The most anonymous victims of murder are the victims of genocide. We count the victims in numbers – one in a hundred thousand, one in eight hundred thousand, one in three million, or one in six million. The scale of the crime is so vast that it dehumanizes those of us who live to bear witness to its aftermath. In this world it is easier and much more commonplace to hold accountable a murderer of one than a murderer of thousands. That is our reality in the age of genocide.
Today, in a small measure of justice, a man most of us have never heard of was convicted of killing 800 thousand of our fellow human beings. Fourteen years after his crime, and six years after his trial began, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora has been convicted of massacring 800,000 men, women and children during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
The New York Times reports:
A senior Rwandan military officer charged with being one of the masterminds of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda was convicted on Thursday by a United Nations court in Tanzania of genocide and sentenced to life in prison.
Col. Theoneste Bagosora, 67, is the most senior military official to have been convicted in connection with the genocide, in which bands of Hutu massacred 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu. He was a leading Hutu extremist and the cabinet director for Rwanda’s Defense Ministry at the start of the slaughter. He and three other senior army officers had been on trial since 2002 at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is based in Arusha, Tanzania.
In a statement, the United Nations tribunal said it had sentenced Colonel Bagosora and two other Rwandan military officers who were also on trial, Maj. Aloys Ntabakuze and Col. Anatole Nsengiyumva, to life imprisonment for “genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.” A fourth co-defendant, Gen. Gratien Kabiligi, was acquitted of all charges and released by the court.
The court said Colonel Bagosora was “the highest authority in the Rwandan Defense Ministry, with authority over the military” in the days after the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6, 1994.
Today’s verdict is a small step toward holding to account some of those who have made the Twentieth Century the Century of Genocide. Many perpetrators of genocide however walk as free men today. Most have never been charged of a crime. Few, if any, will be brought to justice. In the scheme of things, today’s verdict is an anomaly.
If we are to end genocide, today’s verdict must not be so rare.
Still, today was a positive day in the fight against genocide. Let there be more such days.