Théoneste Bagosora was born on 16 August 1941 in the Giciye commune of the Gisenyi prefecture, Rwanda.
He graduated in 1964 from the Kigali School for Officers with the rank of second-lieutenant and also possessed a Diploma in Advanced Military Studies from the French Military School. Bagosora successively held positions as second-in -commander of the Kigali Higher Military School and Commander of Kanombe Military Camp, before being appointed in 1992, Cabinet Director to the Minister of Defence. Although retired from the Rwandan army on 23 September 1993, he nevertheless continued to hold the function of Cabinet Director to the Minister of Defence. Following the departure on 19 July of the Defence Minister James Gasana, Bagosora himself took over an important part of the management of the day to day affairs of the ministry. He was still exercising this function on 6 April 1994, and remained in this position until he fled the country in July 1994.
Bagosora was considered to be the “mastermind of the genocide” and, already in 1990, was reported to have developed a plan whose intent it was to exterminate the Tutsi civilian population, to eliminate all opponents and thereby keep a hold on power. According to the bill of indictment, this plan, made up of several elements, included having recourse to hatred and ethnic violence, the military training and distribution of arms to militias as well as the drafting of lists of people to be eliminated. In the execution of this plan, Bagosora and his accomplices were said to have organised, ordered and participated in massacres perpetrated against the Tutsi population and moderate Hutus.
On 4 December 1991, President Habyarimana set up a Military Commission whose task was to find a reply to the question: “What must be done to defeat the enemy in military, propaganda and political terms?” Bagosora was appointed as its president. The report of this Commission turned out to be nothing other than an incitement to hatred. Defining the enemy as being “the domestic Tutsis, Hutus discontented with the regime in power, foreigners married to Tutsi women, …”, it was distributed on a massive scale amongst the armed forces throughout the country. This document and the use made of it by high ranking officers was said to have served, encouraged and advocated hatred and ethnic violence.
Beginning in 1993, Bagosora, on several occasions, was reported to have publicly stated that the aim of the war was to collapse the country into an apocalyptic chaos so as to eliminate all of the Tutsis, and thus ensure lasting peace.
A staunch opponent of the Arusha Agreements (signed in 1993), Bagosora was reported to have quit the negotiating table stating that he was returning to Rwanda “to prepare the Apocalypse”. Afterwards he was said to have encouraged the soldiers to reject the Agreements and to manifest their disapproval over them. He even went so far as to state publicly that the extermination of the Tutsis would be the inevitable outcome of any return to hostilities by the RPF or by the enforcement of the Arusha Agreements. These declarations, together with other factors, marked him out as one of the primary suspects in the attack which resulted in the death of the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda on 6 April 1994 and which heralded the start of the genocide.
From early 1993, Bagosora reportedly distributed arms or had them distributed to the militias and to certain carefully chosen members of the civilian population, the intent being to exterminate the Tutsi population and eliminate their accomplices.
During a meeting in 1992, Bagosora was said to have asked the army General Staff to draw up lists of persons identified as being the enemy and its accomplices. From 7 April to end July 1994, these lists were considered to be a boon to the military and the Interahamwe (an extremist militia force) when carrying out massacres against members of the Tutsi population and moderate Hutus.
Following the attack of 6 April 1994 which resulted in the death of the presidents of Burundi and Rwanda, Bagosora, on several occasions, expressed his willingness to take over power with the help of other officers. Faced with the opposition on the part of some of these officers, he finally settled for the setting up of an interim government controlled by himself and leaders of the National Republican Movement for Development (MRND-French acronym) and various wings of other political parties referred to as “Hutu Power” This interim government then set about giving assistance and encouragement to the continuation of the massacres. On several occasions, Bagosora allegedly refused the possibility to consult with Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana (killed on 7 April by members of the Rwandan army), and also refused to show respect for the Arusha Agreements. He presented himself to various foreign dignitaries (representatives of the UN and the USA amongst others) as being the person in charge with whom they had to consult.
In addition to his involvement in their planning and preparation, Bagosora was reported to have played a key role in the unfolding of the massacres which got underway starting on the 7 April 1994, being in a position of authority to issue orders and directives based on which the military and the militias took action.
On the morning of 7 April, Bagosora in person was said to have given the order to a group of Interahamwe in Rennera to begin the extermination of the Tutsi civilian population. On this same day, he reportedly ordered Major Ntabakuze (Commander of the “Battalion Para-Commando”) Major Nzuwonemeye (Commander of the “Battalion de reconnaissance” – see “related cases”), and Lieutenant-Colonel Nkundiye (former Commander of the Presidential Guard) to start the massacres. In addition he was said to have given the order to military groups, including units of the Presidential Guard and the “Battalion Para-Commando”, to go ahead with selective killing of people whose names were on a list.
Still on the same day, radio channels broadcast a communiqué from Bagosora inviting the population to stay home and await further instructions. This communiqué was said to have simplified the task of the military and the militias in eliminating the Tutsis and moderate Hutus.
On 11 April 1994, the military (which included units of the Presidential Guard and the Interahamwe) surrounded the Official Technical School to force out numerous Tutsis who had sought refuge there. Bagosora was reportedly at this location at the same time. After a forced march of two kilometres, the refugees were slaughtered by these military and militia units.
From April until July 1994, Bagosora allegedly participated, with officers of the General Staff of the army, in daily meetings at which they were kept informed of massacres perpetrated against the Tutsi civilian population. They reportedly took no measures whatsoever to put a stop to these massacres, refusing categorically to intervene.
In April 1994, Bagosora was said to have given the order to transfer funds from the National Bank of Kigali to Gitarama by the “Battalion de reconnaissance”. Furthermore, he was reported to have negotiated arms purchases (from South Africa amongst others) in the name and for the account of the government. He is said to have continued, after he fled Rwanda (in summer 1994) to travel throughout Africa in order to purchase arms to fuel the Rwandan genocide.
Considered to be the “mastermind of the genocide”, Bagosora was above all accused of having participated in the planning, preparation and execution of a plan which permitted a great number of atrocities to be perpetrated during the genocide. These crimes were said to be committed by himself, by persons to whom he gave assistance or by his subordinates, either through his awareness of them or his acquiescence in them.
Bagosora lived in Yaoundé (Cameroon) from July 1995 until his arrest on 9 March 1996.