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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Rwanda

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Rwanda, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 1 December 2015]
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.


The broad-based Government of National Unity of Rwanda was reorganized in August, with the replacement of the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Justice, Interior, and Transport and Communication. The largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which came to power in 1994, is the principal Rwandan political force. President Pasteur Bizimungu, an ethnic Hutu, and Vice President and Minister of Defense, Paul Kagame, an ethnic Tutsi, both belong to the RPF. The reorganized Government follows the ethnic and party lines of its predecessor. The mainly Hutu Republican Democratic Movement (MDR) retains the post of Prime Minister. Prime Minister Pierre Rwigema, a Hutu, runs the Government on a daily basis and is responsible for relations with the National Assembly. There is no functioning judicial system.

The national constitution known as the Fundamental Law is comprised of four texts: the Constitution of 1991; the Arusha Accords of 1993; the RPF Declaration of August 1994; and the Interparty Accords of 1994. These texts apply in a complicated legal precedence based loosely on their dates of execution.

The 1993 Arusha Accord, signed by both the RPF and the former government headed by then President Juvenal Habyarimana, was intended to promote powersharing, ensure integration of the rebel and government armies, ease ethnic tensions, and lead to democratic elections. This effort ended in April 1994 with the crash of President Habyarimana's aircraft. Hutu extremists massacred hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Tutsis, but also murdered Hutu members of the political opposition. Both the military and civilian militias carried out the massacres.

The RPF responded with a military offensive that routed the Hutu army in July 1994, causing the wholesale flight of Hutu civilians who feared reprisals. Two-thirds of the population was uprooted. More than 1.7 million people fled to bordering countries; another 2 million were displaced within Rwanda. Most of the internally displaced have now returned to their homes; nearly 2 million refugees remain outside Rwanda. Members of the former Hutu extremist Government and the former army (FAR), based just across the border in Zaire, threatened to rearm and renew the civil war; cross-border incidents continued to exacerbate the troubled security situation.

Vice President Kagame is responsible for security and military defense; the Minister of Interior is responsible for civilian security matters. The Ministry of Defense is responsible for overall internal security. Its security apparatus consists of the Government Patriotic Army (RPA) and the Gendarmerie, largely made up of RPA soldiers. These units committed human rights abuses. Unarmed civilian police with limited arrest powers work in some rural communues. They report to the Borgemestre, or local mayor.

On December 8 the presence of the U.N. Military Operation in Rwanda (UNAMIR) was renewed for a final 3-month period. Its mandate is limited to protection of the International War Crimes Tribunal (see Section 4).

The economic situation remains difficult. The interethnic violence from 1990 onward and especially in 1994 resulted in the neglect and massive destruction of much of the country's economic infrastructure, including utilities, roads and hospitals. Most Rwandans are subsistence farmers, and food production even before the war had barely kept pace with population growth. Dislocation led to disruption of the crop cycle and widespread food shortages.

Although the security situation is improving, human rights abuses continue. These include revenge killings by the military and other killings which appear to be political in nature. In April the military fired into a panicked crowd at the internally displaced persons camp at Kibeho, killing hundreds. The Government convened an international commission to investigate the tragedy. Prison conditions are horrendous, the judicial system does not function, and due process rights are not assured. Authorities hold more than 63,000 prisoners in overcrowded jails. Most are accused of participating in the genocide, but the justice system has yet to conduct a trial. Citizens do not have the right to change their government. Dissatisfaction with movement toward reconciliation, repatriation, and failure of efforts to restart the justice system and relieve prison overcrowding led to a cabinet shuffle in August. Discrimination and violence against women are problems.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were credible allegations that the military committed killings both for political reasons and in revenge for earlier violence.

In March near Bugarama an RPA unit summarily executed 17 civilians after being ambushed by suspected Hutu militiamen. Military authorities arrested all the members of the RPA unit, who now await court martial.

Suspicious deaths include the killings in August of two former sub-prefects in Gitarama and Gikongoro. Both had been members of the largely Hutu MDR. Authorities have not established a motive in either case, nor arrested anyone. When a judge was killed in Butare in September, the security forces quickly arrested one civilian and two soldiers, including the chief of security for that sector.

In those killings where military forces have been implicated, the RPA has acted swiftly. More than 700 RPA soldiers are awaiting court martial on various charges. The case of 14 soldiers accused of the killing Hutus in May had not reached final disposition by year's end.

On September 11, members of the RPA killed more than 110 civilians in Kanama after an ambush of an RPA vehicle. The Government admitted that this was the result of excessive force, and has investigated, but has produced no results by year's end.

In April 13 prisoners died from asphyxiation in an overcrowded holding cell in a Kigali gendarme station. The Government condemned the "criminal negligence" of the officer in charge and placed him under arrest.

b. Disappearance

There were no credible reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading, or Inhuman Treatment or Punishment

Torture is contrary to the Constitution and the Arusha Peace Accord, and there were no reports of systematic torture. Various observers have accused local authorities of using excessive force in arrests and interrogation, but there have been no documented cases and the Government does not condone this practice.

With serious problems of overcrowding and sanitation, prison conditions are horrendous. Authorities estimate that there are approximately 63,000 persons held in some 250 prisons and jails having a design capacity of 7,000. At Gitarama, the worst of the large prisons, prisoners are housed as tightly as four per square meter. In April, 13 prisoners suffocated in an overcrowded Kigali gendarme holding cell (see Section 1.a.). The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), human rights organizations, diplomats, and journalists have regular access to the prisons. The ICRC feeds some 42,000 detainees in the 14 main prisons, and also provides additional expertise and logistical and material support to improve conditions for detainees. New detention centers are being built.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, and Exile

Rwanda's justice system is not functioning. Never a model of free and fair justice, the system essentially collapsed during the genocide of 1994, when the overwhelming majority of jurists either fled the country or were killed. Since that time there have been no genocide trials, and only a few trials of petty criminals. It is generally believed that false accusations of involvement in acts of genocide have resulted in the arrests of thousands of innocent people. The Government does not have the capacity to investigate the vast majority of these cases. Under these circumstances any arrest can be seen to be arbitrary. The Government, on the other hand, sees its duty to be to bring to justice those accused of the 1994 genocide. It often makes arrests based on oral complaints, and the necessary legal paperwork to proceed to trial is missing in many cases. 63,000 prisoners now await trial.

Exile is not practiced. Indeed, the RPF's primary goal is to end the forced exile of Rwanda's Tutsi population. This was the leading cause of the RPF invasion from Uganda in 1990.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The courts are not functioning. The Government, with the help of the international community, is attempting to rebuild the judiciary and appoint lower court officials. By year's end, no trials were being held, and the Supreme Court was not in place. The law provides for public trials with the right to an attorney.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Fundamental Law prohibits such practices. Authorities generally respect these prohibitions, and prosecute violations.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

The most serious violence occurred in April, in connection with the Government's effort to close the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Kibeho. Most of the 120,000 residents were Hutu. Armed camp internees and the RPA engaged in brutally violent clashes over a 4-day period, resulting in deaths estimated at 338 by the Government and as high as 8,000 by some nongovernmental organizations (NGO's).

Apparently encouraged by some of the humanitarian workers inside the camp not to leave, hundreds of residents fled to a UNAMIR position at the camp's center, creating a humanitarian crisis. Residents threw stones at the military forces, which responded with gunfire that killed some 10 people the first day. By the third day of the operation there were reliable reports of gunfire directed at the military from inside the camp; there were several stampedes of panicked camp residents apparently precipitated by armed Hutu extremist elements in the camp. On April 22, in the dusk and rain, a mass of about 5,000 camp residents stampeded in an attempt to escape an RPA cordon designed to direct the residents toward registration points for their onward journeys. RPA sections were not able readily to communicate with one another; soldiers fired into the crowd and killed many people. Many of the deaths resulted from machete blows, suggesting that camp residents were under attack from extremist elements within the camp. The vast majority of camp residents departed Kibeho for their home communes immediately after this violence, although an estimated several hundred militant holdouts retreated into a hospital and refused to leave for about a week. Some of these holdouts were killed by armed elements among them, apparently to discourage others from leaving. After extensive negotiations involving the U.N., the ICRC, and NGO's, these holdouts too eventually left the camp.

The Government responded to criticism of its actions at Kibeho by forming an international commission of inquiry. Belgium, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, the Organization for African Unity (OAU), and the United Nations each nominated an independent expert to serve on the commission along with a representative of the Government. After 2 weeks of investigation which included visits to the site and interviews with witnesses and officials, the Commission concluded that the tragedy at Kibeho "neither resulted from a planned action by Rwandan authorities to kill a certain group of people, nor was it an accident that could not have been prevented." The Commission went on to voice its regret "that U.N. agencies and NGO's were not able to contribute more efficiently to the speedy evacuation of IDP's from the camp." The Commission further concluded that "unarmed IDP's were subjected to arbitrary deprivation and serious bodily harm" committed by both the RPA and by armed elements among the IDP's themselves. The Commission did not address the death toll.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and the Press

The Fundamental Law provides for freedom of the press, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. There are several privately owned newspapers, the government-owned Radio Rwanda, and the U.N.-operated Radio UNAMIR.

The university has reopened, and academic freedom is respected.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Fundamental Law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly, but authorities may require advance notice for outdoor rallies, demonstrations, and meetings. Citizens are legally free to join and form political parties, though the National

Revolutionary Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND), and the Coalition for Defense of the Republic (CDR), implicated in planning and executing the 1994 genocide, have been banned by law. Hutus, however, demonstrated against foreign support of what they termed the "illegal regime" in Kigali.

c. Freedom of Religion

The 1991 Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice. In August Zaire expelled 13,000 refugees to Rwanda, who were received without incident. The Government, aided by international humanitarian organizations, received and processed these refugees, and returned them to their homes, largely without incident.

Nearly all the 2 million Rwandans who fled in July 1994 remain outside the country. Voluntary repatriation has been slow. Refugees from the 1959 massacres continue to return in increasing numbers. Their arrival put strains on the housing stock in some areas. The law provides that owners may not reclaim a house abandoned more than 10 years earlier if it is now occupied.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens did not have the right to change their government through democratic means. The 1992 powersharing agreement crafted in the Arusha negotiations and ratified by the 1993 Peace Accord was not fully implemented prior to Habyarimana's death in April 1994, but remains the basis of planning. Despite the events of 1994, the RPF brought representatives of four other opposition parties into the Government after the RPF military victory, but none of these officials were elected. An appointed multiparty National Assembly is now functioning, with nine political parties represented, including the RPF.

There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women in political life, but women remain poorly represented in politics and government, including both the Cabinet and the National Assembly. The Batwa are also underrepresented.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of local and international human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights violations. They include the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and Journalists sans Frontieres. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

On December 13 the International War Crimes Tribunal announced eight secret indictments of genocide suspects. The Government criticized the Tribunal for indicting only eight persons in the genocide of what it said was more than 1 million victims. It also expressed dismay that the names of those indicted were kept secret.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution provides that all citizens are equal before the law, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, origin, ethnicity, clan, sex, opinion, religion, or social standing. The Government provides only limited enforcement of these provisions, however.


Violence against women continues. Wife beating and domestic violence are normally handled within the context of the extended family and rarely come before the courts.

Despite constitutional provisions, women continue to face serious discrimination. Women traditionally perform most of the subsistence farming and play a limited role in the modern sector. They have only limited opportunities for education, employment, and promotion. The Family Code of 1992 has generally improved the legal position of women in matters relating to marriage, divorce, and child custody, but still does not meet Rwanda's international and constitutional commitments to gender equality. For example, it formally designates men as heads of households. Also, the absence of succession laws limits a woman's right to property, thus jeopardizing her status and ability to provide for her family should she survive her husband.


The Government is attempting to provide an education and to guarantee health care to every child.

More than 50,000 children separated from their parents during the 1994 genocide and national upheaval remain in the care of strangers or international organizations. Although the Penal Code prohibits the imprisonment of children with adults, the Government indicates hundreds of children are in fact incarcerated with adults throughout the prison system. A new detention center for children which was funded by the U.N. Children's Fund opened in October; it houses about 150 boys.

People with Disabilities

Although there are no laws restricting people with disabilities from employment, education, or other state services, in practice few disabled persons have access to education or employment. There are no laws or provisions that mandate access to public facilities.

Indigenous People

Less than 1 percent of the population comes from the Batwa ethnic group. These indigenous people, survivors of the Pygmy (Twa) tribes of the mountainous forest areas bordering Zaire, exist on the margins of society and continue to be treated as second-class citizens by both Hutus and Tutsis. The Batwa have not been able to protect their interests, which center on access to land and housing. Few Batwa have gained access to the educational system, resulting in minimal representation in government institutions.

There is no reliable information on specific human rights abuses perpetrated against the Batwa population during the 1994 upheaval. A group of several hundred Batwa refugees were discovered in 1994 living in a forested area outside Goma, Zaire, deeply traumatized by the events they had witnessed. They did not clarify, however, that they or other Batwa had been caught up in either side of the massacre.

National/Ethnic/Racial Minorities

Before April 1994, an estimated 85 percent of citizens were Hutu, 14 percent were Tutsi, and 1 percent Batwa. The subsequent mass killings and migrations probably affected the ethnic composition of the population, but the extent of the changes is unknown.

The Government has called for ethnic reconciliation and committed itself to abolishing policies of the former government that had created and deepened ethnic cleavages. It promised to eliminate references to ethnic origin from the national identity card, a provision of the 1993 Peace Accord. The Government has not statutorily addressed the issue of ethnic quotas in education, training, and government employment. It has partially integrated more than 2,000 former government soldiers into RPF forces, although not by the formula prescribed by the 1993 Arusha Accord. Tutsi clergy and businessman, who were well represented in these sectors of society, were killed in great numbers in the genocide. Following the 1994 victory by the RPF, Tutsis returning from exile took over many of the business and professional positions formerly held by Hutus and Tutsis.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

In practice Rwanda does not currently have a functioning labor movement. Although preconflict labor law technically remains in effect, the Government is unable to implement its provisions.

The Constitution provides for the right to create professional associations and labor unions. Union membership is voluntary and open to all salaried workers, including public sector employees. There are no restrictions on the right of association, but all unions must register with the Ministry of Justice for official recognition. There are no known cases in which the Government has denied such recognition. Unions are prohibited by law from having political affiliations, but in practice this is not always respected.

Organized labor represents only a small part of the work force. Over 90 percent are engaged in small-scale subsistence farming. About 7 percent work in the modern (wage) sector, including both public and private industrial production, and about 75 percent of those active in the modern sector are members of labor unions.

Before 1991 the Central Union of Rwandan Workers (CESTRAR) was the only authorized trade union organization. With the political reforms introduced in the Constitution, CESTRAR officially became independent of the Government and the MRND.

The Constitution provides for the right to strike, except for public service workers. A union's executive committee must approve a strike, and a union must first try to resolve its differences with management according to steps prescribed by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. The Government never enforced laws prohibiting retribution against strikers. Labor organizations may affiliate with international labor bodies. CESTRAR is affiliated with the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution provides for collective bargaining, although only CESTRAR had an established collective bargaining agreement with the Government. In practice, since most workers are in the public sector, the Government is intimately involved in the process (see Section 6.e.).

The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and it has not occurred in practice. There are no formal mechanisms to resolve complaints involving discrimination against unions.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor, and there are no reports that it occurs in practice.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Except in subsistence agriculture, the law prohibits children under age 18 from working without their parents' or guardians' authorization, and they generally may not work at night. The minimum age for full employment is 18 years, and for apprenticeships 14 years, providing the child has completed primary school. The Ministry of Labor has not enforced child labor laws effectively.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Ministry of Labor sets minimum wages in the small modern sector. The minimum wage is $1.08 (310 Rwandan francs) for an 8-hour workday. The Government, the main employer, effectively sets most other wage rates as well. The minimum wage was inadequate to provide a decent standard of living for urban families. Often families supplement their incomes by work in small business or subsistence agriculture. In practice, however, workers will work for less than the minimum wage.

Officially, government offices have a 40-hour workweek. Negotiations in 1993 between the unions, government, and management were held to reduce the workweek from 45 to 40 hours in the private sector as well, but by the end of 1995 no such reduction had occurred. Hours of work and occupational health and safety standards in the modern wage sector are controlled by law, but labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labor enforce them only loosely. Workers do not have the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardizing their jobs.

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