The former mayor of Mukingo commune in Ruhengeri Province Western Rwanda was recently found guilty of genocide, extermination, and public and direct incitement to genocide. He was sentenced to life in prison. Juvenal Kajelijeli, was arrested in Benin in 1998. His trial began in 2002 and came to an end after 78 days of hearings.
In the years since 1994, Mukingo commune has changed its name to Mutobo, and now has a new Mayor, Epimaque Samvura.
Samvura’s father and brother were taken away by Kajelijeli in 1993 and never seen again.
“He killed many people, 360 families from around this area and about 900 other people their deaths were perpetrated by Kajelijeli and his people,” Samvura says.
Gaudence Mujawamariya is also a survivor of the genocide. She lost several of her family members.
She wishes Kajelijeli’s trial had taken place nearer home. “It would be better if they would give him up and let him be imprisoned in Rwanda , then people would know that he is actually here in prison, at home. It is would also make him think and remember what he did if he is jailed in the country where he committed the crimes.”
To Samvura the life sentence given to Kajelijeli is only acceptable because the court cannot give him the sentence that he would prefer.
“It is what is permissible by international law, if it was up to me I would say he deserves to die, he should have been executed before the members of the population that he hurt,” Samvura says.
Kajelijeli’s former wife still lives near Mutobo. She declined our invitation to be interviewed, saying she has nothing to be happy about.
The ICTR also recently found Jean De Dieu Kamuhanda, a former minister of education and higher research, guilty of genocide and extermination.
During trial, Kamuhanda claimed that he was nowhere near the killings, because they were taking place in a war zone, and it was impossible to move about.
This alibi, however, did not sway the judges who said Kamuhanda had betrayed the people of his native district Gikomero. He was convicted of having distributed weapons and instigated killings.
“Kamuhanda was a respected man, influential and considered to be an intellectual, he was in a position to know and appreciate the value and dignity of life and also the value and importance of a peaceful coexistence between communities,” judges noted during his sentencing.
The judges stated that Kamuhanda could have promoted the values of tolerance but that instead doing so he blamed people who were living peacefully of not taking part in the campaign of violence.
“He instigated and led an attack to kill people who had taken shelter in a place universally recognized as a sanctuary, the compound of the Gikomero Parish Church . As a result of this attack many people were massacred,” presiding judge William Sekule pointed out. Kamuhanda was sentenced to imprisonment for the remainder of his life.
Christine Muhutukazi survived the massacres that Kamuhanda organized at Gikomero. She’s a teacher, and says someone like that deserves a harsher lesson than life in jail.
“These innocent people, who were killed, had done nothing. Those guilty of killing them should also be killed,” she reckons.
Bernadette Mukanyangoma similarly lost many relatives in 1994. These days, she appears to have lost faith in the justice system and is reluctant to comment on the case.
“Didn’t the killings start with the people in power? It is useless for us to say anything about it, why should we make comments when we can do nothing about their implementation? The authorities are the ones who decide the weight of the crime and the punishment it deserves what power have we of punishing or forgiving?”
But not everyone agrees that Kamuhanda is guilty. His family is mixed Hutu and Tutsi. Some of them insist he never visited Gikomero. Kamuhanda’s nephew, Pascal Habyaremi , accompanied several survivors to Arusha, when they testified that Kamuhanda never participated in genocide. He feels the sentence was not a reasonable one. “It is very unfair; I cannot express how unfair it is, the court has been very unjust.”
Kamuhanda’s sister Savel Mukaminani says she’s still in shock. She remembers heavy fighting in areas around Gikomero between soldiers from the army and the RPF. She can’t believe her brother slipped through the conflict, and crossed RPF lines to kill Tutsis.
“I was not happy with the sentence. He did not do the things they accuse him of doing. They say he came to Gikomero on the 12th , but the truth is that he was never there.”
Kajelijeli and Kamuhanda both have the right to appeal their sentences. The final verdicts, in each of their cases, are expected later this year.