Elia Niyonzima is still haunted by the innocent children that he murdered and others that he dumped in latrines while they were still alive during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Some of the children included those of his neighbour, Nasson Nzabahayo, who was a close friend that he prayed with and who often supported him in times of need.
The 53 year-old who is a resident of Bugesera District testified last week that he brutally killed all (three) children of Nzabahayo, and participated in attacks that claimed lives of other people in the district during the Genocide.
He was sentenced to life for his crimes and has been in jail for 20 years.
“I am here to admit my crimes and confess. I took Nzabahayo’s children and dumped them into a pit latrine while they were still alive. Then, I threw heaps of stones onto them,” he said last week during a unity and reconciliation event.
He added that he participated in an attack that killed a man he only identified as Damascene by cutting him with a machete.
“I spent sleepless nights, crying because of the horrible crimes I committed which haunt me but I was not willing to repent. But now, my heart is free because I admitted my crimes, repented and reconciled with the survivors,” he said appreciating the reconciliatory programme.
The event was called to reconcile 50 genocide convicts with survivors’ families after the former admitted to their crimes, confessed and sought forgiveness. Four of them are serving lifesentences.
The perpetrators and survivors are from Mwogo, Nyamata and Ntarama sectors of Bugesera.
For the 20 years he has spent in prison, Niyonzima said: “I hid crime I commited from my family the out because it was despicable”.
Nzabahayo, who survived the genocide but whose family was killed revealed how those scars have caused him grief for the last 25 years.
“The hole in which he threw the children was about 15 meters deep. After about three days [starving there], he threw heaps of stones onto them. That wound us,” he said.
He added that Niyonzima had made a wrong choice when he shed blood of innocent people.
Despite the suffering, his offender made him go through, he had chosen to forgive him.
“Offering forgiveness is in the interest of the one who gives it, as well as the one who begs for it. Me, I have forgiven you),” he told Niyonzima adding that telling the truth helps survivors and the Rwandan society at large.
Truth and confession matter
John Bosco Kabanda, the correction and social affairs division manager at the Rwanda Correctional Services, said that genocide perpetrators should tell the truth about the crimes they committed in order to build a Rwandan society free from suspicion stemming from lies.
“The youth should know the truth and not be misinformed about the Genocide. You should not betray the friendship pact anymore,” he told the genocide convicts who killed their people including friends.
Bishop John Rucyahana, President of National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, thanked those who decided to confess their crimes.
“A person who fully admits and sincerely confesses to killing during the Genocide has set his heart free for the rest of his life, and has relieved his family who were burdened by the suspicion that he was imprisoned while innocent,” Bishop Rucyahana said.