Theoneste Bagosora

02.05.2016 ( Last modified: 07.06.2016 )
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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.


legal procedure

Bagosora was arrested on 9 March 1996 in Yaoundé (Cameroon) and transferred on 23 January 1997 to the United Nations prison quarters in Arusha.

Bagosora was accused of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, complicity in genocide, public and direct incitation to commit genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of Art. 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and its Second Additional Protocol.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him.

His trial commenced on 2 April 2002 before the First Chamber of the ICTR, presided over by Judge Erik Mose (Norway). Bagosora being considered as the principal actor in the Rwandan genocide, his trial was, without a doubt, the most important for the Tribunal.

The Tribunal combined the Bagosora trial with that of three other officers of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) in what was being called the “Military Trial 1”. Gratien Kabiligi, Aloys Ntabakuze and Anatole Nsengiyumva were charged with participating in preparations for genocide as was also Bagosora. According to the ICTR, this type of combined trial (already used in the “trial of the medias”), besides the evident economic advantages it provides, allows justice to proceed much more quickly. Furthermore, by sparing the witnesses trying rounds of repeated travel and giving of testimony, their physical and mental security could be much better protected.

Despite the desire for rapidity on the part of the ICTR, the “Military Trial 1” took up an enormous amount of its time before really getting underway. On 14 October 2004, after two years of a laborious presentation of the case for the prosecution, the prosecutor finally rested his case. From January 2005, the defence took its turn to present its case on behalf of the four co-accused.

On 12 October 2005, after an interruption of more than two months, the proceedings recommenced. The defence, which had already from 11 April 2005 called 38 witnesses, announced that it would call 200 witnesses in total. The prosecutor on his side rested his case after calling forward 82 witnesses. In total, the chamber have considered the evidence of 242 witnesses from the Prosecution and Defence.

On 18 December 2008, the ICTR TRIAL Chamber I sentenced Bagosora to life imprisonment for genocide, crimes against humanity (murder, extermination, rape, persecution, other inhumane acts) and serious violations of Article 3 Common to the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II (violence to life and outrages upon personal dignity). However the court found him not guilty of conspiracy to commit génocide.

The Chamber found him responsible for the killings of Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Joseph Kavaruganda, Frédéric Nzamurambaho, Landoald Ndasingwa, Faustin Rucogoza, Augustin Maharangari, the 10 Belgian peacekeepers, Alphonse Kabiligi as well as the crimes committed at roadblocks in the Kigali area, Centre Christus, Kabeza, Kibagabaga Mosque, Kibagabaga Catholic Church, Karama school, the Saint Josephite centre, Gikondo Parish, Nyundo Parish, Mudende University and the targeted killings on the morning of 7 April in Gisenyi town.

He has appealed against this verdict. On 30 March 2011, the appeal judgement began.

On 14 December 2011, the Appeals Chamber reduced his sentence to 35 years of imprisonment. The Appeals Chamber affirmed his convictions for genocide, crimes against humanity and serious violations to the Geneva Conventions. However, it reversed several Bagosora’s convictions and also set aside the finding that Bagosora was responsible for ordering crimes committed at Kigali area roadblocks, but found him liable as a superior instead. The chamber considered that the reversal of these convictions called for a revision of his life sentence.



Rwanda has been historically inhabited by three distinct social groups, known as Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. Between April and July 1994 the country was torn apart by a bloody genocide, during which extremist Hutu people targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) was powerless against those committing the genocide, as the peacekeeping troops were outnumbered.


In hopes of facilitating the process of national reconciliation and to promote peace in the country, on 8 November 1994 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 955, establishing the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), located in Arusha, Tanzania.

The Tribunal’s function is to prosecute perpetrators of crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed between 1 January and 31 December 1994 in Rwanda. Since its inception, 92 persons have been indicted in front of the ICTR. Some proceedings are however still ongoing.

The ICTR is primed to close down in 2015.

Regarding what will happen to the functions and activities that will outlive the ICTR, the UN Security Council established the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (or “the Mechanism”), in Resolution 1966 (2010), to take over the remaining functions of both the ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The Mechanism, which has been functioning since 1 July 2012, has already taken over some of the ongoing functions of the ICTR, including the enforcement of sentences of those convicted and sentenced by the Tribunal, the tracking, arrest and prosecution of fugitives earmarked for trial at the Mechanism, and the care and protection of witnesses.


In 1998, discussions began under the direction of the President of the Republic of Rwanda about the possible use of traditional courts to support the ordinary Rwandan judicial system and the ICTR. A commission was created to study this possibility, and its report provided the basis of the Organic Law of 26 January 2001, which created the Gacaca Courts.

These courts were in charge of trying the low and middle-level perpetrators of the genocide, apart from the “planners” who should have been tried before national courts. The Gacaca courts were composed of elected popular assemblies, made up of non-professional judges. The composition and functioning of such courts raised several concerns about the respect of fair trial guarantees.

According to Rwandan authorities, during their functioning, the Gacaca courts tried almost two million people. On 18 June 2012 Rwandan President Paul Kagame announced the official end of Gacaca courts’ activity.


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