POLITICS - The main organizer behind the 1994 slaughter of 800,000 to 1,000,000 people people (the numbers vary depending on the source) in Rwanda was convicted of genocide Thursday and sentenced to life in prison, the most significant verdict of a United Nations tribunal set up to bring the killers to justice.
Theoneste Bagosora was found guilty of crimes against humanity, and the court said he used his position as the former director of Rwanda's Ministry of Defence to direct Hutu soldiers to kill Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
More than 800,000 minority Tutsis and Hutus 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.
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. The killings began April 7th 1994.
The former colonel also was found responsible for the deaths of former Rwandan prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana – a moderate Hutu – and 10 Belgian peacekeepers who tried to protect her as she was killed at the outset of the genocide.
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.
His conviction was welcomed by genocide survivors, who still live uneasily among perpetrators in Rwanda's green hills 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 lighter sentences.
The Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up by the UN 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.
Canadian general Romeo Dallaire, who now sits in the Canadian Senate, was in charge of the failed UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda when the massacres began. In court testimonies, Dallaire has spoken about a spiral of mistrust between Hutus and Tutsis in the days leading up to the massacres and described how his peacekeeping force of 2,100 was hastily assembled and poorly equipped to deal with the situation. His demands for more troops and air support were ignored by the United States, Europe and other UN members.
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