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Tribunal sentences 'genocide kingpin' to life

A UN-backed tribunal sentenced Theoneste Bagosora, the man accused of having masterminded Rwanda's 1994 genocide, to life in prison for his part in the massacres that killed some 800,000 people.

world Updated: Dec 19, 2008 10:57 IST

A UN-backed tribunal on Thursday sentenced the man accused of having masterminded Rwanda's 1994 genocide to life in prison for his part in the massacres that killed some 800,000 people.

Theoneste Bagosora was convicted of "genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes," said judge Erik Mose at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).

Immediately after the verdict, Bagosora's lawyer Raphael Constant said his client would appeal against his conviction, which he described as "a disappointment."

Bagosora, 67, a church choir boy in his youth who rose to become a key officer in the Rwandan army, was tried with three other defendants, all ex-military.

Two of them, Anatole Nsengiyumva and Aloys Ntabakuze, were also handed life sentences for the same crimes, but the court acquitted all three of conspiring to commit genocide.

A fourth man, Brigadier Gratien Kabiligi, was acquitted of all charges.

Rwanda's representative to the ICTR Aloys Mutabingwa expressed satisfaction with Bagosora's conviction, adding that "justice has been delivered" despite the quashing of the conspiracy charge.

"The essential thing is that their role in the genocide was established. The court ruled that Bagosora had the authority over the killers. It is the most important thing," he said.

"As long as there is genocide, the question of planning is no longer the issue. There can never be genocide without planning."

Constant, howver stressed that "the conspiracy to commit genocide charge was not upheld."

"This is what is important. Not considering conspiracy is to put to doubt Rwanda's history." genocide saw extremist Hutu militia slaughter minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus over 100 days, leading to accusations that Western nations watched them unfold without moving to stop them.

The slaughter is thought to have been triggered by the downing of a plane carrying Rwanda's then president Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, and his Burundian counterpart on April 6, 1994.

The tribunal also found Bagosora responsible for the assassination of Habyarimana's moderate Hutu prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, as well as the killing of 10 Belgian peacekeepers and several politicians.

It also ruled that Bagosora, the chief of staff 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.

Bagosora was arrested in Cameroon in 1996 and his trial began in 2002.

The indictment accused him and his co-defendants of having conspired to "work out a plan with the intent to exterminate the civilian Tutsi population and eliminate members of the opposition, so that they could remain in power."

ICTR chief prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow charged the four were involved in a conspiracy that began in late 1990 when hundreds of Tutsis were arrested after an attack by a Tutsi-dominated rebel group.

The conspiracy became more explicit the following year when the accused, part of a 10-member panel formed by Habyarimana, worked towards the "definition of the enemy", Jallow argued.

The panel met to explore ways of "defeating the enemy militarily, politically and through the media," with the enemy being the Tutsis.

During the course of the trial, General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian head of a small force of UN peacekeepers, described Bagosora as the "kingpin" and "the leading body" behind the genocide.

Constant had questioned the very basis for the case, arguing prosecutors failed to prove the killings met the legal definition of genocide.

Bagosora had also denied killing the Belgian peacekeepers to force the withdrawal of a UN peace force in Rwanda and allow the massacres to go ahead.

"I never killed anybody, neither did I give orders to kill," he said. He argued he was a victim of propaganda from the present Tutsi-dominated government.

In a separate case Thursday the ICTR sentenced Habyarimana's brother-in-law to 20 years in prison for genocide and extermination.

Protais Zigiranyirazo was convicted of "aiding and encouraging" the killing of some 1,500 Tutsis on April 8, 1994 in northern Rwanda and 10 to 20 others near his home in Kigali.

Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Zigiranyirazo, a former prefect of the country's northern Ruhengeri region.

Although he held no office when the genocide occurred, the court ruled he still wielded influence and authority.

Zigiranyirazo and his sister, Habyarimana's widow, were also accused of compiling a hitlist of opponents "as part of a plan seeking to avenge the president's death."

Zigiranyirazo was arrested in Brussels in 2001 while travelling on a false French passport.

First Published: Dec 18, 2008 18:59 IST