‘If Tutsis died it was because the people were angry with them’

Posted: October 13, 2010 in Genocide Denial
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It was just a few weeks after Rwanda‘s genocide was finally brought to an end. The survivors were struggling to discover the fate of husbands, wives and children. New mass graves were being discovered by the day. A shocked world was wondering how, without lifting a finger to help the victims, it had allowed 800,000 Tutsis to be butchered in just 100 days, in one of the most extensive mobilisations of a population against its fellow citizens ever seen.

But the man behind the mass slaughter, Theoneste Bagosora, was in an unapologetic and belligerent mood. The former colonel who, as chief of staff in Rwanda’s defence ministry, organised the militias that led the slaughter in 1994, and who sent the army in to start the killing, had fled in to exile a few miles across the border with Zaire.

Perched on his chair, a satellite phone at his side and flashing gold jewellery, he looked across to the hills of Rwanda and imparted two messages that seemed to be at odds with each other.

There had been no genocide, just a spontaneous bloodletting the Tutsis brought on themselves, he said. And the killing was not over – he intended to fight his way back to Rwanda and finish off the Tutsis once and for all.

“People say Bagosora did this or that, that I have the blood of the Tutsis on my hands. But where are all these people who were killed? If they died it is because they are rebels, or because the people were angry with them,” he said. “But it’s true the Tutsis are trouble. They have taken over a Hutu country. We will fight them again until all the Tutsis are gone.”

Bagosora was a frightening figure who seemed even more sinister when he smiled. He might have been mistaken for some lowly civil servant in different circumstances. But as he sat in the camp established by Rwanda’s defeated Hutu army inside Zaire there was no doubt he was the real authority among the troops.

His claim that there was no genocide has been espoused in the years since by the killers and their apologists, who have sought to blame the victims for their own murder by regurgitating a history of oppression by Tutsis before most of the dead were even born.

The International Tribunal for Rwanda established that what happened in Rwanda in 1994 was neither accidental nor spontaneous. The trial laid bare Bagosora’s central role in mobilising the army and the militia he created, the Interahamwe, to exterminate Tutsis.

“He was the man in control, hands down, no dispute,” said one of the prosecutors, Barbara Mulvaney.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Rwandan politics had polarised under the twin pressures of foreign demands for an end to the one-party state and the introduction of multi-party democracy, and an invasion by Rwandan Tutsi rebels, who had grown up in exile in neighbouring Uganda.

President Juvenal Habyarimana bowed to demands for greater political freedom and a bunch of new parties promptly sprang up, including some that were militantly anti-Tutsi. At the same time Habyarimana was under pressure from moderate Hutus in his government, and foreign powers, to negotiate with the Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels who seized large parts of northern Rwanda.

Bagosora and an alliance of Hutu extremists responded by establishing a militia, the Interahamwe – “We Who Work Together” – with hatred of Tutsis as their central ideology. The Hutu 10 commandments appeared, calling on people to “stand firm and vigilant against their common enemy: the Tutsi”, and demanding that Tutsis be barred from working in politics, government or the military.

The 8th commandment said: “Hutu must stop taking pity on the Tutsi.”

A radio station sprang up, full of voices denouncing Tutsis as less than human, as devils, prompting periodic massacres in the early 1990s. Bagosora was at the centre of it all. He ordered lists of “enemies” to be drawn up. They would be the first to be murdered later on.

Those who stood in his way were threatened, including his boss, the moderate defence minister, James Gasana. Gasana attempted to disarm the militias; Bagosora threatened to kill him and the minister fled with this family to Italy. The new defence minister, Augustin Bizimana, enthusiastically carried on arming the Interahamwe.

In early April 1994, a Belgian colonel with the UN, Luc Marshal, reported that Bagosora had told him that the only way to solve Rwanda’s problems would be to exterminate the Tutsis.

The dam broke a few days later when Habyarimana bowed to international pressure and flew to Tanzania to finalise a peace agreement that would include the rebel RPF in the government and integrate them into the Rwandan army.

“Habyarimana was flying back to implement the deal,” said Mulvaney, the ITR prosecutor. “If that plane had landed, Bagosora would have lost his house, his job, his position. That’s on a very personal level. But he would also have had to demobilise his forces in the army and integrate them with the RPF. They felt Habyarimana had capitulated, and Bagosora wanted to stop him.”

Habyarimana’s plane was hit by two missiles as it came in to land at Kigali airport on 6 April 1994.

“It was the catalyst to start the killing,” said Mulvaney. “Bagosora needed a big event to mobilise people, to spark the bloodlust. Habyarimana was seen by the people as ‘papa’. That’s why they shot down his plane.”

The killing started almost immediately, beginning with those on the death lists. They included Boniface Ngulinzira, the Rwandan foreign minister who negotiated the peace deal with the RPF, as well as other cabinet ministers.

Bagosora called a meeting of military officers and invited the UN commander in Rwanda, a Canadian lieutenant general, Romeo Dallaire, to attend. Dallaire later described meeting Bagosora as like “shaking hands with the devil”.

The UN commander quickly came to the conclusion that Bagosora was leading a coup, and insisted that, despite Habyarimana’s death, there was still a civilian government in place under the moderate prime minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana.

Hours later, Bagosora dispatched the presidential guard to murder the prime minister. She was sexually violated with a soft drink bottle before being killed, along with her husband. Ten Belgian peacekeepers who were guarding her were disarmed, tortured and murdered over the course of several hours. Their bodies were cut into so many pieces that when Dallaire first saw them he could not make out how many soldiers he was looking at. Bagosora later admitted in court to being at the scene during the killings, but said he had been powerless to stop the slaughter.

The intent was to drive the UN out, and it worked. The Americans and British pressed the UN security council to withdraw the peacekeepers. Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were abandoned.

Bagosora handpicked a new government led by a president, Théodore Sindikubwabo, and prime minister, Jean Kambanda, who toured the country urging on the killers, as the slaughter spread. Tens of thousands who sought refuge in churches and stadiums were shot dead or butchered with machetes. Others were hunted down in banana groves, or burnt alive in their homes.

One witness told the international tribunal he saw Bagosora give a speech to the Interahamwe urging them “to be courageous in their work”, a widely used euphemism for killing during the genocide.

Dallaire last saw Bagosora in July 1994, shortly before he fled to Zaire. Bagosora said he would shoot the UN commander if he saw him again. “I was threatened with a pistol [by Bagosora] and was told that next time he will kill me,” said Dallaire.

Bagosora’s dream of reconquering Rwanda fell apart and he fled to Cameroon, where he was arrested in 1996 and sent to the international tribunal.

In court, he continued to threaten those he regarded as his enemies, including Mulvaney as she laid out the prosecution case. “He even threatened to kill me in the courtroom. It’s hard to understand how one human being can do this to another. But I can tell you he’s chilling, he’s a chilling man,” she said.

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/dec/19/theoneste-bagosora-rwanda-tutsis

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