afrol News, 2 April - Today, the trial against Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, the alleged mastermind behind the 1994 Rwandan genocide, was started in the Tanzanian town of Arusha. Bagosora however boycotted the start of his trial, refusing to leave his cell. Almost one million Rwandans were killed in the genocide and Bagosora is charged with crimes against humanity.
Bagosora, together with three other senior army commanders, has to answer 12 charges of genocide and crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The four defendants boycotted today's opening of the trial claiming they had not been given access to translated versions of all crucial documents to their cases.
The defendants argued that their rights were being violated, but still asked their attorneys to represent them as the case was opened. The Defence team then unsuccessfully argued for the adjournment of the trial because they said they had not received the trial briefs in time and in both of the Tribunal’s official languages. The defendants were advised to follow the court proceedings to look after their own interests.
In her opening statement, the Prosecutor, Ms Carla Del Ponte, told the court that the accused were responsible for crimes, which had shocked "human conscience by their gravity and their widespread and massive character." She said that following the establishment by several verdicts of the ICTR that genocide was committed in Rwanda in 1994, the Prosecution would now unravel those who were behind it.
The accused on the so-called "Military Trial" are Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, former Director of Cabinet in the Ministry of Defence, Lieutenant-Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, former Commander of Military operations in Gisenyi sector, Major Aloys Ntabakuze, former Commander of Para-Commando Battalion and Brigadier-General Gratien Kabiligi, former Chief of Military Operations. It is the first time top military figure stand before the tribunal, and the prosecution hopes this might help shed some light on how the Rwandan leadership plotted the killings.
Colonel Bagosora without doubt was the leader of the four accused. He was the second-in-command to the Minister of Defence during the genocide, and the military establishment reported to him. Bagosora has also been nicknamed "Rwanda's Milosevic".
Del Ponte said: "Some of the charges brought against these men are frightening ... others reveal the plan organised and implemented in cold blood. ... These four men are among the principle perpetrators of the genocide," she added, pointing out they were all "highly respected senior officers" in the Rwandan Armed Forces during the Rwandan genocide.
They are charged in the joint trial with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, crimes against humanity for murder, extermination, rape, persecution and other inhumane acts.
From late 1990 until July 1994, the four had "conspired among themselves and with others 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," according to the indictment. "The components of this plan consisted of, among other things, recourse to hatred and ethnic violence, the training of and distribution of weapons to militiamen as well as the preparation of lists of people to be eliminated."
Tom Kennedy, chief of press and public affairs at the Arusha court told IPS that Del Ponte regarded this as "a key trial because what she's saying is that the agreement, the conspiracy, between these four defendants was actually at the heart of the genocide. They are the ones that were really the mastermind behind the genocide and the motor, the driving force of it, including distributing weapons, training Interahamwe militias and so forth in the years running up to the commission of the genocide."
Based on ICTR, press reports and afrol archives