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The conviction of Theoneste Bagosora for genocide in Rwanda — a personal reflection
Justice has been done, yet there are still those who deny a genocide took place


Globe and Mail Update

To those who follow the 1994 genocide of Rwanda's Tutsi population, the conviction of Theoneste Bagosora for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity is a welcome Christmas gift. Bagosora was the closest thing to an overall mastermind of the slaughter of perhaps 800,000 Tutsi and of many Hutu who refused to collaborate with the extremists who carefully planned and executed the genocide over 100 days. Justice has been done.

Some of the names that appear in most news stories will be familiar to Rwanda-watchers. Many will know of prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, whose death the International Tribunal attributes to Bagosora. A thoughtful Hutu politician in a land where many of her colleagues had shifted to the extremist camp, she should rightly have taken over command of the government when president Juvénal Habyarimana's plane was shot down on the evening of April 6. But as General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the UN military mission, found, Colonel Bagosora had no intention of allowing that to happen.

The Prime Minister's last hours have been carefully documented. Early in the morning of April 7, Dallaire sent a contingent of his Belgian and Ghanaian troops to protect her home, but they were outnumbered and forced to lay down their arms by elite Presidential Guards sent by Bagosora. The Prime Minister tried to escape over the wall of her backyard, and while she succeeded in saving her children, she was caught and murdered. Several researchers say that her vagina was gruesomely mutilated, possibly before she was shot.

Once she was dead, the Rwandan troops sent the Ghanaian UN troops to their headquarters but took the 10 Belgian soldiers back to the Military of Defence compound. There all ten were apparently beaten and tortured and then murdered. This was no indiscriminate act. The shrewd plot leaders had openly predicted that if Belgian soldiers were killed, their government would withdraw them post-haste. So it happened, to incalculable cost in Tutsi lives.

The international court also found Bagosora  responsible for the murders of several opposition politicians. One name that appears in most stories is that of Landoald Ndasingwa. More will recognize him by his nickname, Lando. There is a deep connection between Lando and Canada, and Lando and me, although I never knew him.

Lando was a Tutsi, by all accounts a charming, hustling, friendly man of good will. Born in a land where Tutsi were a small, often persecuted minority among the a Hutu majority, Lando went off to school in Montreal and at McGill met and fell in love with Helen Pinsky. They married and had two children, Patrick and Malaika (a girl). Lando would have been successful anywhere and the family made a life for themselves in Montreal.

But with the end of the Cold War in 1989  and the end of Africa's role as proxy for U.S.-Soviet rivalries, the winds of change seemed to be blowing in Rwanda.  President Habyarimana was forced by both internal and external pressures to open up his one-party Hutu government to other parties and to Tutsi. Lando wanted desperately to play a role in building an open, democratic and multi-ethnic Rwanda, and he and Helen made the bold decision to uproot their good Canadian life and head back to his home.

In typical Lando fashion, he threw himself into Rwandan life with gusto. He opened a hotel and bar called Chez Lando, which soon became a local favorite. He joined the new Liberal party and became its vice-president. When Habyarimana, under great pressure, opened his cabinet, Lando was appointed Minister of Labor and Social Affairs — the sole Tutsi member.

As anti-Tutsi extremism grew through the early 90s, Lando's name appeared on a number of lists of those marked for death. He and Helen were fully aware of this, but were determined to hang in. In fact,  they were among the earliest targets. At the same time as Bagosora ordered crack troops to murder the prime minister, others were dispatched to the Ndasingwa home. Around dawn, Helen called General Dallaire to ask for UN protection. A little later, Lando himself was on the phone more urgently with Colonel Luc Marchal, head of Dallaire's Belgian contingent. It was too late. Marchal actually heard the first shots being fired. The family gardener later revealed that Lando, Helen, Patrick, Malaika, and Lando's mother, who lived with them, were executed consecutively. The gardener himself miraculously escaped when a gun malfunctioned.

Lando had four brothers and two sisters. The older sister is Anne-Marie Katengwa, who was also in Kigali, the capital, when the genocide began. She sent one of her three children for protection to a polytechnic school known as ETO, where some Belgian soldiers were camped. Outside the school, gangs of genocidaires — the genocide killers — swarmed and threatened, but were deterred by the Belgians from entering the grounds. By April 11, some 2,500 people, mostly Tutsi, had reached the safety of ETO. On that day, the Belgian troops — soon to be withdrawn completely — were abruptly ordered out of ETO. No alternative protection was arranged for. By the end of the day, almost all the 2,500 had been murdered, including Anne-Marie's daughter. Having in under  week lost her daughter, mother, brother, sister-in-law,  nephew and niece, she then managed to escape the country with the rest of her family. Today she is a member of the Rwandan parliament and runs a thriving Hotel Chez Lando, where I stay whenever I'm in Rwanda.

The younger sister is Louise Mushikiwabo, who was living in Washington during the 100 days. In 2004, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the genocide,  Louise from DC and I from Toronto ran a virtual  international movement called Remembering Rwanda, dedicated to ensuring that the memory of the genocide is never forgotten. After years of trying to put her thoughts into words, she was finally able in 2006 to publish an extraordinary memoir called Rwanda Means the Universe. Earlier this year she surprised her friends by turning up in Kigali as the Minister of information in President Paul Kagame's government.

In April 2004, during the 10th anniversary in Kigali, Louise and Anne-Marie honoured me by inviting me to share their special day of mourning and remembering. One Sunday, their family filled a number of cars and we proceeded to each of the three different sites where members of their family had been killed and eventually buried. The day ended in a Catholic church in downtown Kigali whose priest had been notorious during the genocide for colluding with the genocidaires. The names of Louise and Anne-Marie's family who had been murdered in the genocide were read out. The list took what seemed forever to read.

There are still those who deny that a genocide took place.

Gerald Caplan is the author of The Betrayal of Africa and adviser to Aids-Free World, a recently-formed NGO.

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