The Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for
Rwanda had accused former army Col. Theoneste Bagosora, 67, of being in charge
of the troops and Interahamwe Hutu militia who butchered between 500,000 and
800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.
"Colonel Bagosora is guilty of genocide and crimes
against humanity and war crimes," the court said, marking the most
significant verdict of a U.N. tribunal set up to bring the killers to justice.
The court said that Bagosora used his position as the former
director of Rwanda's Ministry of Defense to direct Hutu soldiers to kill Tutsis
and moderate Hutus.
Bagosora also was found responsible for the deaths of former
Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian peacekeepers.
Bagasora said nothing as the verdict was delivered, and
there was complete silence from the scores of people who had packed into the
aisles of the tiny courtroom to hear the judgment, the Associated Press
Two other military officers also on trial, Maj. Aloys
Ntabakuze and Col. Anatole Nsengiyumva, were sentenced to life imprisonment for
"genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes." However, a fourth
co-defendant, Gen. Gratien Kabiligi, was acquitted of all charges against him
and the court ordered his release, the New York Times reported.
According to the indictment, Bagosora had participated in
international talks arranged in the early 1990s with the aim of ending Rwanda's
long-simmering political crisis. Bagosora grew angry with government delegates
he deemed soft on Tutsi-led rebels and said he was returning to Rwanda to
"'prepare the apocalypse," the indictment quoted Bagosora as saying.
In Rwanda, Bagosora's conviction was welcomed by genocide
survivors who live uneasily alongside perpetrators nearly 15 years later.
Some 63,000 people are suspected of taking part in the
genocide, although many of them have been sentenced by community-based courts,
where suspects were encouraged to confess and seek forgiveness in exchange for
"Bagosora ... is the person behind all the
massacres," said Jean Paul Rurangwa, 32, who lost his father and two
sisters. "The fact that he was sentenced to the biggest punishment the
court can give is a relief."
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up by
the U.N. in 1994 to try those responsible for the killings and had its first
conviction in 1997. There have been 42 judgments, of which six have been
acquittals. It does not have the power to impose the death sentence.
More than 500,000 minority Tutsis and political moderates
from the Hutu majority were killed in the 100-day slaughter organized by the
extremist Hutu government then in power. Government troops, Hutu militia and
ordinary villagers spurred on by hate messages broadcast over the radio went
from village to village, butchering men, women and children.
The genocide began in April 1994 when the plane of Rwandan
President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, was shot down above Kigali airport.
A French judge has blamed current President Paul Kagame --
at the time the leader of a Tutsi rebel group -- and some of his close
associates for carrying out the rocket attack, the BBC reported. Kagame
vehemently denies this and says it was the work of Hutu extremists, in order to
provide a pretext to carry out their well-laid plans to exterminate the Tutsi
Regardless of the responsible party, a campaign of violence
began within hours and spread from the capital throughout the country.
It did not subside until three months later. The slaughter
eventually ended after Tutsi rebels invaded from neighboring Uganda and drove
out the genocidal forces.
Reed Brody, a specialist in international justice for Human
Rights Watch, said the sentence sent a clear message to other world leaders
accused of crimes against humanity and genocide, like Sudanese President Omar
"It says watch out. Justice can catch up with
you," Brody said. "The authors of genocide can and will be punished
by the international community."