The Rwanda army chief who called for ethnic Tutsis to be exterminated like "cockroaches" during the 1994 genocide was yesterday sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Augustin Bizimungu was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his part in the killing spree that left up to 800,000 people dead in the space of 100 days. He was found not guilty on the charge of genocide.
The 59-year-old, who was elevated to army chief during the genocide, tried to argue that he exercised only "limited control" over his men and had been opposed to the killing.
The judges at the international tribunal based in neighbouring Tanzania rejected his pleas and found him guilty of inciting the murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus before and during the most concentrated mass killing of the 20th century. He was convicted along with Augustin Ndindiliyimana, the former chief of the paramilitary police, in the biggest verdict to be handed down by the tribunal since the conviction of the genocide mastermind Theoneste Bagosora in 2008.
Also sentenced were two generals who ordered their men to assassinate then prime minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who was killed along with 10 Belgian UN troops assigned to protect her – an event that triggered the withdrawal of peacekeepers from the central African nation.
Mr Bizimungu, who once had a US bounty of $5 million on his head, listened impassively to the verdict in the dock in Arusha. He spent nearly eight years on the run and was captured while sheltering with rebels in war-torn Angola. The case against him took a further nine years to complete and yesterday's verdict took nearly two and a half hours to be read to the court.
The length of the trial meant that Mr Ndindiliyimana, who was found guilty of lesser charges, was released having already spent 11 years in custody.
Yesterday's convictions mark another milestone for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which took over the safari town of Arusha, in northern Tanzania, and began hearings 15 years ago. Its critics accuse the ICTR of being slow and expensive, running up a bill of nearly $1.3 billion in setting out 91 indictments against the ringleaders of the Hutu-led genocide. They also point to its failure to bring prosecutions against Tutsi leaders accused of crimes against humanity in the aftermath of the genocide, including mass killings of Hutus across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
However, the ICTR's supporters – including the respected New York-based monitor Human Rights Watch – say it has enriched the law on genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
The verdicts were welcomed in the Rwandan capital Kigali: "It is a welcome decision by the ICTR," said Martin Ngoga, Rwanda's chief prosecutor. "In its own circumstances, that is a big sentence, even if many people would think he [Bizimungu] deserved the highest."