One of the most important witnesses from the 1994 genocide, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire recently made his appearance at the UN Tribunal for Rwanda .
Dalliare was commander of the UN mission in Rwanda and later wrote a book, Shaking Hands with the Devil . In it, he describes several meetings with Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, a former Chief of Cabinet in the Ministry of Defense during the course of the genocide.
Bagosora is on trial in Arusha for crimes related to genocide, and the former Canadian commander appeared to testify against him.
Dalliare says that shortly after the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6 th , politicians who were expected to take over the running of the country were all assassinated by the military. This allowed Bagosora to take total control of the government and the armed forces.
By the next day, says Dalliare, Belgian UN troops stationed in Rwandan military camps were being beaten up, and Tutsis in Kigali were under attack by the Presidential guard. Dallaire offered Bagosora some UN troops to protect the civilians and the Belgian contingent, but says he was told not to interfere. Throughout these events, Dallaire says the Bagosora continued to demonstrate that he was completely in charge.
Dallaire says he tried to avert all-out war between government soldiers and the RPF battalion in Kigali , allowed in under a peace accord. But by the end of April 7 th , he knew he’d failed. Rwanda ‘s Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana was killed with her husband. Also killed were ten Belgian UN soldiers sent to guard her.
Dalliare says that during those events, Bagosora hardly batted an eyelid.
“What I found incredible to witness, certainly as an officer of the military is that I have never found somebody so calm and so at ease with what was going on. He received a few phone calls and one or two officers, shuffled papers and signed some documents in a very slow and methodical fashion. It was as if something was operating per plan… It was surreal.”
Prosecution lawyers claim Bagosora was the ‘de facto leader’ and ‘mastermind’ of the 1994 genocide. They showed archive film of him in meetings with Dallaire and other senior UN officials, to illustrate his high status at the time. Dallaire adds that when he wanted to meet the militia, he had to go through Bagasora.
Once, he claims, after an official disagreement, Bagosora even threatened to shoot him. According to ICTR prosecutor Bubacar Jallow, Dallaire’s testimony was very important.
“He saw what happened, he witnessed the tragic events, he witnessed the roles played by some of the accused that are here, he is in a position to testify to the tribunal and let the whole world know.”
Bagosora’s lead counsel Raphael Constant, challenged Dallaire’s testimony, saying that Dallaire had deliberately played down the role of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in the events of those early days.. Assistant counsel Didier Skolnik chose another angle: he challenged Dalliare’s allegation that Bagosora had threatened to kill him. “If it is true how come Dallaire never made a report of this to New York , how come he never spoke about it in his book?
Dallaire’s testimony lasted four days in Arusha. The case continues, with Prosecution presenting further evidence against Bagosora and his three co-defendants. These are Brigadier-General Gratien Kabiligi, former Chief of Rwanda Army operations; Major Aloys Ntabakuze Head of the Para-commando Unit, and Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, who was in charge of the Gisenyi military camp.