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Human Rights Watch World Report 1997 - Rwanda

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1997 - Rwanda, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8c14.html [accessed 28 November 2014]
Comments This report covers events of 1996
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.

Human Rights Developments

From the start of the year, the Rwandan government fought a growing threat from soldiers (ex-Armed Forces of Rwanda) and militia of the former government, who had been leading incursions from refugee camps in Zaire. The infiltrators, part of the force that carried out a genocide that killed at least half a million Tutsi and slaughtered thousands of Hutu moderates in 1994, remained committed to returning to Rwanda by force and to completing the extermination of the Tutsi. At first the infiltrators used bombs and mines to target electricity pylons, vehicles, and buildings but during the course of the year, they moved to attacking civilians, primarily survivors of or witnesses to the genocide and local government officials. As they grew in confidence, the attackers penetrated further into the country, from the western regions closest to Lake Kivu and Zaire to areas quite close to the capital. By October, the infiltrators had killed at least 278 people.

The current government's Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) responded to the incursions by increasing patrols and search and cordon operations, during which some 600 people were killed through the month of October, many of them civilians. Military authorities sought to cover up these killings with unconvincing claims that civilian victims were infiltrators or their accomplices or were accidentally slain in exchanges of gunfire. In many cases, including one investigated by Human Rights Watch in the commune of Ramba, unarmed civilians were shot at close range or when they were in flight. The Ramba massacre, like those at Kanama in September 1995 and at Satinsyi in April 1996 where the slaughter of civilians also followed killings of RPA soldiers, was consistent with a reported government policy of severely punishing the people of any community where soldiers are attacked. A substantial number of the victims in infiltrators' raids and reprisals by government forces have been children, women or elderly people.

In the search and cordon operation in several communes in Ruhengeri prefecture in August 6 to 8, soldiers assembled some 10,000 men on a hilltop and held them there for two days without food or water. Some who failed to respond to the summons and sought to hide or escape were shot when caught. After interrogation, some 300 men were further detained, reportedly in Mukamira military camp. The military penal code was amended in January to permit civilians accused of aiding the enemy to be detained in military facilities and tried under military regulations.

Following an attack, which killed three civilians and wounded a fourth in December 1995, RPA soldiers accused of the crime were tried by a military court before a community gathering. On December 28, 1995, the court found all four guilty and condemned a sergeant, the highest ranking of the four, to death. The sentence was being appealed at the time of this writing. According to military authorities, more than 1,300 RPA soldiers were detained and awaiting trial on a variety of charges, some of which were reportedly related to killings of civilians and other human rights abuses. Apparently none had been brought to trial on charges related to killings done during military operations. Following considerable international protest over the number of persons killed in the July and August operations, Col. Charles Ngoga, commander of the Gisenyi-Ruhengeri sector where the killings had taken place, was relieved of his command, but reportedly was re-assigned in the eastern sector.

Some seventy-five local officials had been killed through the month of October. Some were slain by infiltrators, particularly in areas on the western frontier, but others were apparently killed by RPA soldiers, including the burgomaster, the deputy prosecutor, and a school director in Rushashi commune and the burgomaster of Nyabikenke commune, all murdered in July. Although authorities had investigated some of these cases, no one was brought to trial for these murders. Two burgomasters who criticized military operation in their communes of Karago and Nyamutera were suspended from office in early September and put under house arrest. The burgomaster of Nyamutera was later imprisoned.

In January, the president and vice-president called on citizens to join soldiers on patrol to combat the incursions. In June, the president renewed this call, as did delegations of high government officials. There were several reports of beatings by civilian patrols, acting either alone or in the company of RPA soldiers. Civilian participation in local security operations was a practice before and during the genocide, one that was clearly abused at that time and that could lead to further abuses.

The judicial and police systems, nearly totally paralyzed since the genocide, received important numbers of new personnel during the year. In September, 280 judges and magistrates, trained in a brief, intensive course in legal procedure, were sworn in. At almost the same time, however, the minister of justice was obliged to resign and was charged with corruption. A number of other officials were removed on charges of corruption, mismanagement, or on belated accusations of involvement in the genocide, including the president of the court of first instance in Kigali, the assistant prosecutor in Kigali, the prosecutor of Butare, and the prosecutor of Kibuye. The latter three were all subsequently arrested. Judicial officials, many of whom expressed concern for their personal safety, experienced frequent problems with administrative officials or military officers who interfered with the execution of their duties. In some areas, unauthorized persons, including soldiers and local officials, made arrests, sometimes without subsequently informing judicial authorities, often during military search and cordon operations. In March, 750 policemen were graduated from a British-run training program.

Tutsi recruits appeared to be far more numerous than Hutu among new judicial and police staff, as was the case with local officials installed last year. Many of these Tutsi returned to Rwanda only after the RPA victory in July 1994. Foreign funders and trainers apparently hesitated to raise the ethnic identity of candidates with authorities, who had made commitments to eliminate the distinctions that formed the basis for the genocide. The large number of Tutsi in official positions as well as in secondary schools and the university caused considerable resentment among the Hutu population.

On September 1, the government officially promulgated a law establishing procedures for punishing genocide and crimes against humanity. It divides perpetrators into four categories: in the first are planners, organizers, instigators, and leaders of the genocide as well as those who killed with particular zeal or malice and those who committed acts of sexual torture; in the second are those who killed or committed assaults resulting in death; in the third are those who committed assaults that resulted in serious injury; and in the fourth are those who committed offenses against property. The accused are to be assigned to categories by prosecutors, whose decision cannot be appealed. Those in category one, if convicted, face death by firing squad. Guilty in other categories will face prison terms and may receive reduced sentences in return for full confessions.

With the adoption of the new law, the appointment of judicial personnel, and the addition of considerable funds from outside donors, the government was well placed to begin trials of those accused of genocide. In October, some 83,000 persons were being held, most of them pending charges of genocide, in a variety of prisons, communal lockups and military places of detention. In virtually all of these locations, inmates were confined in overcrowded, inhumane conditions. In mid-May, ninety-four detainees were confined in a single twenty-meter square room in Kivumu commune. Seventeen of them died of suffocation during one night; six others died under similar conditions in another Kivumu lockup at about the same time. The next week, forty-six detainees died when grenades were thrown into a detention center in Bugarama commune. Local authorities said infiltrators had thrown grenades at the building, but inspection of the site revealed that the grenades had exploded from inside the building outward and showed as well that some of the detainees had been shot. Persons held in central prisons rarely reported mistreatment, while those in communal lockups often complained of being beaten. Several died each month as a result of mistreatment in the communal lockups.

The growing insecurity resulted in large part from the continued presence of large numbers of refugees, approximately 1.7 million, mostly in Zaire and Tanzania. Refugees in Tanzania caused considerable disruption to the local ecology, depleting local supplies of firewood and water, but those in Zaire caused more extensive problems by also attacking locally resident peoples. After making an initial effort to drive out Rwandan refugees in the early part of the year, Burundi finally drove out all but some two hundred in July and August. The majority of the 76,000 Hutu refugees forcibly returned from Burundi encountered relatively few problems in Rwanda and were able to return to their homes and land. Several hundred were arrested, however, and one was reported beaten to death by a crowd. In early October, Rwanda took its turn in driving refugees back across the border when it warned some 4,000 people who had fled violence in Burundi that they had one week to go home. Zaire, which had been trying for some time to send the refugees home, agreed with Rwanda in late July that the camps would be closed. But in October, both Zaire and Tanzania still sheltered a virtually undiminished refugee population and expressed again their determination to send the refugees home.

The violence against Zairians ethnically related to Tutsi and Tutsi of Rwandan origin, first in North Kivu and then in South Kivu, Zaire and the subsequent flight of thousands of them into Rwanda worsened relations between Rwanda and Zaire. Relations between the two countries were already poor because Zaire had tolerated, if not encouraged, the regrouping of the army of the former Rwandan government. In late September and October, the two armies exchanged heavy arms fire across the border of southwestern Rwanda. Zaire accused Rwanda of sending troops into South Kivu to fight civilian and military assailants of the Banyamulenge, Zaire's long-resident Tutsi population.

Following attacks in October by a Banyamulenge opposition group operating with the support of the Rwandan government, the Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire were dispersed and former Rwandan military and militia leaders lost control of them. As of this writing, a mass exodus of Rwandan refugees flooded over the border from Zaire to Rwanda.

The Right to Monitor

Although the government continued to profess its support for human rights and its openness to being monitored, it showed growing impatience at criticism. An April press release from the Ministry of Information stated that human rights organizations sometimes "unwittingly serv[e] as propaganda channels for genocidal leaders" because they collect "slanted" information from informants who were involved in the genocide and "jump at any opportunity to project a negative public image of the government." A subsequent radio broadcast by a high government official accused some Rwandan human rights groups of "covering up" for people guilty of genocide. Local activists have frequently been threatened, usually by unidentified harassers.

In the early part of the year, UNHCR protection officers were denied access or access without official escort to several communes in Butare and Kigali prefectures. Officers conducting an inquiry in Mugesera commune were detained briefly at a military base. Human Rights Watch researchers investigating the Ramba massacre together with Rwandan colleagues were also briefly detained by a military patrol.

After accounts of the Ramba massacre were published by Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues and by the U.N. Human Rights Field Office, Rwandan authorities, including the minister of information and an adviser to the vice-president, criticized their reports as "biased."

The Role of the International Community

The international community continued to contribute far more funds to provide for the basic needs of Rwandans in exile in neighboring countries than to those within the country. Since July 1994, donor nations had spent approximately US$2.5 billion on the refugee camps, while devoting about $572 million to programs in Rwanda itself. At a roundtable conference in Geneva in June, however, donors pledged some $617 million toward a three-year development program in Rwanda that would require $800 million for its complete implementation. Sustaining the refugee camps became a financial burden that donor nations were no longer willing to shoulder. For many months, the refugees had been supported at a cost of approximately a million dollars a day. In June, an appeal for $288 million to fund refugee support for 1996 had raised only $95 million. At Geneva, the United States suggested a new initiative to close the current camps by relocating some further from the frontier and encouraging the rest to return to Rwanda. It pushed harder for this plan in October, when Secretary of State Warren Christopher emphasized the need to close the camps at the Arusha meeting of a number of African heads of state. In September, the UNHCR announced that the twenty persons indicted by the International Tribunal could no longer be considered refugees and it was exploring ways to draw up a longer list of persons who could be excluded on the basis of participation in the genocide.

United Nations

In March, UNAMIR, the peacekeeping force that had been in place before the genocide, reduced and paralyzed at the start of the killing, and then strengthened again at its end, completed its assignment. Although infiltrations and government reactions to them increased after that time, the gradual increase in violence actually dated back to late 1995, before the end of the U.N. military presence.

In September, the Security Council ended an embargo on arms transfers to the current government, which had been imposed on the previous government of Rwanda during the genocide, but failed to link the decision to demands for progress in halting serious violations, such as the killings of civilians by government soldiers. The council retained the embargo against forces of the former government based in Zaire.

While the genocide was still in progress, the U.N. Human Rights Commission named a special rapporteur for Rwanda and also created a field office of monitors to assist him. In January, the special rapporteur, René Degni-Ségui, published a report dealing with events through the end of 1995 and drawing particular attention to crimes against women and children during the genocide. In February, the Field Office experienced serious financial problems because donor nations had failed to pay their pledges and had to temporarily reduce the number of its investigators. Throughout the year, its staff documented the growing violence of RPA soldiers against civilians and sought discreetly to have authorities correct these abuses. In July and again in August, the Field Office marked its concern by making its data about military killings of civilians publicly available. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), established by the U.N. Security Council subsequent to a finding by its Commission of Experts that genocide had been committed in Rwanda, at first received little more than rhetorical support from the international community. In March, the tribunal had available only twenty-eight investigators and a skeletal legal staff. But in the next few months, various donor nations were persuaded of the need for adequate funding and a budget of $36 million was provided for its operation. By October, the tribunal had indicted twenty persons, including several of major importance in the genocide. Zambia, Kenya, Belgium, Switzerland, and the United States had arrested indicted persons and agreed to hand them over to the tribunal. The Cameroon government, which had arrested several of the most important of the accused, including Col. Théoneste Bagasora, who took charge of military and militia activities from the start of the genocide, delayed delivering them over to the tribunal. Even after all judicial formalities had been completed, President Paul Biya still refused to sign the documents necessary for their transfer to custody of the tribunal.

Because of early financial and staffing difficulties, the tribunal had failed to deal adequately with such issues as witness protection and the prompt provision of necessary materials to defense lawyers. But by October it appeared that these problems had been resolved and the first trial was scheduled to begin at the end of October.

European Union

In April, E.U. special envoy to Rwanda, Achim Kratz, summed up E.U. policy by saying "We have no other solution but to support this government. It may not have a democratic basis but it ended the genocide." The Africa-Caribbean-Pacific European Union Joint Assembly, the parliamentary body of the E.U. and its associated partners in Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific countries, reaffirmed this position in late September when it passed a resolution calling for aid to Rwanda to boost reconstruction and the return of refugees, for prompt implementation of the new Rwandan law on the genocide, and for international assistance in preventing the reorganization and arming of those responsible for the genocide. There was no mention of human rights violations by the current government.

United States

The U.S., like the E.U., had apparently decided to back the current government of Rwanda strongly. A speech given by Richard McCall of the U.S. Agency for International Development gave virtually unqualified support to the government and raised few concerns about its human rights record. While acknowledging that the government needed to address the problems of justice "more effectively," he went on to say that the issue was very complex in ways that the international community might never be able to appreciate.

In July the United States sent nine U.S. soldiers to Rwanda to provide training to RPA soldiers in small-scale operations. Although Ambassador Robert Gribbin acknowledged serious concerns about the killing of civilians by the RPA, he indicated that he believed such concerns were best addressed privately with the appropriate authorities.

In August, Vice-President Paul Kagame, the minister of defense and leading military authority, visited the U.S. and met with such high-level administration officials as National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and Defense Secretary Perry. According to the State Department, they discussed refugee repatriation, rebuilding the justice system, prison conditions and regional peace efforts.

The U.S. was a key supporter of the ICTR, both politically and financially. In addition to $1,683,000 in assessed U.N. contributions for 1994-1995, the U.S. has made voluntary contributions of cash, personnel and equipment at a cost estimated at $3,900,000. The U.S. insisted on the importance of prosecuting those accused of genocide. As of this writing, it had contributed $5,650,000 to the tribunal, $650,000 of which was earmarked for prosecution of mass rape and sexual crimes.

The U.S. cooperated in the arrest of one person, Elsephane Ntakirutimana, indicted by the ICTR. There was no provision in U.S. criminal law for prosecution of genocide, but Human Rights Watch brought a civil suit under the Alien Torts Act in the name of Rwandans resident in the U.S. who had suffered from the genocide. This suit, against Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, resulted in a $105 million judgment against Barayagwiza, handed down in U.S. District Court on April 9. In the decision, Judge John S. Martin wrote that "the plaintiffs have overwhelmingly established that the defendant has engaged in conduct so inhuman that it is difficult to conceive of any civil remedy which can begin to compensate the plaintiffs for their loss or adequately express society's outrage at the defendant's actions."

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