal of the commission was to find an answer to the question, "What do we need to do in order to defeat the enemy militarily, in the media and politically?"



According to Trial Watch, a Geneva-based pressure group on international legal matters, the commission's report was nothing more than incitement to hatred. The enemy was defined as "domestic Tutsis, Hutus discontented with the regime in power, foreigners married to Tutsi women." Millions of copies of the report, which was issued by the office of Nsengiyumva, then chief of intelligence, were distributed to civilians and to members of the armed forces.



According to witnesses who have testified at Bagosora's ICTR, he set up the Interahamwe long before Habyarimana's plane crashed. This has led to the conclusion that the genocide was carefully planned years in advance of the night of April 6/7, 1994, and only needed an event like the death of Habyarimana to spark off the slaughter



There was no love lost between Bagosora and the then minister of foreign affairs Boniface Ngulinzira. The latter, a so-called moderate Hutu, was one of the chief negotiators of the Arusha Accords. He was killed by the military on April 11, four days after the genocide began. After his death, the privately owned but pro-government radio station Radio Télèvision de Liberation des Milles Collines, RTLMC, announced, "We have exterminated all the accomplices of the RPF. Boniface Ngulinzira will no longer go and sell the country to the RPF's advantage in Arusha. The peace accords are only scraps of paper, as our father, Habyarimana, had predicted."



It has been established at the ICTR - and as reported years earlier in 1994 by Dallaire and international journalists - that RTLMC was used by Bagosora and the Rwandan government forces to incite hatred against Tutsis with Goebbels-style venom. Day after day, Radio Mille Collines broadcast direct incitements to murder. "The graves are not yet quite full," its announcers screamed. "Who is going to do the good work and help us finish them completely?"



Bagosora's co-accused are charged with urging other members of the military to reject the Arusha Accords. Ntabakuze and Kabiligi openly stated that the extermination of Tutsis would be the inevitable consequence if the accords were implemented.



The prosecution at the ICTR alleges that Ntabakuze ordered his men to abduct Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana during the negotiations. The operation was eventually cancelled. But Uwilingiyimana, a moderate Hutu who was desperate to find a peaceful solution to the hostilities in her country, was bludgeoned to death on the morning of April 7, 1994. Ten Belgian UN peacekeepers, who were guarding her, were killed later the same day. A witness, known only as CD, testified that the soldiers were taken to the Kigali military camp early in the morning. They were severely beaten and "within the first ten minutes some of them were dead".



A score of witnesses testified in the Militaries 1 trial. A former policeman, identified only as KJ to protect him from reprisals, testified that Bagosora spat in the face of a Major Jabo who refused to comply with the order to kill Tutsis in Kibuye, a district in western Rwanda. During a return visit from Kigali, the major - who was ferrying a Tutsi woman - had refused orders at roadblocks to leave her behind to be raped and killed. KJ claimed that the major was eventually sent to the frontlines to die.



Another witness claimed that Nsengiyumva led an attack on Tutsi refugees. He accused them of being RPF fighters. The refugees were killed in a grenade attack. Soldiers who carried out the operation were allegedly told that they were going to fight members of the RPF. A witness, DBN, said that soldiers who took part in the operation said they were lied to. The Rwandan news agency Hirondelle reported that DBN testified, "It was not RPF but Tutsi civilians who were killed." Ntabakuze allegedly deployed a platoon of thirty soldiers and a military vehicle to kill the refugees.



The following means of mass killing ordered by Bagosora have been identified by the US-headquartered Physicians for Human Rights: machetes, massues (clubs studded with nails), axes, knives, guns and fragmentation grenades. The Hutu genocidaires beat people to death, amputated limbs, buried people alive, drowned people and raped women and young girls before killing them.



Victims suffered unimaginable agony. Many Tutsis were buried alive in graves they dug for themselves. Pregnant women had their wombs slashed open so their babies could be killed. Internal organs were removed from living people. Family members were ordered to kill others in the family or be killed themselves. People were thrown alive into pit latrines. Children were forced to watch the murders of their parents.



Bagosora and his co-accused have pleaded not guilty to all charges brought against them.



Stephanie Nieuwoudt is a freelance South African journalist based in Nairobi who frequently reports from Arusha on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

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