Suspect No. 41 Explains Role During Mass Slaughter
KIGALI, RWANDA — Three years ago, Froduald Karamira cruised this city in a Mercedes, cut deals in New York, and helped lead the hard-line faction of one of Rwanda's main political parties.
Now he sits behind an orange iron door, cross-legged and straight-backed on a striped towel, listening to the rumble of thousands of voices - Hutu inmates packed into the teeming Kigali Central Prison, awaiting genocide trials.
The top suspect in custody, Mr. Karamira is isolated from the rest of the inmates. He was not allowed to meet with journalists - until a prison official agreed to lock one in his cell with him for two hours on a recent afternoon.
Karamira welcomed the company. At times turning philosophical and quoting human rights laws, he denied involvement in the genocide, tried to explain why he was a well-known voice on extremist Hutu radio during the genocide, and spoke of his extradition back to Rwanda.
He spent six weeks in an Ethiopian prison while Rwanda and the United Nations war crimes tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, battled for the right to try him. Rwanda won, a top official says, after it said it would not guarantee the safety of the international investigators if the tribunal didn't give up their claim to Karamira.
Karamira is No. 41 on a list of 1,946 suspects the Tutsi government hopes to try in court and execute. The list includes most of Rwanda's old Hutu leaders. "This is against the spirit of the penal code," he says. "They should charge you for what you have done, not for who you are. For me, it is nonsense."
His cell is impeccably clean. Flip-flops and two copies of the Bible, the only book he is allowed to read, are lined up next to a water pitcher. He sleeps on two neatly folded blankets.
Karamira describes himself as more of a businessman than a politician. He made a late entry into official politics, starting out in opposition to the Hutu leaders who planned the genocide. When an army of Tutsi refugees invaded from neighboring Uganda in 1990, he was imprisoned for six months as a rebel sympathizer. He later helped found the main opposition party, the Democratic Republican Movement (MDR). But, at some point, prosecutors say he switched sides. In 1993, the party split, and Karamira named his faction MDR-Power, a reference to Hutu Power, as the government had come to be known.
"Is a slogan a crime?" he asks. "They want to transform it as a kind of ideology of genocide."
During the genocide, he is best remembered for traveling around Kigali with an entourage of soldiers, visiting roadblocks where the corpses were piling up and making morning radio broadcasts. The London-based group Africa Rights named him as a key politician in stirring up hatred against Tutsis.
"He spent a lot of time on the radio," says one genocide survivor in Kigali. "He told the people, 'Arm yourself, go to work, clear your area.' Everybody knew what he meant."
Karamira has his own spin on events. He says he saved Tutsis - he can't remember their names - and that his broadcasts were really appeals to stop the killing. "When these things were happening, it was not easy to preach to help Tutsis openly," he says.
"I put some of my people around the roadblocks so they could see what was happening and, if possible, prevent it. It didn't work because I was alone. There was nobody from the government helping me."
After nearly three weeks of massacres, Karamira flew to New Delhi - on a government assignment, he says. While he was gone, the government fell to Tutsi rebels, and he applied for refugee status. In June, immigration officials called him to their office, saying they wanted to renew his visa. Instead, they loaded him on a plane.
While Karamira awaits judgment, he worries about his family, who he says fled to Kenya, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic. And he prays to be sent into the main prison. "A man is a social person," he says. "He wants to speak with others. When you are isolated like this - without reason - it is frustrating."