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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Rwanda: Recent Documents, 2

Rwanda: Recent Documents, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 970307
Document reposted by APIC

RWANDA: 'The Planner of Apocalypse'
The Case Against Bagosora

By Filip Reyntjens

Inter Press Service, Africa Headquarters, 127 Union Ave. Box 6050, Harare, Zimbabwe. Tel: 263-4-790104/5 Fax: 263-4-728415 E-mail: or

This article reposted with permission by the Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List. An archive of IPS Africa coverage is available at the IPS web site ( It is also available in the conference on the APC networks,and by e-mail subscription from PeaceNet World News (for information, send a message to For information about cross-posting, send a message to For more information about access to and reproduction of IPS Africa coverage, contact Peter da Costa in Harare (

THE HAGUE, Feb 28 (IPS) - Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, whose trial reopens on Mar. 7 at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was not the sole mastermind of the Rwanda genocide, but he was among the core group of one or two dozen who planned it.

Extradited on Jan. 23 from Cameroon, the case against Bagosora is that he played a key role in launching the massacres on Apr. 7, 1994, and helped establish an interim government which presided over a genocide that claimed up to a million lives in just over three months.

His transfer to the ICTR courtrooms at Arusha in Tanzania might now stimulate a search for the other members of this core group and encourage their extradition from their current countries of residence.

Bagosora's presence in Arusha may also enable the Tribunal to start streamlining its investigation and prosecution policy in the changes that will be expected of newly appointed registrar, Nigerian Agwu Okali, installed in the wake of much condemnation of the ICTR's adminsitration.

A retired colonel of the former Rwandan army (FAR), Bagosora occupied senior military posts under the regime of President Habyarimana.

He belonged to the so-called 'akazu' - the 'little house' - the intimates of the president's family, with shared political and business interests.

By 1992, the Rwandan newspaper Umurava reported him as one of the chief organisers of death squads that started operating in late 1991. A Belgian inquiry mission conducted in September 1992 concluded that he probably was involved with the death squads.

Later, Bagosora tried to sabotage peace talks, held in Arusha from mid-1992 to mid-1993, designed to end the Rwandan civil war.

According to Rwanda's current Finance Minister, Marc Rugenera, after a round of talks Bagosora stated that he was returning to Kigali ''to prepare for the apocalypse'' if the peace accords were implemented.

On Apr. 4, 1994, he said before several witnesses that the peace accords would lead nowhere and that all Tutsis should be exterminated. He was the Rwandan defence minister's cabinet director at the time.

This position was to prove crucial when President Habyarimana's plane was shot down on the evening of Apr. 6, 1994, triggering the resumption of civil war.

Both the Army Chief of Staff and Colonel Sagatwa, Habyarimana's private secretary and a leader of the akazu, were killed in the plane crash, while the Defence Minister was on a mission abroad.

This left Bagosora virtually in sole charge when the army high command met during the evening and night of Apr. 6-7. It seems that he then embarked on a dual track, one visible and official, the other parallel and invisible to outsiders.

Officially, Bagosora chaired meetings with the army staff and was in contact with the UN Secretary General's special representative, Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, and with General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN peace-keeping mission.

After these meetings, most of the Rwandan officers and the UN officials felt the situation was under control.

This is when Bagosora embarked on his second track, putting the killing machine in motion between 2 and 7 am, a time span for which he cannot account.

At around 7am, the systematic hunting down and killing of opposition politicians, leaders of civil society and Tutsis in general began. Bagosora prevented one of the first prominent victims, Prime Minister Agathe Uwiligiyimana, from broadcasting an address to the nation. Units of the presidential guard later killed Uwiligiyimana and the 10 Belgian paratroopers guarding her.

During those early hours Bagosora had at his disposal a few elite army units, in particular the presidential guard. The control of militia groups -- interahamwe, impuzamugambi and others -- rapidly expanded the scale of the killings.

Despite all this, it is difficult to build a case against Bagosora. In a book (Rwanda. Trois jours qui ont fait basculer l'histoire, Brussels-Paris, Institut Africain-L'Harmattan, 1996), I attempted to establish Bagosora's involvement in the ''second track''.

Although I am convinced that he was a central player, I do not have nearly enough evidence to prove his guilt ''beyond reasonable doubt,'' as required in a criminal justice procedure.

One would not expect conspirators to keep diaries or minutes of their meetings, nor to draft memos on their actions during, say, the early morning of Apr. 7.

Also, it is improbable that a decision to organise genocide was ever made at one specific moment. The project appears to have developed over a period of two or three years.

Despite Bagosora's threats of apocalypse and extermination of Tutsis it is not easy to prove an intention to destroy an ethnic group. Of course, other people in the ''core group'' and others just beneath that central structure know how the genocide was organised.

It may therefore be necessary to offer some of them immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony. They must be identified and found, persuaded to come forward and, perhaps, protected. They are the missing link between the conception and engineering of genocide and its implementation.

The need to establish this link may help the Office of the Prosecutor to focus its policy. Its actions in the past have been determined too much by external factors, such as the arrest of suspects, so it has jumped from one line of investigation to another.

The fact that Bagosora and three other members of the ''core group'' are now in the hands of the ICTR should enable the prosecution to draw a coherent global picture and tackle the pyramid of genocide.

This is an opportunity for the ICTR to redeem itself, by asserting its independence and impartiality. Many Hutus realise that the prosecution and conviction of those responsible for the 1994 genocide is the only way to rid themselves of feelings of collective guilt.

However, the ICTR can perform its dual function - ending impunity and contributing to national reconciliation - only if it is seen to dispense justice even-handedly and if it avoids giving the impression of ''victor's justice''.

There is overwhelming prima facie evidence that the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), too, has committed enormous crimes against humanity that fall within the Tribunal's mandate.

Before, during and after the resumption of the civil war the RPF massacred at least tens of thousands of civilians, particularly rom April to September 1994.

The ICTR has apparently not even begun to investigate these acts. If it intends to build up the credibility it so badly needs, particularly among the Hutus, it will have to tackle this difficult and politically sensitive issue.

  • Filip Reyntjens is Professor of African Law and Politics at the University of Antwerp. He conducted the September 1992 mission of inquiry in Rwanda with Belgian Senator Willy Kuijpers. This item comes to IPS via the Institute of War and Peace Reporting in London and its Tribunal Monitoring Project. (END/IPS/WR/RJ/97)

Origin: Amsterdam/RWANDA/ [c] 1997, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS). All rights reserved.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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