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  1. ITV Report

Rwandan genocide: Inside the prison holding Africa's most notorious war criminals

A guard opens the door to ITV News' John Ray. Photo: ITV News

By Paul Tyson: News Editor

In the sun-baked courtyard of Koulikoro high-security prison in Mali two elderly prisoners sit in the shade talking quietly. An armed guard watches from the rooftop, impassive in sunglasses and military fatigues.

“Security here is tight,” says the governor, an imposing figure immaculate in dark green uniform, “but these men cause no trouble. They are the intellectuals; they are very disciplined prisoners.”

The sixteen men who live here in the single-storey “international” cell block are responsible for some of the worst crimes of the 20th century. Convicted of leading the genocide in Rwanda, most are now in their seventies. Few will ever leave.

The exterior of Koulikoro prison in Mali. Credit: ITV News

In the frenzy of ethnic hatred they unleashed and directed twenty-one years ago, 800,000 men, women and children died. Most were hacked to death with machetes.

None of the prisoners has shown any public remorse. Some even claim the role of victims, imprisoned they say by the "victor’s justice" of a UN Tribunal seeking to cover-up for the international community’s inaction in the face of Rwanda’s genocide.

An armed guard keeps watch over the prisoners. Credit: ITV News

In the sand-coloured block, each man has his own cell. An adjacent block contains a gym and a library with books in French and English. There is a vegetable garden planted with maize and a small church where the prisoners celebrate mass led by one of their number, a catholic priest.

When the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up in the aftermath of the genocide, Mali was one of the few countries willing to host those convicted.

Former Rwanda leader Jean Kambanda shows John Ray around the complex. Credit: ITV News

Proud of their contribution to the international justice system the Malian government allowed ITV News access to record the first television interview with a “genocidaire”.

One prisoner has already died in custody, others have served their sentence and are free but for the majority here freedom is a distant prospect.

"I cannot accept that I will die here," said Jean Kambanda. “I am still fighting to be free."