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Théoneste Bagosora, a Mastermind of Rwanda Genocide, Dies at 80

todaySeptember 26, 2021 2

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KIGALI, Rwanda — Théoneste Bagosora, a senior Rwandan military figure who was one of the masterminds of the Rwandan genocide, died on Saturday in a prison in Mali. He was 80.

His death was confirmed by an official with the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals at The Hague. The official did not specify the cause of death.

Mr. Bagosora was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2008 and was serving a 35-year sentence, which was reduced from life in prison. He was the cabinet director for Rwanda’s ministry of defense during the 1994 genocide, in which ethnic Hutu extremists killed as many as one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just 100 days.

In the three days after April 6, 1994, when the plane of the Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, crashed, Mr. Bagosora was found to have “assumed the power of the highest authority” in the ministry of defense, besides holding significant influence on political affairs.

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found that during that time he ordered the killing of some of the country’s top political figures, as well as the massacre of civilians in the capital, Kigali, and in the country’s west.

Those who were killed included Agathe Uwilingiyimana, the country’s prime minister; Joseph Kavaruganda, the president of the constitutional court; along with politicians Frederic Nzamurambaho, Landoald Ndasingwa and Faustin Rucogoza. Under his watch, military officers and militiamen also killed civilians in religious centers and schools.

Mr. Bagosora was initially also found guilty in the killing of 10 Belgian peacekeepers, leading to the withdrawal of the United Nations forces. The peacekeepers were arrested at the prime minister’s office on the morning of April 7 and taken to Camp Kigali where they were shot, beaten to death or slain with machetes.

Even though Mr. Bagosora’s defense team said the attack was the result of a “mutiny,” the tribunal found him responsible for their deaths. Mr. Bagosora, the judges said, “had knowledge of the threat they faced as an attack against them unfolded,” adding, “He had the authority and means to prevent it, but failed to do so.”

Mr. Bagosora was sentenced to life in prison. But the sentence was reduced to 35 years in 2011 after a number of the convictions — including for the killing of some of the Belgian peacekeepers and civilians in numerous places — were overturned on appeal.

Théoneste Bagosora was born on Aug. 16, 1941, in Giciye town in what is now part of Rwanda’s western province. He was married and was the father of eight children, one of whom died in a car accident, according to the tribunal documents.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

In the decades before the genocide, he received training both at home and across Europe and rose through the ranks of the Rwandan military. He graduated from École d’Officiers de Kigali as a second lieutenant in 1964, trained in Belgium and graduated in 1982 with a commendation from the L’Institut des Hautes Études de Défense Nationale in France.

In October 1989, he became a full colonel until his retirement in September 1993. But the defense minister, Augustin Bizimana, recalled him to active duty in May 1994 even as he continued he serve as cabinet director for the defense ministry.

After the genocide, Mr. Bagosora first escaped to Zaire — now the Democratic Republic of Congo — and then left for Cameroon, where he was arrested in 1996 and transferred to the tribunal’s headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania. Earlier this year, his request for an early release was denied.

Marlise Simons contributed reporting.

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