DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - A U.N. appeals court on Wednesday reduced the life sentence of a former army colonel who has been accused of masterminding the slaughter of 800,000 people during the Rwandan genocide to 35 years.
Theoneste Bagosora, 70, remains guilty of crimes against humanity, but the appeals court of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) found that some of his convictions for a representative sample of specific murders and massacres were unsafe.
Prosecutors argued that Bagosora, then cabinet director in the defence ministry, assumed control of military and political affairs in the central African country after President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his plane was shot down in 1994.
Troops and militias butchered 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in just 100 days.
Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, head of United Nations peacekeepers during the genocide, described Bagosora as the “kingpin” behind the killings and said the former colonel had threatened to kill him.
One of Bagosora’s original convictions in 2008 centred on the killing of 10 Belgian peacekeepers and two other men in the Rwandan army’s Camp Kigali base.
The Tanzanian-based court found that some of the peacekeepers, as well as the two other men, had been murdered before he visited the site. But it upheld his conviction for the murders of others who were found to have been killed after his visit.
The judges also overturned Bagosora’s convictions for genocide and crimes against humanity for killings in the town of Gisenyi and at Mudende University in April 1994.
The court also reduced the life sentence against Bagosora’s co-defendant, Colonel Anatole Nsengiyumva, 61, to 15 years in jail and released him immediately on time served.
It also overturned Bagosora’s convictions for a number of other crimes, including defiling the corpse of former Rwandan Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana.