The former head of the government office that controlled the Rwandan tea industry was today sentenced to eight years in prison after being found guilty by a United Nations tribunal over his role in the African country’s 1994 genocide.
A three-judge panel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which sits in Arusha in neighbouring Tanzania, convicted Michel Bagaragaza of one count of complicity. The defendant had pleaded guilty to the charge earlier this year.
Judges Vagn Joensen (presiding), Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov and Gberdao Gustave Kam said the jail sentence included credit for the time Mr. Bagaragaza has spent in detention since his arrest in August 2005.
The ICTR’s trial chamber found that Mr. Bagaragaza substantially contributed to the murder of more than 1,000 ethnic Tutsis who had sought refuge at Kesho Hill and at Nyundo Cathedral, both in Gisenyi prefecture and close to tea factories.
Prosecutors had told the tribunal that Mr. Bagaragaza aided and abetted the planners and perpetrators of the killings at the two locations, including military and civilian leaders, members of the notorious Interahamwe militia, the Presidential Guard and staff at two tea factories.
In his post as director general of OCIR/Thé, Mr. Bagaragaza controlled 11 tea factories that employed about 55,000 people. He was also the vice-president of a bank and a political leader in Gisenyi prefecture.
On 8 April 1994, within days of the start of the genocide, Mr. Bagaragaza participated in a meeting with two senior officials in Giciye commune and learned that the two men had agreed that one of them, Thomas Kuradusenge, would lead attacks against the Tutsis seeking refuge at Kesho Hill and Nyundo Cathedral.
“Bagaragaza authorized that vehicles and fuel from the Rubaya and Nyabihu tea factories be used to transport members of the Interahamwe for the attacks, that the attackers be provided with weapons, which he had allowed the army to conceal at the tea factories in 1993, and that personnel from the factories participate in the attacks,” according to a summary of the tribunal’s judgement.
“Moreover, he met with Kuradusenge two or three times between 9 and 13 April 1994 and on Kuradusenge’s request gave him a substantial amount of money to buy alcohol for the Interahamwe in order to motivate them to continue with the killings in the Kabaya and Bugoyi areas.”
The judges noted that Mr. Bagaragaza had shown “genuine remorse for his actions… [and] has provided invaluable assistance to the prosecution in its investigations,” and this warranted a substantial reduction in what would otherwise have been his sentence.
Mr. Bagaragaza has “to a remarkable degree contributed to the process of truth-finding with respect to the Rwandan tragedy and to national reconciliation.”
The judges also said that defence lawyers provided credible evidence that Mr. Bagaragaza showed no bias against Tutsis in his personal and professional life and was likely to have been motivated by concern for the safety of his family and himself when he took part in the organization of the killings.
“However, there is no sufficient basis in the agreed facts or the evidence of character witnesses to conclude that Bagaragaza, being a very resourceful person, would have faced imminent danger had he not complied with the requests of the local political and Interahamwe leaders.”
The Security Council authorized the creation of the ICTR in late 1994 in response to the genocide, in which an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, often by machete, within just 100 days starting in early April that year.