Inside a Rwandan Prison

Kigali, Rwanda Guards armed with semiautomatic weapons struggle to unlock a heavy steel door before finally opening it, unleashing a burst of joyful music from an all male chorus wearing bright orange and pink. A 5-piece band sounding much like Rusted Root tries vainly to excite the crowd full of thieves, killers and orchestrators of the Rwandan genocide. This is the image put forward to visitors by the Kigali Central prison. What goes on beyond the airplane hangar style hall is kept secret.

Among the crowd is Gregoire Nyilimanzi who admits leading thousands of Hutus in his area of Kigali and telling them to kill Tutsis. Unlike most he says that he is to blame for his crimes, not the government. Gregoire says, though the government encouraged killing, he bears the final responsibility for the deaths of more than 10,000 people killed in his sector. He has apologized and confessed with the hope that the government might reduce his sentence. Right now he is facing life in prison. He believes firmly that reconciliation is vital to the future of Rwanda and criticizes those who give false confessions to win early release. Like most he says that the government of unity is helping to lead people to reconcile.

Though he was lower ranking in the detailed and complex power structure, Gregoire takes more responsibility than Amuri Karekezi a former Kigali City Councilor. Karekezi says he has apologized for his crimes and admitted what he did, stoking hatred and dehumanizing Tutsis in the minds of Hutus. But this former government official blames the government for forcing him to commit these crimes. Despite admitting guilt he won't go into detail about his offenses. 13 years after being locked up, he says he has an appeal pending, as indicated by his bright orange short pants and pajama shirt. Karekezi wears a blue and white embroidered Muslim headcap, designer glasses, and blacks socks pulled up high with the word "Friday" at the top. Shoes, scarves, socks, and glasses are the only things prisoners can wear to stand out from one another. The hierarchy is clear loafers, boots, and sneakers like Nike and Adidas seem to separate the upper class prisoners from the others who merely wear flip flops.

Outside the jagged glass topped brick walls of the facility prisoners work continuously. Prisoners in pink and orange spend their days tending to crops in the fields, watering the dirt roads to keep down the dust, and repairing cars. Some carry the same machetes they may have used during the genocide.

As Gregoire points out, there are some killers who haven't changed and he believes some of them are living with impunity abroad. He pleas with foreign governments to hunt down genocide orchestrators so that Rwandans may live without fear.