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UN court convicts architect of Rwandan atrocities

Justice experts hailed the guilty verdict against Theoneste Bagosora as a victory for Rwandans and a milestone for international courts.

By Staff writer / December 19, 2008

Guilty: Former Rwandan Army Colonel Theoneste Bagosora sat Thursday at the Rwanda International Criminal Tribunal (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, where he was sentenced to life in prison on charges of genocide along with two his co-accused former military officers Lt. Col. Anatole Nsengiyumva and Maj. Aloys Ntabakuze.

Tony Karumba/AFP

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Paris

A United Nations-backed court in Tanzania on Thursday convicted the one of the masterminds of the Rwandan genocide – a decision that is an important milestone both for a record of truth telling in Rwanda and for international justice.

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Theoneste Bagasora, a former Rwandan Army colonel, was found guilty of "genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes" in the 1994 slaughter of more than 800,000 people. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda also convicted ex-military commanders Anatole Nsengiyumva and Aloys Ntabakuze of genocide. All three were sentenced to life in prison.

Mr. Bagasora was the "highest authority in the Rwanda Ministry of Defense" and was captured in 1996, two years after Hutu militias, backed by the Army, went on a 100-day killing spree that targeted minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Thursday's verdict is considered a boon for an International Criminal Court in The Hague that recently indicted Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for genocide in Darfur.

"The Bagasora verdict is a rebuke to the self-serving and demagogic argument by al-Bashir and his supporters that accountability and justice through an international court is somehow 'anti-African,' " says Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch in New York. "This is a conviction by an international tribunal for genocide against Africans, and it serves African victims."

The Rwandan genocide is regarded as the most horrifying slaughter of innocent people in a concentrated period of time since the Khmer Rouge massacres in Cambodia 30 years ago. Since the crimes in Cambodia have yet to be adjudicated, the UN-backed tribunal in Tanzania took on the worst killings since the Nurembourg court after World War II and Auschwitz.

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