The International Criminal Tribunal today (Tuesday) sentenced former Rwandan army chief Augustin Bizimungu and ex-paramilitary chief of the gendarmerie Augustin Ndindiliyimana to 30 years in prison for their part in the 1994 genocide. Ndindiliyimana was released because of time served and because the tribunal said he had limited command over his men and was opposed to the killing.
The court also sentenced Major Fracois-Xavier Nzuwonemeye and Captain Innocent Sagahutu to 20 years for crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Tribunal was established in 1995 to try those considered most responsible for the mass killings. Extremist Hutus killed an almost a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus during a three-month period.
Bizimungu and Ndindiliyimana were instrumental in carrying out the plans to exterminate Tutsis, said Tom Ndahiro, a researcher and writer on the genocide. Ndahiro has been following the proceedings of the tribunal and has written extensively about some of the denials of genocide in legal and academic circles. He said there is an effort by people who either directly took part in the killings and are still at large or who are sympathetic or complicit in the crimes to deny that the genocide ever took place.
The conviction of two key figures sends a message to those who deny the Tutsi genocide, said the researcher. He added that he would have preferred stronger sentences for the two former army officers because they were involved in creating the militia that led the killings.
Ndahiro said even though the pro-government militias like the Interahamwe were responsible for the massacre of thousands of people, “the infrastructure of mass murder cannot take place without the assistance of the government and particularly the military.” He added that the evidence of military involvement was strong enough to bring about the conviction of the two former officials.
Defense counsel said Bizimungu had little control over the killers, but in passing down the sentence, Presiding Judge Asoka de Silva said Bizimungu was responsible for the conduct of his subordinates. The indictment against him says on the first day of the genocide he gave an order "to exterminate the small cockroaches."