Marc Sahabo, a shy, kind man, reaches out to greet me. As I shake his hand, I can't help thinking about what that hand was doing in April 1994: wielding a machete and killing 15 people during Rwanda's genocide, which left about a million people dead.

The next hand I shake is that of Felicita Mukabakunda, a woman who was Sahabo's friend and neighbor for years, until ethnic tensions between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority rose to lethal levels. When the killings began, Mukabakunda, a Tutsi, hid in nearby marshes while Sahabo and other Hutus went on their rampage. She overheard them say that they planned to take turns raping her before killing her. She also heard Sahabo say he had killed her father, her uncle, and four other family members.

The killers never found Mukabakunda; she and her husband and children fled to a safe area in Rwanda and briefly lived in a camp for displaced persons. When they returned home after the genocide, Mukabakunda learned that 29 family members—including 16 brothers and sisters—had been murdered.

"I had so much hatred," she told me. "I wanted Marc to die a slow, painful death. I would have killed him if I could." But Sahabo, fearing for his life, had fled to Burundi, then to Tanzania. When Rwanda later negotiated with Tanzania for the return of the perpetrators, Marc was immediately arrested and jailed. He spent seven years in prison before his 2003 release.

Because of prison overcrowding, some 50,000 offenders—those who were minors during the genocide or those who confessed, including Sahabo—have been released. (Some estimate that it would take about 400 years to try all of the cases in the courts. So today, only the worst, most unrepentant killers remain behind bars, ...

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