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Assessment for Hutus in Rwanda

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Hutus in Rwanda, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Rwanda Facts
Area:    26,340 sq. km.
Capital:    Kigali
Total Population:    5,500,000 (source: unknown, 1995, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

With a Tutsi-dominated government in power, assessing the fate of Rwandan Hutus is tenuous. The RPF has displayed a somewhat mixed record over the last eight years: Kagame's leadership seems genuinely committed to building democratic structures, but the Hutu-Tutsi dichotomy is as strong as ever, and Kagame's reliance on the Rwandan Patriotic Army as his chief means of securing power has brought charges of massacring suspected rebel supporters (REP2298-0 = 2; REP2001= 1) and targeting suspected rebel areas for destruction, even in ambiguous situations (REP2198-00 = 3). Bizimungu, leader of the Hutu political party, was arrested and papers from him were confiscated (REP0302= 1; REP1001= 1). The ongoing war in the neighboring DRC is also highly destabilizing to Rwanda as refugees from that country flood in.

Yet, the future circumstances of Hutus in Rwanda clearly lies in how well national reconciliation takes hold in the country. There remain tens of thousands of Hutus imprisoned and accused of having taken part in the genocide, all of whom await trial. To date, Rwanda has attempted to deal with this judicial backlog, and in 1996, the National Assembly passed the Organic Genocide Law, a portion of which is designed to encourage confessions in exchange for reduced sentences for the vast majority of those involved in the genocide. How these prisoners are treated and reincorporated into society will be critical to Rwanda's future. In short, whether or not reconciliation and negotiation can be sustained will ultimately determine the outlook for Hutus in Rwanda. To further deal with the inundation of prisoners awaiting trial and the slow process of bringing each to trial, Gacaca Courts were introduced in 2001 as a pilot program, but started operating in late 2002. These courts offer little protection for the witnesses and are set up in the communities in which the crime is alleged to have taken place. A judge, elected by the community, is charged with determining the sentence, half of which will be served within the community outside of the prisons.

Analytic Summary

Hutus in Rwanda are currently a disadvantaged majority, with the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front holding all political and military power. Hutus are widely dispersed within Africa's most densely populated state (GROUPCON3 = 0), and the majority of them depend on subsistence agriculture. After the assassination of Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana (a Hutu) in April 1994, a state-run genocidal campaign against Tutsis and moderate Hutus was undertaken by the Rwandan Armed Forces and like-minded Hutu civilians. Over 800,000 perished in the next three months until the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an exile Tutsi militia based in Uganda, defeated the Hutu regime and ended the killing in July 1994. Approximately 2 million Hutu refugees - many fearing Tutsi retribution - fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire (now the DRC). Since this time, many of the refugees have returned to Rwanda, but some Hutus still migrate back and forth, while others have been subject to forced internal resettlement Forced internal resettlement as part of a "villagization" effort was no longer enforced as of 2001, although it remained a government policy. (DMEMPO00-03 = 2; DMINFL00-03 = 2; DMRES00 = 1; DMRES01-03= 0).

The distinction between Hutus and Tutsis has been debated greatly, however, most agree on an instrumentalist interpretation of Rwandan ethnicity. The ethnic labels started largely as one of class (in pre-colonial times, a Tutsi was a pastoralist, a Hutu was a cultivator), and although each traces back to a distinct historical origin and ethnicity (CULDIFX3 = 0; CULDIFX1 = 0), their language (Kinyarwanda), religion (mostly Christian--Catholic 56.5%; Protestant 26%, some Muslim), and social customs are similar to each other (CULDIFX2 = 0; CULDIFX4 = 0; CULDIFX5 = 0; LANG, CUSTOM, BELIEF = 0). While group stereotypes depict Tutsis as tall, lighter-skinned, with long necks and narrow noses and Hutus as short, broad featured, with a darker skin tone, in reality, similar lifestyles and intermarriage have promoted genetic resemblance over time.

Since June of 1994, and the RPF takeover under the leadership of Major General Paul Kagame, Hutus have been largely excluded from the political sphere (POLDIS03 = 3), and are relatively less well-off economically than Rwandan Tutsis (ECDIS03 = 2). There are currently restrictions placed on Hutu political organizing (POLIC403 = 1) and the police/military recruitment of Hutus (POLIC603 = 2), although part of the reconciliation program in principle includes full military integration. While the Transitional National Assembly (a power-sharing body with 70 seats established in December 1994) consists of Hutu parties (e.g., Republican Democratic Movement, Liberal Party, Social Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Party), it has little legislative power and its officials are not elected, as the distribution of seats was predetermined by the Arusha peace accord. In this sense, conventional parties are not allowed in Rwanda.

Militant Hutu groups have continued large-scale guerrilla warfare against the RPA since the late 1990s (REB99 = 7; REB00 = 6; REB01= 5), and this fighting has taken place mainly in the northwest of Rwanda. These groups are loosely organized and consist of expatriate Rwandan Hutus as well as those from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Interahamwe rebels). These Hutu militias target not only government forces, but also Tutsi civilians and those deemed sympathetic to the RPF (GCC100 = 6). While this continues to be the case, the groups did not display open hostilities recently. Much of the Hutu rebel activity is concentrated against the government (REB01= 5).


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