Théoneste Bagosora


Pre-colonial Rwandan society is made up of three social groups - the Tutsi, the Hutu and the Twa. The Tutsi are a cattle-rearing elite. The Hutu are "commoner" farmers. The Twa are forest-dwellers.

Rwanda is one of the last areas of Africa to be exposed to Europeans. The Tutsi king allows Germany to establish a protectorate over the country in 1899. The Germans are chased out by troops from the neighbouring Belgian Congo following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. The League of Nations confirms Belgian colonial control after the war.

In 1933 the group divides are entrenched when all Rwandans are registered as either Hutu, Tutsi or Twa and issued with an ethnic identity card. About 15% of the population declare themselves as Tutsi, approximately 84% say they are Hutu, and the remaining 1% identify as Twa. The colonial system serves to polarise Rwandan society. While the Tutsi elite comes to see itself as superior with a right to rule, the Hutu come to see themselves as an oppressed majority. More background.

Mini biography

Born on 16 August 1941 in the commune of Giciye in the northwest of Rwanda. He is a Hutu. According to Bagosora, his family is "Christian and relatively well-off". His father is a teacher.

Bagosora becomes an anti-Tutsi extremist, believing the Hutu are the "legitimate possessors of the region, where they lived 'harmoniously' with the Twa since the ninth century".

The Tutsi, on the other hand, "never had a country of their own to allow them to become a people" and are "masters of deceit", "dictatorial, cruel, bloody", "arrogant, clever and sneaky".

Bagosora pursues a career in the Rwandan Army. In 1964 he graduates from the Ecole des Officiers (School for Officers) in Kigali with the rank of second lieutenant. He undergoes military training in Belgium and France, receiving a certificate in advanced military studies from France's staff college.

He is made second-in-command of the Ecole Supérieure Militaire (Higher Military School) in Kigali, then commander of the Kanombe Military Camp, also in Kigali. In June 1992 he is appointed directeur de cabinet (cabinet director) to the minister of defence.

Bagosora retires from the Rwandan Army on 23 September 1993 with the rank of colonel but continues to act as cabinet director to the minister of defence. He retains this position up until the time he flees the country in July 1994.

1957 - A 'Hutu Manifesto' calling for the emancipation of the Hutu is published on 24 March. The manifesto has been written by Grégoire Kayibanda, the editor of the Catholic newspaper 'Kinyamateka', and Catholic Bishop André Perraudin.

1959 - Tensions between the Hutu and Tutsi boil over in November. About 20,000 Tutsi are killed during the following decade. Up to 300,000 more, including the king, flee to neighbouring countries. By 1991 the Tutsi make up only about 8.4% of the population, or just over half the level declared in 1933.

The political and social realignment that is synonymous with this period comes to be known as the Hutu Revolution.

1960 - Rwanda is granted limited autonomy by Belgium on 1 January.

The Parti du Mouvement de l'Émancipation des Bahutu (Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement - PARMEHUTU), headed by Grégoire Kayibanda, wins elections for an interim government and unofficially declares the country a republic. The use of ethnic identity cards is maintained.

1961 - PARMEHUTU's successor, the Mouvement Démocratique Républicain (Democratic Republican Movement - MDR), wins an overwhelming majority in an UN-supervised election held in September. The Hutu-dominated party takes government, with Grégoire Kayibanda as president. An 80% majority also votes to end the monarchy.

The MDR also wins elections held in 1965 and 1969.

1962 - A United Nations General Assembly resolution grants full independence to Rwanda in June. The first Rwandan republic officially comes into existence on 1 July.

1963 - In December several hundred Tutsi exiles form a militia and attempt to invade Rwanda from neighbouring Burundi. The invasion force comes within 19 km of the capital Kigali before being defeated by the Rwandan Army.

During the conflict thousands of Rwandan Tutsi are killed by their Hutu countrymen.

1973 - The military, led by Defence Minister Major-general Juvénal Habyarimana, stage a bloodless coup on 5 July. Parliament is dissolved and all political activity is banned. Habyarimana, a Hutu from the northwest prefecture of Gisenyi, declares himself president of the second Rwandan republic.

As with the previous regime, the use of ethnic identity cards is maintained.

Earlier actions to secure Hutu power are extended. Tutsi employment is restricted, especially in the public service. Hutu take complete control of the army.

For the first 10 years of Habyarimana's rule the economy does relatively well, although cronyism become rife, with Hutus from Habyarimana's home province receiving preferential treatment over those from the rest of the country.

1975 - Habyarimana declares Rwanda to be a one-party state under the Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement (National Revolutionary Movement for Development - MRND). Habyarimana is president of the state, president of the party and head of the army. He remains president of Rwanda up until his death in 1994.

1987 - Tutsi exiles based in neighbouring Uganda, along with some Hutu dissidents, form the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

The RPF seeks to overthrow President Habyarimana and establish a multiparty democracy. At its core are Tutsi officers serving in the Ugandan Army.

1988 - A sharp drop in the international price of coffee, Rwanda's main export, sees the economy falter. The situation is exacerbated by a drought that begins in 1989. At the same time, dissatisfaction with Habyarimana begins to mount as evidence grows of corruption and favouritism towards Hutu from Habyarimana's home province. Critics of the regime begin to call for greater democracy.

1990 - On 1 October about 3,500 RPF operatives within the Ugandan Army desert with their equipment and move south over the border into Rwanda and on towards Kigali with the intent of unseating Habyarimana and implementing political reform. They are joined by about 3,500 Tutsi refugees.

Success for the RPF seems a real possibility until France, Belgium and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) send troops to Rwanda to support the government. The RPF advance is halted then reversed.

Pushed back across the Ugandan border and approximately halved in number, the RPF reorganises and begins a guerrilla war, attacking Rwanda from bases in Uganda.

The attempted invasion results in an escalation of violence against Tutsis in Rwanda. About a dozen massacres take place prior to the 1994 genocide, with a death toll of about 2,000 Tutsis. No one is ever brought to account for the killings.

Rattled by the RPF's attack, Habyarimana and several of his close associates begin to devise a strategy to incite hatred and fear of the Tutsi, unite the Hutu majority, and keep themselves in power.

1991 - In response to internal and international pressure, and to the attack by the RPF, Habyarimana reestablishes Rwanda as a multiparty democracy.

At the same time, the MRND (now Mouvement Républicain National pour la Démocratie et le Développement) transforms its youth group, known as the Interahamwe (Those Who Stand Together or Those Who Attack Together), into a militia.

Beginning in 1992, the Interahamwe receives military training from the Rwandan Army. It commits its first atrocities at Bugesera in northwest Rwanda in March 1992, slaughtering Tutsis during one of several massacres committed in the run-up to the 1994 genocide.

1992 - In April a prime minister is appointed to a transitional government in preparation for multiparty elections in 1995. The transitional government is composed of the MRND, the MDR, the Parti Démocrate Chrétien (Centrist Democratic Party), Parti Libéral (Liberal Party) and the Parti Social Démocrate (Social Democratic Party). Habyarimana remains as president. The prime minister is from the MDR.

The new government soon makes changes in the army high command. Bagosora is appointed as directeur de cabinet (cabinet director) to the minister of defence.

The RPF recommences hostilities in June, winning a substantial foothold in the northeast of Rwanda. With the RPF again a real threat, and with internal opposition mounting, the transitional government goes to the negotiating table.

A cease-fire agreement between the RPF and the transitional government is signed in Arusha, in the northeast of Tanzania, on 12 July. The agreement calls for political talks on a peace accord and power sharing. The cease-fire takes effect on 31 July. The talks begin on 10 August. The first protocol of the so-called Arusha Accords is signed seven days later.

Habyarimana, the MRND, elements within the army, and the Interahamwe largely reject the talks and accords. Habyarimana fears that granting too many concessions to the RPF could provoke a coup. His head of military intelligence predicts that, in the event of major concessions, the military will kill the political leaders responsible while the general Hutu population will massacre their Tutsi neighbours then flee the country.

Meanwhile, on 21 September, Army Chief-of-staff Colonel Déogratias Nsabimana issues a top-secret memorandum to his commanders identifying and defining "the enemy" as, "The Tutsi inside or outside the country, extremist and nostalgic for power, who have NEVER recognised and will NEVER recognise the realities of the 1959 social revolution and who wish to reconquer power by all means necessary, including arms."

Bagosora instructs the general staffs of the army and police to compile lists of the enemy and their accomplices. The lists are maintained and updated by the Intelligence Bureau of the army. They will be used in the 1994 genocide to target victims.

1993 - Early in the year Bagosora sketches out elements of a program to create a regional-based "civilian self-defence force" of non-professional recruits commanded by retired soldiers or other military men. He attempts to implement the program, distributing firearms to Hutu communes in the northwest, but is countermanded by the minister for defence.

However, by November the proposal has been largely accepted by senior army officers.

Soldiers and political leaders distribute firearms to militia and other Habyarimana supporters during 1993 and early 1994, but Bagosora concludes that firearms are too costly to distribute to all participants. He advocates arming most of the young men with weapons such as machetes. Businessmen close to Habyarimana import enough machetes to arm one in every three adult male Hutu.

At the same time, recruitment to and training of the Interahamwe is expanded.

On 8 February the RPF violates the cease-fire and launches a massive attack all along the northern front. The Rwandan Army is rapidly driven back. Though the cease-fire is soon reinstated and the peace talks continued, the move leads to a rise in politically motivated violence within Rwanda. Most of the abuse is directed against opponents of the MRND.

Late in July donor nations along with the World Bank hand Habyarimana an ultimatum - sign the final Arusha Accords or international funding for his government will be halted. With an already weak economy buckling under the cost of the war and associated military spending, Habyarimana has no choice.

The accords are signed on 4 August. They provide for a transitional period leading up to elections for a democratic government. During this period power will reside with a broad-based transitional government in which the RPF will be represented. All refugees will be allowed to return, the RPF will be merged with the national army and the size of the combined force will be halved.

An UN peacekeeping force (the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, or UNAMIR) is stationed in Rwanda to oversee the transition. The force numbers about 2,500 troops, including 440 Belgians, 942 Bangladeshis, 843 Ghanaians, 60 Tunisians and 255 others from 20 countries. Under its rules of engagement the force is allowed to use weapons "for self-defence only". The use of force for deterrence or retaliation is forbidden.

While the broad community welcomes the peace, hard-line Hutus, especially within the armed forces, see the accords as a sell-out.

Bagosora is completely opposed to the accords and scorns those Hutu who had signed it as "House Hutu and opportunists". According to charges that are laid against him by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda following the genocide, Bagosora publicly states "that the solution to the war (is) to plunge the country into an apocalypse in order to eliminate all the Tutsi and thus ensure lasting peace".

On 3 December, General Roméo Dallaire, the commander of UNAMIR, receives a letter from three senior officers in the Rwandan Army warning that "massacres ... are being prepared and are supposed to spread throughout the country, beginning with the regions that have a great concentration of Tutsi".

According to the officers, politicians opposed to the MRND would be assassinated in a plan initiated by Habyarimana and supported by a handful of military officers from his home province.

Later in December Belgian intelligence agents report that, "The Interahamwe are armed to the teeth and on alert. Many of them have been trained at the military camp in Bugesera. Each of them has ammunition, grenades, mines and knives. They have been trained to use guns that are stockpiled with their respective chiefs. They are all just waiting for the right moment to act."

1994 - On 11 January General Dallaire sends a telegram to his superiors describing the build-up of the Interahamwe and warning that all Tutsi in Kigali are being targeted for extermination. The telegram says that an Interahamwe informant has revealed a plan to kill a number of Belgian soldiers in the UNAMIR contingent "and thus guarantee Belgian withdrawal from Rwanda". It says that the informant has also disclosed the location of a "major weapons cache". However, the UN vetoes a proposal to seize the weapons.

UN heavyweights like the United States, the United Kingdom and France also refuse to consider requests to broaden UNAMIR's mandate.

The building tensions spill over around 8:30 p.m. on 6 April when unknown assailants shoot down an aeroplane carrying President Habyarimana and the president of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira, as it prepares to land at Kigali. Both men are killed. The chief-of-staff of the Rwandan Army also dies in the crash.

Coincidentally, the minister of defence, the chief of Army Intelligence Services, and the officer in charge of operations in the Army General Staff are all out of the country.

In the ensuing power-vacuum Bagosora takes charge, isolating Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, and initiating steps that eliminate all legitimate claimants to government and all opposition within the armed forces. He fails, however, to have himself officially installed as the country's leader.

Undeterred, Bagosora begins issuing orders for the extermination of Rwanda's Tutsi population. The Presidential Guard and other elite troops loyal to Bagosora, along with about 2,000 militia, target prominent Tutsi leaders and officials named on pre-prepared lists.

Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana and 10 Belgian peacekeepers sent to protect her are among the first victims. The Belgians are killed about 100 metres from where Bagosora is attending a meeting. Though informed of the threat to the peacekeepers, Bagosora does nothing to intervene.

On 8 April Bagosora and his cohorts select an interim government composed solely of supporters of the so-called Hutu Power movement. Jean Kambanda is appointed as government leader.

The Rwandan Army, the UN and the international community accept the move. The interim government is installed the following day.

The Hutu Power leaders now have the political means to coordinate and carry out genocide.

The Presidential Guard, the elite Reconnaissance and Paracommando battalions, the National Police and militia groups begin rounding up and killing Tutsis in Kigali. Hutus who had opposed the Habyarimana Government or were critical of Hutu Power movement are also pursued.

According to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, "From April to July 1994, by virtue of his position, his statements, the orders he gave and his acts, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora exercised authority over members of the Forces Armées Rwandaises (Rwandan Army and National Police), their officers and militiamen. The military and militiamen, as from 6 April 1994, committed massacres of the Tutsi population and of moderate Hutu which extended throughout Rwandan territory with the knowledge of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora."

The UNAMIR peacekeepers try to maintain some order but are muzzled by UN headquarters in New York, where the US, the UK and France continue to block any attempt to broaden the mission's mandate. The peacekeepers are allowed to help evacuate foreigners but prevented from stopping the genocide or assisting Tutsis to escape. They are forced to stand by and watch.

The violence spreads beyond Kigali.

Broadcasts by Radio RTLM (Radio Télévision des Mille Collines) and Radio Rwanda encourage ordinary citizens to participate in the slaughter. The stations issue directives, name victims, provide instructions and incite the continuation of the genocide. Tutsi are characterised as Inyenzi (cockroaches) who should be exterminated and their dead bodies thrown into the Nyabarongo River. Both stations have close ties with the MRND.

The country's borders are closed to prevent Tutsi from escaping. Ethnic identity cards are checked at roadblocks. Those identified as Tutsi face almost certain death. Women and girls are routinely raped before being killed. Others are held as sex slaves.

Politicians and government officials campaign in support of the genocide. District administrators help with the coordination. Soldiers and police direct the major massacres. The Interahamwe and other militia do much of the actual killing, though tens of thousands of ordinary citizens also take part, either willingly or under duress. Membership of the militia swells from about 2,000 to between 20,000 and 30,000.

On 26 April the program for a "civilian defence force" is formally announced on Radio Rwanda. The program is run from Bagosora's office and administered by military officers loyal to him.

According to a Human Rights Watch briefing paper, "In the weeks before its formal establishment, as in the weeks after, the civilian self-defence system was used to mobilise ordinary civilians to hunt Tutsi civilians who had been identified with the military enemy. Using the civilian self-defence effort against non-combatants, military, administrative and political authorities transformed the system from a potentially legitimate form of self-defence into a violation of international law; by defining the group to be targeted as Tutsi and seeking their elimination, the authorities transformed the self-defence system into a weapon for genocide."

The killing goes on until the beginning of July. It leaves over 500,000 Tutsis dead. (The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda estimates "some 800,000 Rwandans were killed". Other sources estimate that between 800,000 and one million perish.) Thousands of Hutus opposed to the genocide are also killed. Men, women and children; the old and the young; the healthy and the sick; the rich and the poor; the elite and the humble; no one is spared. In just 100 days three quarters of the Tutsi population are exterminated. It is the most ferocious massacre in modern history. Most of the killing is done with machetes.

Up to two million Hutu and Tutsi Rwandans flee the country and up to one million are internally displaced. By early August an estimated one-quarter of the pre-war population of Rwanda has either died or fled the country.

The international community watches the genocide unfold but does not intervene. Instead, the UN Security Council votes to cut the size of UNAMIR peacekeeping force to 270 men. All but 503 of the troops are withdrawn on 25 April. They do not return until after the genocide.

Meanwhile, the RPF ends the cease-fire and resumes its military campaign on 7 April, the day after Habyarimana dies in the plane-crash. The war rages at the same time as the genocide, with the RPF also committing atrocities, but at no where near the scale of those committed by the Hutu Power forces. A mission sent by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) later estimates that from April to August the RPF killed between 25,000 and 45,000 persons.

The Rwandan Army is quickly defeated by the RPF. Kigali falls on 4 July. The war ends on 16 July.

The Rwandan Army flees northwest across the border to Zaire, followed by the interim government, members of the Hutu militias and some two million Hutu refugees.

Bagosora flies out of the country on 2 July, reportedly under the protection of French soldiers. He eventually settles in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Though the war is over the killing is not yet done. Retaliatory violence by Tutsi claims several thousand lives, including that of the Roman Catholic archbishop of Kigali.

Refugees in camps set up in Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi perish from disease, starvation and exposure. More than 20,000 die in a cholera epidemic. Tens of thousands more die following the outbreak of civil war in eastern Zaire in October 1996.

The turmoil within Rwanda is brought under control. The RPF bans political parties that participated in the genocide, including the MRND, and appoints a multiparty Transitional National Assembly to oversee a transition to civilian rule. A multiracial cabinet of 16 Hutus and six Tutsis is formed. Ethnic identity cards are abolished and the Arusha Accords are adopted by the transitional government as its constitutional base.

On 8 November the UN Security Council finally intervenes in Rwanda when it votes to establish the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to try the organisers of the genocide. The tribunal will have its headquarters at The Hague in the Netherlands, running in concert with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The trial chambers will be located in Arusha, Tanzania.

The tribunal indicts 81 people for genocide-related crimes. The maximum sentence it can hand down is life imprisonment.

Trials begin in early 1997, but progress is slow and the UN is criticised for mismanagement and poor organisation.

Jean Kambanda, prime minister of the interim Hutu Power government, pleads guilty to genocide in May 1998 and is sentenced to life imprisonment. It is the first time a head of government has been found guilty of genocide.

The Rwandan government begins its own trials of mid-level genocide organisers in December 1996. By mid-1998 some 135,000 persons are incarcerated in prisons and communal lockups, most of them charged with genocide or related crimes. The Rwanda-based trials can hand down a maximum sentence of death.

The Rwandan Government later turns to traditional local courts, the so-called Gacaca Courts, to address the enormous backlog of lower-level human rights cases arising from the genocide.

1996 - Bagosora is arrested in Cameroon on 9 March after Belgium requests his detention and extradition on charges that he was responsible for the deaths of the 10 Belgian peacekeepers killed at the start of the genocide.

He is transferred to the UN prison quarters in Arusha on 23 January 1997 for trial before the International Criminal Tribunal.

1999 - In August Bagosora is charged on 12 counts by the International Criminal Tribunal, including "conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, (and) crimes against humanity".

The indictment against him states, "His rank, his office and the personal relations he had with the commanders of the units that were the most implicated in the events referred to in this indictment, and the fact that they were from the same region and shared the same political beliefs, gave him authority over those persons and over members of the militias, given the regionalist context in which power was exercised in Rwanda. ...

"Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, in his position of authority, ... participated in the planning, preparation or execution of a common scheme, strategy or plan, to commit the atrocities set forth above. The crimes were committed by him personally, by persons he assisted or by his subordinates, and with his knowledge or consent."

Bagosora pleads not guilty.

2002 - Bagosora's trial commences on 2 April in Arusha.

He is tried along with three others - Brigadier-general Gratien Kabiligi (commander of Military Operations), Major Aloys Ntabakuze (commander of the Paracommando Battalion) and Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva (commander of Military Operations for the Gisenyi sector).

The case for the prosecution continues until 14 October 2004. The case for the defence does not begin until January 2005. Bagosora denies all charges.

"I do not believe in the genocide theory," he tells the tribunal in November 2005. "Most reasonable people concur that there were excessive massacres. ... They have labelled and continue to label me as the mastermind of the massacres. ... The accusations that I led the killings are malicious."

The hearing phase of Bagosora's trial continues until 1 June 2007.

2008 - On 18 December Bagosora is found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He is acquitted of the charge of conspiring to commit genocide before 7 April 1994.


Anyone old enough to remember will never forget the images from the media coverage of the Rwandan genocide: footage of the dead and bloated bodies of murdered Tutsi sweeping down rivers; scenes of panic as refugees desperately tried to flee the terror; landscapes of degradation and squalor in refugee camps.

Viewing these images brought a feeling of disbelief and helplessness. What could be done to halt the carnage? Surely the UN and world community were working overtime to bring the killing to a halt? When would the genocide stop and those horrifying pictures leave our TV screens?

Little did we know how little was being done by world leaders. And little did we know how little it might have taken to rein in the genocidal mobs.

The Human Rights Watch report Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda makes a convincing case that even a relatively minor intervention by the world community could have been enough to prevent the killing descending into genocide. The architects of the genocide were not deaf to world opinion, the report argues. However, instead of hearing unambiguous condemnation of their actions they received signals that could be interpreted as a "green light".

By the time the UN, the US, the UK and France, among others, were forced from their wilful detachment by media and community outrage it was too late.

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