Hutus in horror jails await Tutsi 'justice'

The inmates of Butare prison are polite and accommodating. They say "Bonjour" and answer questions without complaint. They say they are innocent, but many of them - perhaps most of them - are brutal killers.

Since the massacres of last year in which at least half a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus died, some 35,000 people have been imprisoned. Nearly all those detained are from the Hutu majority. Nearly all of them have been charged with genocide. They are being held in 144 different places, including 13 prisons, in conditions described by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as "appalling".

Butare, in southern Rwanda, is one of the institutions in which the ICRC estimates there are up to four people per square metre of floor space in the main compound, and up to six per square metre in dormitories. Most of the 6,111 inmates live and sleep in an open courtyard with no shelter. Many have been there since last July. None has had access to a lawyer, disease is rife and violent death is common.

There is little sympathy among the Tutsi lite now running the country. Such was the enormity of the crimes and such is the need for retribution, that few are concerned about conditions or legal niceties.

To walk among the swelling sea of faces in Butare is a surreal exercise. These men have been charged with the most heinous crimes imaginable.

With one exception, none of those I questioned admitted any involvement in the terrible events of last year. Some say they stand accused of having murdered members of their own families, some of having belonged to the extremist Hutu militia known as the interahamwe (Those who attack together), some of having taken part in killing sprees. Many say they were arrested because they were Hutus or belonged to a Hutu political party.

Only one man admitted his guilt. "I killed because the [former] government told me to. They said I had to fight to liberate my country. We have been cheated by our politicians."

According to Rwanda's former public prosecutor, Franois Nsawzuwera, who resigned last month, some 20 per cent of those accused are innocent. But with denunciation by one person enough to secure an arrest,wrongful detention is inevitable. In the past two weeks, the number of arrests has risen and the ICRC believes that the prison population is growing by more than 1,500 a week.

Men coming from Kibeho refugee camp - where about 1,000 terrified Hutus are still encamped in horrific conditions - are almost automatically arrested on return to their villages. So frightened are many of being imprisoned or lynched by Tutsi villagers that they hide in the bush or flee across Rwanda's borders.

In a cachot or lock-up at Butare are more than a hundred former residents of Kibeho camp, some of them suffering from wounds inflicted by the Rwandan Patriotic Army which nine days ago opened fire, killing 2,000 to 4,000 Hutus. The air in the cachot, is almost unbreathable. A woman prisoner claims she saw two men being bludgeoned to death outside the lock-up last week.

In this hell-hole the Tutsi desire for revenge has found its terrible apotheosis. The national trials for crimes against humanity have been suspended for lack of resources and the international tribunal in Tanzania has yet to convene. Increasingly, it seems, hatred is overcoming the desire for justice.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Recruitment Genius: Office Furniture Installer / Driver

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Furniture Installer /...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor