Elysée Uzabakiriho says he had become savage in 1994, when he mercilessly killed neighbours he had lived side by side since he was born.
This was during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and he says he spared no one in his neighbourhood in the present-day Mareba Sector in Bugesera District.
Nearly 25 years since he committed the crime, Uzabukiriho, who is now 53, says he has not been able to have a good night’s sleep ever since he was put into custody in 1996.
He went through a trial process and is now serving life sentence from Bugesera Prison, commonly known as Rilima.
“I have spent years reflecting on the crimes I committed, people I killed and the families whose loved ones I killed; I simply have been unsettled for all these years,” said Uzabukiriho, who on Thursday reached out to families of those he killed to atone for the crimes he committed.
He said that he committed the crime together with one Denis Rusanganwa, who was his neighbour in Rugarama Cell, Mareba Sector of the same district. Rusanganwa was also present at the event on Thursday.
Uzabukiriho also says he has not been honest with his own family, because he had all along told them that his conviction was a witch hunt and made them to believe that he was an innocent man condemned for crimes he never committed.
“I realised it was necessary to tell the truth about my crimes, to shed light on the reason of my imprisonment and to let the people whose loved ones I killed know the truth about the wrongs I did against them, and tell my family that I was not imprisoned unjustly as I have always told them, but rather for the crimes I committed,” Uzabukiriho said during an event at which over 100 convicts sought forgiveness from families of Genocide victims.
Uzabakiriho also said he killed a man called John Sindayigaya who was a brother to Stéphanie Ukubereyimfura (who attended the event), and also murdered Yasina Uzarama’s daughter called Louise Niyonsaba, crimes for which he also asked for forgiveness.
He also sought forgiveness for the five children belonging to a one Innocent Bigora whom he killed during the Genocide.
Ukubereyimfura, whose brother was killed by Uzabukiriho, said that she studied primary school with him, testifying that he was known to espouse genocide ideology even during their time in school.
“He killed my brother a terrible death. But, I pardon him because he has finally come forward and sought forgiveness,” she said.
Denis Rusanganwa, another Genocide convict, also said he asks pardon for killing the five children mentioned above, whom he said he killed together with Uzabakiriho.
“I greatly strayed from the Rwandan values by committing the genocide. I seek forgiveness from my family for the shame I brought them; up to now, I am sure they carry that shame everywhere they go, because of my deeds,” he said.
He said that he was now finally a free man after he overcame his inner fears to reach out to those he hurt, which he said will help him to leave peacefully in the remaining years of his life.
“I did not tell the truth to my family about the cause of my imprisonment, which led to acrimony between them and our neighbours who are survivors because my family thought they had set me up for imprisonment over crimes I didn’t commit,” he said.
Saverine Kitegetse forgave the two men for killing her brother’s children.
The act to seek forgiveness and for the wronged to forgive is an initiative by different partners but championed by a local non-governmental organization, Prison Fellowship International.
The Executive Director of Prison Fellowship International, Déo Gashagaza, said that asking for forgiveness and granting it does not mean that Rwandans are encouraged to forget what happened, rather, this eases the journey to build new cohesive society with a vision for a better future.
“It does not mean that we forget the crime that was committed, rather, it provides us with more strength which prevents us from repeating those crimes, rather continue the journey to make Rwandans live in harmony and promote their values of unity and peace and love,” he said.
The Executive Secretary of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, Fidèle Ndayisaba, said that the confession and the effort to free the conscience through telling the truth about the Genocide, fosters unity and reconciliation.
This, he said, gives the convicts an opportunity to bequeath to children a better and more hopeful country.
More efforts needed
According to information from Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS), only up to 15 per cent of Genocide convicts have passed through the programme, a situation that requires more efforts for the remaining inmates to embrace such a reconciliatory path.
There is an estimated 28,600 Genocide prisoners in Rwanda currently.
RCS Commissioner in charge of Correction, Jean Bosco Kabanda, said that the number of Genocide prisoners who have repented and reconciled with survivors is still small, but added that the move is commendable.
He implored family members of the convicted Genocide perpetrators to make an effort to find the truth about their relatives who are in jail and challenge them to come clean on their crimes, saying that this would help the country move forward.