Bagosora, Théoneste

views updated

Bagosora, Théoneste

[AUGUST 16, 1941–]

Rwandan defense minister who briefly assumed control of the country and was ultimately indicted for his role in the Rwandan genocide.

Théoneste Bagosora, known as "Colonel Death," was a cousin of President Juvenal Habyarimana's wife and a member of the "Clan de Madame," a group of Hutu political extremists opposed to sharing power with Tutsis in the Rwandan government. He was born on August 16, 1941, in the Gisenyi prefecture in Rwanda, the same region from which President Habyarimana came. After serving as Second in Command of the École Supérieure Militaire in Kigali and Commander of the military camp in Kanombe, he became Chef de cabinet (Director of the Cabinet) of the ministry of Defense in June of 1992. When Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane crashed on April 6, 1994, he assumed de facto political and military control during the Rwandan genocide. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) indicted him on August 9, 1996 for his responsibility in the Rwandan genocide. He was arrested in the Republic of Cameroon on September 3, 1996, and transferred to Arusha, Tanzania, for trial on January 23, 1997. He pled not guilty on March 7, 1997. His trial was still underway in 2004.

Colonel Bagosora was accused of being the "mastermind" of the genocide, as well as of performing crimes against humanity and war crimes. He and three other military officers were accused of being coconspirators since late 1990 in planning to exterminate the civilian Tutsi population and eliminate members of the opposition. Bagosora was also charged in April 1995 by the Belgian legal authorities for murder and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and of Geneva Protocols I and II of June 8, 1977. Bagosora was a member of Akazu, the extremist network based in Ruhengeri and Gisenyi and centered around President Habyarimana's wife. Akazu was accused of smuggling arms and drug trafficking, and was believed to be responsible for the training of the militias from 1992. Akazu was also believed to be responsible for the incitement to ethnic violence that was conducted by local authorities, and for the massacres of the Tutsi minority in Kibilira (1990), Bagogwe (1991), and Bugesera (1992). In 1992 Bagosora instructed the two General Staffs to establish lists of people to be identified as the enemy and its accomplices. These lists were drawn up by the Intelligence Bureau (G-2) of the Rwandan Army and regularly updated. In 1993, following a traffic accident, a list of this type was found in the wreckage of the car of Chief of Staff, Déogratias Nsabimana.

Colonel Bagosora, as military adviser to the government delegation at the Arusha peace talks in the spring of 1993, openly expressed his opposition to the concessions made by the government representative, Boniface Ngulinzira, Minister of Foreign Affairs. (On April 11, 1994, Ngulinzira was assassinated.) When Bagosora left Arusha at the end of the talks, he declared that he was returning to Rwanda to "prepare the apocalypse." Subsequently, in the presence of senior officers on various occasions, he evidently reiterated that the implementation of the Arusha Accords would unleash war and that the solution to such a war would require plunging the country into an apocalypse that would eliminate all the Tutsis and thus ensure lasting peace.

Just before the final version of the Arusha Accords was signed on August 4, 1993, James Gasana, Minister of Defense in President Habyarimana's cabinet and a longtime MRND politician, attempted to recall weapons that were being transferred to the militias. In response, Bagosora, then Gasana's Chief of Staff, threatened Gasana's life. Gasana fled with his family to Italy. From July 1993 to July 1994, the Minister of Defense, Augustin Bizimana, who replaced James Gasana, encouraged and facilitated the acquisition of weapons for MRND militants by openly asserting that the Ministry of Defense was a Ministry of the MRND.

General Romeo Dallaire, the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), met Bagosora in August 1993 as the military liaison to UNAMIR; Dallaire described this bespectacled and pudgy military officer as "bemused by Arusha." Bagosora, according to Dallaire, made only rhetorical gestures at adhering to the arms agreement concerning heavy weapons and at maintaining the neutral corridor, and did nothing to stop the militia training.

Subsequently, in a letter dated December 3, 1993, FAR officers informed Dallaire of the "Machiavellian plan" of the Northerners to destroy the Arusha Accords by exterminating the Tutsis and their "accomplices." On January 10, 1994, a leader of the Interahamwe (Hutu militia group that carried out much of the genocide) gave Dallaire details of just such a plan. On January 11, 1994, Dallaire sent a cable to UN headquarters detailing the plan, which called for Hutus to kill Tutsis at the rate of 1,000 every 20 minutes, to kill 10 Belgian peacekeepers, and to restart the war. He wanted UN permission to investigate the potential for this plan to be carried out by seeking out hidden arms caches, of which he had been informed. However, his superiors, including Kofi Annan, then head of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping, countermanded this suggestion.

Dallaire claimed that Bagosora was behind the training and arming of the militias and the youth gangs—the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi. There was cooperation between the Interahamwe and military personnel in the Presidential Guard and the Para-Commando Battalion, contrary to the provisions of Arusha. On April 4, 1994, three days before the beginning of the genocide, Bagosora exclaimed before witnesses that the only solution to the political impasse was to eliminate all the Tutsis. On April 6, 1994, immediately after Habyarimana's plane was shot down, Dallaire found Bagosora at the center of a cadre of military officers. Bagosora was the spokesperson of the coup. In his trial testimony, Dallaire testified that Bagosora took control of the country. It was Bagosora who announced the curfew on April 7, and who, over the next two days, assembled the Comité de Salut de Public (Committee of Public Safety) to pick a provisional government. On April 9, Paul Kagame denounced Bagosora as the mastermind behind the coup.

A prosecution witness, testifying by video link from The Hague at Bagosora's trial, claimed that, between April 9 and 12, 1994, Bagosora possessed a list of Tutsis and businessmen to be killed, and that the people on the list were massacred a day later. On April 13, Bagosora demoted or pushed aside the army officers who signed a communiqué drawn up by moderate military officers in an attempt to stop the resumption of the war and the genocide. Further, it was Bagosora who, on May 1, 1994, arranged a meeting with the Interahamwe. On May 22, 1994, films were taken that showed Bagosora in control of genocidal militias (Dallaire, 2003, p. 386). On July 1, 1994, General Dallaire saw Bagosora for the last time before testifying against him from the witness box at his trial. During that July encounter, Bagosora threatened to kill Dallaire the next time he saw him.

SEE ALSO Geneva Conventions on the Protection of Victims of War; Incitement; Rwanda


Dallaire, Roméo (2003). Shake Hands with the Devil, Toronto: Random House.

des Forges, Alison (1999). Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda. New York: Human Rights Watch.

Jones, Bruce (2001). Peacemaking in Rwanda: The Dynamics of Failure. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.

Mamdani, Mahmood (2001). When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Prunier, Gérard (1995). The Rwandese Crisis (1959–1994): From Cultural Mythology to Genocide. New York: Columbia University Press.

Howard Adelman