On November 5th, a three-judge panel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) sentenced Michel Bagaragaza, the former head executive of the Rwandan tea industry, to eight years in prison for his role in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The ICTR, which presides in Tanzania, found Bagaragaza guilty on one count of complicity for his role in having substantially contributed to the death of 1,000 ethnic Tutsis. Bagaragaza’s sentence includes credit for time he has already served since his detention in 2005.
As director general of OCIR/The, the government office controlling the tea industry, Bagaragaza oversaw 11 tea factories employing approximately 55,000 people. In addition to his government position in the tea industry, Bagaragaza was also the vice-president of a bank and a political leader in Gisenyi prefecture. His role in the 1994 genocide arose when 1,000 Tutsis sought refuge at Kesho Hill and at Nyundo Cathedral in Rwanda’s Gisenyi prefecture, close to the tea factories Bagaragaza oversaw. On April 8, 1994, Bagaragaza met with Thomas Kuradusenge, a senior official of the Giciye commune, and learned of Kuradusenge’s plan to carry out the killing of the 1,000 Tutsi seeking refuge. According to prosecutors, Bagaragaza aided and abetted Kuradusenge in carrying out those killings, authorizing that vehicles and fuel from the tea factories Bagaragaza oversaw be used in the attack, and ordering that the attackers be provided with weapons Bagaragaza had allowed the army to conceal at the tea factories since 1993. Bagaragaza also ordered that personnel from the factories participate in the attacks, according to a summary of the tribunal’s judgment. On subsequent occasions, Bagaragaza gave Kuradusenge large sums of money for the purchase of alcohol, so as to encourage those carrying out the killings in the Kabaya and Bugoyi areas to continue to do so.
Bagaragaza was initially charged with conspiracy to commit genocide, genocide, and in the alternative, complicity in genocide. On August 15, 2005, he voluntarily surrendered himself to the ICTR, pleading not guilty to each of the three counts listed in the initial indictment. Following procedural complications, he eventually pleaded guilty to the complicity charge in August of this year.
In sentencing, the judges noted that Bagaragaza had shown “genuine remorse for his actions,” providing “invaluable assistance to the Prosecution in its investigations.” They said that Bagaragaza had “to a remarkable degree contributed to the process of truth-finding with respect to the Rwandan tragedy and to national reconciliation.” The ICTR further noted that the defence had provided credible showing that Bagaragaza demonstrated no bias against Tutsis, and that his participation in the organization of the killings was likely motivated by concern for himself and his family. However, the court went on to state that the evidence did not suggest that Bagaragaza, “being a very resourceful person,” would have faced imminent danger had he not complied with the requests of the perpetrators.
Bagaragaza was represented by Counsel Geert-Jan Alexander Knoops from The Netherlands. The Prosecution was led by Wallace Kapaya, assisted by Patrick Gabaake, Mousa Sefon and Iskander Ismal.
The United Nations Security Council authorized the creation of the ICTR in 1994. An estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the genocide that began in early April of that year.