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All Africa Press Service June 12, 1995


(Suspected perpetrators of last year's genocide including men, women and children are crammed in Rwanda's prisons awaiting charges that may be difficult to prove in a normal court of law, while those that escaped imprisonment into exile are in the meantime re-arming to force their way beck to power. Our guest writer Kevin Schlag, who recently visited Kigali central prison, reports.)

The first thing that welcomes a visitor to the Central Prison, a foreboding brick structure in the capital, Kigali, is the sound of women's voices singing. Soon the voices of men and children can be heard as well.

Prisoners in the KIgali, Rwanda, prison.Singing seems strange for a prison, but it is about the only activity the prisoners have room for in the overcrowded facility. The prison was built for a maximum of 2,000 prisoners, said the Director-Adjoint for the prison, Jean Claude Murengerantwali. But as of June 3, a total of 9,441 prisoners had been crammed into the prison, and more are added every day. Of those prisoners. 8,762 are men, 306 are women, 281 are juvenile males, 23 are juvenile females, and 69 are children who stay with their mothers, according to Murengerantwali.

"We take statistics every day because they change every day," Murengerantwali said, adding, "Luckily, we didn't have any deaths today. That happens." From 10 to 50 people are brought in every day, usually for robbery and other crimes. And there have been 10 babies born in the prison since December, Murengerantwali said. "We try to do what we can to help the prisoners," Murengerantwali said.

Women are allowed to stay with their babies, while schools have been started inside the prison for school-age children. Teams of 20 to 30 prisoners work outside the prison during the day to clean and pick up litter around the prison. The prison is so crammed that its doors can't even be nudged open without pushing some prisoners aside. Every available space is occupied. Most prisoners have to sleep outside no matter what the weather. The areas protected from the rain are packed with prisoners. Some prisoners even sleep in the toilets.

Despite the overcrowding, the prison is clean and orderly. The queue for the toilet snakes through the prison, with people waiting patiently. Prisoners wait to wash themselves or their dishes and pass the time playing cards, talking or singing. However, even with the best efforts, conditions are getting worse. Doctors, who are inmates themselves, treat other prisoners at the prison hospital. The most common complaints are dysentery, malaria and pneumonia, while malnutrition is on the increase. Prisoners get 200 grams of maize and 200 grams of beans each day.

Many prisoners are suspected of genocide, but many are brought to poison for robbery, rape and other serious crimes, Murengerantwali said. This may not be surprising given the state of social-economic and political affairs in the country. But the prisoners disagree.

"Almost all of us are in here on suspicion of genocide, and 90 percent of us are innocent," said Sosthene Nshimyimana, a prisoner who helps with the security of the prison. Hassina Nyirarukundo, a woman prisoner who is in charge of all the other women prisoners, agrees.

"When we returned from refugee camps, we found people living in our houses and farming our fields," Nyirarukundo said. "Those people didn't want to give up their newly found homes, so they accused us of participating in the genocide and we were sent to prison."

The prison is almost self-sufficient, Nshimyimana said. Prisoners teach in the schools, act as doctors in the prison hospital, preach to the other prisoners, and even guard them, he said. Since the prison reopened last August, all the inmates have been waiting for formal charges to be brought against them.

"Right now we are just suspected of crimes. We haven't even been accused or formally charged," said Joseph-Desire Muhigande, who said he was the Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism before the war and has been in the prison since it reopened. "We are hostages." The 32-year-old Muhigande said the international community must accelerate the process of rebuilding the tribunal system of Rwanda to alleviate the strain of the bulging prisons.

Prisoners are in crowded conditions in the Kigali, Rwanda, prison."The international community must part from the ideal vision of a perfect judicial system," Muhigande said. "To have crowded prisons like this while we wait to be accused of something, this is not the way," he said. "I have hope (that the judicial process will recommence soon), but I'm ready to stay here as long as it takes."

But others might not have that resolve, like 7-year-old Jean-Baptiste, who has been in prison for six months. He is suspected of having participated in the genocide. Although Jean-Baptiste goes to school every day and is learning French and English, he can't understand why he has to stay in prison.

There are 20 prisons throughout Rwanda, and all of them are overcrowded, though not to the extant of Kigali's prison, said a UN prison monitor, Javier Ortega, currently assigned to Kigali. But the prisons are becoming more crowded and the urgency of restarting the tribunals is evident. It will take time, Ortega said.

"The entire magistrate system has to start over from the beginning." Ortega said. "New desks have to be purchased, new materials like paper have to be supplied...we have to start from the beginning." Until those materials are purchased, judges found and lawyers trained, the prisoners will keep singing, and trying to make room for those who come.

Meanwhile, those who escaped imprisonment into exile are said to be re-arming in neighboring Zaire. The New York-based Human Rights Watch has charged that France, South Africa and Zaire have been helping re-arm ex-Rwandese soldiers in exile despite a U.N. arms embargo. In a report released on May 29, the group says the former army now has 50,000 troops at 12 camps preparing to retake Rwanda by force. The ex-army has also brought extremist Hutu militiamen more tightly under its control, said the report.

The group further charges that other countries, including China and Seychelles, either provided weapons or facilitated the delivery of arms to the architects of last year's genocide in Rwanda. It said a four-month field investigation found evidence of continuing arms shipments, often through middlemen who rely on false user certificates to conceal the arms' destination. Most of the shipments have been made through Goma airport in eastern Zaire, it said.

The report also says that the former government and its army have sufficient funds to buy arms on the open market. The money comes from looted government funds transferred abroad before the former government fled after the killing of former President Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash in April 1993. South Africa, which provided arms to Rwanda prior to the arms embargo imposed in May 1994, denies it has sent any weapons to the former army in violation of the embargo.

According to the group, France did not suspend weapon deliveries to the Hutu army after the embargo was imposed but instead diverted deliveries to Goma. It said the weapons were then delivered to the Hutu troops inside Rwanda by Zairian soldiers.

"Human Rights Watch learned from airport personnel and local businessmen that five shipments arrived in May and June containing artillery, machine guns, assault rifles and ammunition provided by the French government," the group further says in the report. Human Rights Watch also confirmed French forces, who carved out a protection zone for Hutu refugees in southwest Rwanda, left behind at least one weapons cache for militias and ex- soldiers.

The cache was located in the town of Kembembe and contained more than 50 assault rifles and several machine guns. In addition, the French continued to train Hutu military and militias at a French military facility in the Central African Republic after the defeat of the former government last July, the report further contends. A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said he could not comment because as a rule, France does not comment on reports by Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch said Zaire has played a key role in supplying weapons to the former army or facilitating deliveries from other sources. It said Zaire's efforts include pressuring private air transport companies to deliver the arms. The group said Zaire has not only assisted in weapons procurement, but helped set up both military and civilian camps along the border with Rwanda, allowing the former army to regroup and rebuild. Human Rights Watch said it has identified five types of military camps in eastern Zaire. Human Rights Watch said South Africa, previously one of the main suppliers of arms to Rwanda, has helped organize at least one shipment of arms to the Hutus after the embargo was imposed.

The group alleges that South Africa later refused direct shipments but offered to help arrange shipments by other parties. "In February and March 1995, several planeloads of arms were flown directly from South Africa to Zaire, arriving at an airstrip in the Kivu region," Human Rights Watch said in its report.

A South African Defense Department spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, denied South Africa had broken the embargo. "There were sales before the civil war, but it was stopped long, long ago," he said. Bertus Celliers, a spokesman for Armscor, the South African military industrial conglomerate, said the last arms deliveries were in 1993. "We are not aware of any sales, if any, in the meantime," he said.

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