Kibuye province lies on the shores of Lake Kivu, making it one of the most scenic places in Rwanda . A few miles away from the lake, are the hills of Bisesero, where an estimated 50,000 Tutsis died in one of the worst massacres of the 1994 genocide.
One of those charged with the Bisesero massacres is Eliezer Niyitegeka, who was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.
The 50 year-old convict was a native of a village near Bisesero and the former minister of information in the Rwandan interim government. He was arrested in Kenya and transferred to Arusha in early 1999, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Niyitegeka’s trial began in June 2002. It is one of the fastest trials the ICTR has conducted.
One of the Bisesero hills where thousands of Tutsis were killed became a symbol of resistance to genocide in Rwanda.
Survivors here say they fought the militia for three months using spears and stones until the military bombarded the hill. They are not pleased with Niyitegeka’s sentence.
“Considering the bad things he did, he deserved the same fate as those who died” says Mukomeza Aron a genocide survivor and native of Bisesero.
Innocent Havugimana was a young boy during the Bisesero massacres. He says his parents were close neighbors with Niyitegeka. He is not happy with Niyitegeka’s sentence. “We do not understand what kind of punishment it is! It’s like giving him shelter. It’s like helping him. That’s not a punishment”, says Innocent Havugimana.
Most of the survivors of the Bisesero massacres say Niyitegeka deserves a death sentence. Others they’ve left the matter to God. “I can’t think of a suitable punishment for him. Only God can give it to him”, says Mukakimenyi Bonifrida, a survivors.
To other Bisesero genocide survivors, the word “justice” would be more meaningful if some form of compensation is alongside it.
“What do you think the orphans he left behind benefit from the sentence he was given?” asks Mutarambirwa Azarius, a native of Bisesero “The sentence itself has nothing wrong with it. But there should be some form of compensation to those orphans or others that were left unable”, he adds.
Some of the genocide suspects, who survivors say were involved in the Bisesero killings, are now in Gisovu prison.
They say they never saw Niyitegeka in any of the massacres nor heard his name in the Gacaca hearings which have been held in Gisovu prison. “Niyitegeka’s home village is Gisovu commune. Prisoners from there participated in the Gacaca hearings. No one said they saw him! No one accused him”, says the president of Gacaca in Gisovu prison who prefers anonymity.
Niyitegega’s defense lawyers have given a notice of appeal. The prosecution says it will vigorously oppose any move to appeal.
Niyitegeka will remain in detention until a decision is rendered on the appeal. If he looses his appeal, he will have to be transferred to a country to be designated where he will serve the sentence.