Global Policy Forum

Government Extends Deadline As Tens of Thousands

March 18, 2004

The Rwandan government has extended by one year a 15 March deadline for detainees to confess their role in the 1994 genocide, as tens of thousands of prisoners confessed to having taken part in the killings, a senior government official told IRIN on Wednesday. The head of judicial services in the Ministry of Justice, Hannington Tayebwa, said 32,385 prisoners had confessed since the last wave of releases in January 2003. The Cabinet made the decision to extend the deadline on Wednesday. Those who have confessed are more than half of detainees in prisons across the country, Tayebwa said. "The confessions have been massive because of the lenient sentences that are accorded to those who confess," he said. "This will be a positive step in the effort of finding out the truth about the genocide and particularly reconciling Rwandans." He said those who had confessed included detainees who have been in prison for periods longer than the sentences they would receive if they were tried. Such detainees are due to be provisionally be freed in coming months, along with the elderly and those with severe ailments, he added. Besides decongesting the prisons, the confessions would also help in easing the workload of prosecutors in Rwanda's national courts and at the Tanzania-based UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, Tayebwa said.

However, observers have said that the prisoners were at times forced to confess in order to receive lesser punishments. In February 2003, close to 25,000 prisoners who had pleaded guilty to genocide were provisionally released following a presidential decree on 1 January that year. Since September 1996, a total of 60,238 prisoners have confessed to taking part in the April-June 1994 genocide, which resulted in the deaths of at least 800,000 people, the majority of them being Tutsis and politically moderated Hutus. According to the government, the number of genocide suspects currently detained in prisons across the country is 90,000. In early March, the government announced that at least 4,500 common law prisoners would be freed before the end of the month.

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