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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Genocide Suspects Still Crowd Rwandan Jail

GITARAMA, Rwanda -- The smell of decay and sweat permeates the alleyways and dark cellars behind high ocher walls of the jail in this Rwandan town.


Thronging the alleys and cellars are 6,350 Rwandan genocide suspects.


Prisoners of Rwanda's Hutu majority, accused of killing in the 1994 genocide of up to a million Tutsis and Hutu moderates, jam the crumbling Gitarama prison, designed for 700.


As dusk gathers under rain-filled clouds, prisoners sing hymns within earshot of Tutsi genocide survivors.


"At night, the prisoners' voices travel very far. I hear them from my house. One day, they're going to jump the wall and come out," says a Western aid worker.


Seen from the air aboard a helicopter, a teeming mass of half-naked bodies in the prison yard form a smudge of darkness in the lush, soft colors of the land.


There are no guards but a few soldiers outside the gates.


Reflecting Rwanda's highly organized social and political structure where every hill has a chief, the prison order runs from the lowest social group to the highest authority figure.


Inmates have created their own police force that patrols the prison at night. They have strict rules for using the 54 latrines, one for every 117 inmates. Former politicians go to toilet first. Those down the line have to wait for hours.


Last year, 20 inmates a week died because of overcrowding. Now deaths are rare because of an extension and prisoners can even play football in the courtyard where many of them live.


Most inmates have been here for over a year. Few have case files. Nearly two years after the genocide, not a single suspect has been tried.


Most inmates steadfastly refuse to recognize that the mass slaughter of Tutsis for three months in 1994 was a huge crime. There is a collective state of denial and no sign of remorse.


"We are all innocent here," says Justin Nyandwi, a former mayor of Musambiro village in Gitarama district. He says troops jailed him because he was rich and took his house and car.


Nyandwi is surprised that the UN tribunal indicted a friend, Jean-Paul Akayesu, former mayor of Taba village, on genocide charges. "I know Jean-Paul Akayesu very well. He was a very nice and very gentle guy. He wouldn't harm anyone."