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Rwanda: Update to End March 1996

Publisher WRITENET
Author Gérard Prunier
Publication Date 1 April 1996
Cite as WRITENET, Rwanda: Update to End March 1996, 1 April 1996, available at: [accessed 24 November 2017]
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 question of the refugees has been at the heart of international attention on Rwanda during the first months of 1996. This was a result of the attitude of the Zairian Government which, after promising during the Cairo summit on the Great Lakes to drop its 31 December 1995 deadline for the repatriation of Rwandese refugees,[1] started on another round of threatened expulsions in February 1996. In one example, the Zairian authorities used troops to isolate the main refugee camp in the Goma area, Kibumba, with a population of 190,000,[2] while the Rwandese Government announced through Defence Minister and Vice-President Major-General Paul Kagame that Kigali was ready to receive any number of refugees wishing to come back.[3] As a result, Zaire started operations designed to repatriate the refugees.[4] But the refugees absolutely refused to move,[5] even when Zaire started to cut down on the various humanitarian activities allowed in the camps and severely restricted refugee mobility outside those.[6] In a way the deadlock was similar to the situation encountered in Burundi where the Rwandese refugees adamantly refused to go back, even though they were submitted to frequent attacks from the Burundese Army and radical Tutsi militias.[7] Rwandese Prime Minister Pierre-Célestin Rwigyema and Rehabilitation Minister Patrick Mazimpaka had also travelled through the camps in Tanzania in order to try to unblock a similar situation there, but to no avail.[8] In Zaire mainly, but also to a large degree in Tanzania, the refugee burden was getting more and more irksome for the local population which had to suffer in many ways from their presence.[9]

The situation and its underlying causes were summed up in a detailed report released by Amnesty International in late February:

The three most significant obstacles to the return [of the refugees] to Rwanda and Burundi are the distortions of information about the true situation in their country, the absence of justice in both Rwanda and Burundi and widespread human rights abuses, especially in Burundi.[10]

The report added: "Respect for human rights is the key to any successful resolution of the refugee crisis in the Great Lakes region". In the meantime the refugees seem to be determined to prepare for a very long stay in their host countries.[11] As we will see in the section on INTERNAL POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS the human rights situation is far from satisfactory.

In the northern part of the Zairian province of Kivu, known as Masisi, the presence of refugees is aggravating a situation which was already very difficult in the past.[12] Masisi has known fairly high levels of ethnic tension since independence because of the presence of a large Banyarwanda community which outnumbers the native Bahunde, Banande and Banyunga Zairian tribes.[13] These Banyarwanda belong to several different population "layers": first there is an old group of pre-colonial residents (both Tutsi and Hutu) called Banyabwisha; then there are many people (mostly Hutu) who came during the colonial years, as the Belgians were short of manpower on the Congolese side and transferred able-bodied men from overpopulated Rwanda to their other colony; thirdly, there is a more recent layer (exclusively Tutsi) of refugees who came fleeing the 1959-1963 massacres in Rwanda. And finally, just now, there has been the massive arrival of (exclusively Hutu) refugees during the summer of 1994. This latest arrival upset the delicate balance between ethnic sections. The "older" Tutsi refugees were attacked by the new Hutu refugees and most of them went back to Rwanda, now safe for them. Then the new Hutu refugees made an alliance with the Masisi Hutu who were there and together they attacked the natives, with a view to getting their land. In the process, the remaining Tutsi (from the 1930s or from among the Banyabwisha) were targeted by both sides and many, although they did no longer have (or never had) any links with Rwanda, went "back" in order to escape death. Up to 5,000 have died and between 100,000 and 250,000 are now internally displaced. The local units of the Zairian Army have sided with the Hutu against the locals because the Hutu had the means to pay them while the Bahunde and Banyanga were too poor to afford this kind of "protection".[14] These developments, hitherto on the margins of the main Rwanda refugee problem, have now become serious enough to be in itself a concern for the future of local civil peace and stability.


The first point to be noted is that the degradation of the internal political climate continued. The Chief of Staff of the new Prime Minister Pierre-Célestin Rwigyema was beaten up by soldiers in the presence of his bodyguards who did not attempt to protect him, thus tending to confirm suspicions that the new cabinet was becoming more and more of a facade with ministers and their staff having no real authority as compared to power held by Army officers.[15] The flight of Central Bank General Manager Gérard Niyitegeka who went to Brussels on 22 December 1995, complaining that Army interference threatened his security and that of his staff and prevented them from carrying out their duties, reinforced this impression further.[16] And so did the beating by Army men of three foreigners who had been stopped at a roadblock.[17]

As the climate deteriorated, a closer look was taken by a number of observers at the behaviour of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA), not only in the present, but also in the period since its victory in June 1994. General Léonidas Rusatira, one of the few former senior officers of FAR (Forces Armées Rwandaises) to have been a moderate, fled from Rwanda and condemned what he called "the potentially mortal drift of the new regime".[18] Reports of old and new brutalities increasingly filtered through into the press.[19] Some of these reports estimated that between 40,000 and 100,000 people had been victims of repression by the victorious Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF).[20]

In a way, this increased scrutiny of the RPA's actions was paradoxical because it took place at a time when the Rwandese Government was beginning to seriously try to curb its Army's lack of discipline. Several soldiers were arrested, one or two were summarily shot and efforts were made to bring an increasingly violent (and unpaid) force under some sort of control.[21] Inasmuch as it is possible to know such things, the level of the haphazard killings taking place in the hills began somewhat to diminish and has stayed at a lower level since the autumn of 1995.[22]

Rwanda is a land of terrible paradoxes and contradictions, still populated by many bapfuye buhagazi.[23] As the Army kills many Hutu either in confused incidents linked with theft, drunkenness and women-chasing or at times in acts of real or supposed political vengeance, many unrepentant Hutu activists feel confident enough to attack and sometimes kill genocide survivors, especially people (both Tutsi and Hutu) who could be prosecution witnesses in any future trials.[24]

In this deleterious climate, any new political development not circumscribed by the already hardened ethnic parameters is both rare and to a certain degree hopeful. This was the case with the launching of a new political movement, provisionally called by its founders Forces Politiques Unies (FPU - United Political Forces), a name even its supporters admit is poor and probably temporary.[25] The new political movement was created by several leading Hutu liberal figures who either belonged to former opposition parties under Habyarimana (such as former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu and former Security Chief Sixbert Musamgamfura) or even to the RPF (former Interior Minister Seth Sendashonga), and who all served in the RPF-led coalition government up to August 1995. Such people could not be suspected of sympathies for the former regime, most of them having fought it directly and often narrowly escaped being killed in the genocide. Their opposition is thus completely distinct from that of the RDR (Rassemblement pour la Démocratie et le Retour), whom Rwandan Minister of Youth and Sports Jacques Bihozagara rightly called "the MRND [Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement] under another name".[26] Consequently the FPU is perceived as a political threat both by the present regime in Kigali (it is an opposition which cannot be tarred with the brush of genocide) and by the self-appointed leaders of the refugees abroad (it could "steal" their constituency from them because of its much greater acceptability by the international community). As a result, shortly before the official launching of the FPU there was an attempt on Seth Sendashonga's life in Nairobi, which could have come from any side but which allegedly committed by someone close to RPF circles.[27] The FPU was launched anyway in Brussels some time later. But it remains to be seen whether true moderates can really have an impact on the situation or whether they will simply remain impotently caught between the extremes or, an even worse possibility, gravitate towards a position of ethnic opposition.


There were several events occurring at the international level, all more symbolic than really helpful in making the crisis progress further towards some sort of resolution. The first was the Cairo Great Lakes summit organized at the initiative of former US President Jimmy Carter.[28] The main result of this summit was the convening of another summit in Tunis,[29] and the main result of this second summit was to produce a videocassette supposed to convince the reluctant refugees to accept repatriation. So far the success seems rather limited.

The International Tribunal in Arusha finally issued eight (anonymous) indictments.[30] Three of the indicted people were later identified by name.[31] All were minor figures in the genocide process and when one compares these indictments with the extensive lists of former regime politicians whom everybody in Rwanda knows to be guilty,[32] one cannot escape a sense of futility.

The only serious development at the international justice level was the arrest in Cameroun of Colonel Théoneste Bagosora,[33] one of the organizers, if not the main organizer of the genocide.[34] But he was arraigned on charges of having organized the killings of ten Belgian Blue Helmets on 7 April 1994 and not on genocide-related charges. He was due to be extradited to Brussels and not to Arusha.

The UNAMIR military contingent started to pull out in early March,[35] an operation that should be completed by 16 April. In an interview, Major-General Kagame congratulated himself on the departure of UNAMIR, saying that its forces had never served any purpose.[36]

New developments occurred in the political position of the Church, a very delicate question in any effort at a moral evaluation of the genocide.[37] Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to the Bishops of Rwanda saying that the Church should look seriously into its attitude during the genocide, and that members of the clergy guilty of having associated themselves with this terrible act should not be protected from punishment.[38] The fact that a few days later a French tribunal absolved Father Wenceslas Munyasheka of responsibility in the genocide did not help further this new attitude of courageous self-criticism.[39]


Most of the main questions on which the possibility of some kind of a solution to the crisis hinges, whether they had to do with political opening, refugee return, internal consolidation, international mediation or bringing those responsible for the genocide to trial, have not seen any significant progress since last August. Voluntary return of the refugees such as had been discusssed in the Tripartite Commission in Geneva is now obviously out of the question and the inability of the Tunis meeting to produce anything more meaningful than a video has been a perfect symbol of that deadlock.

If it remains moderate and if it succeeds in gaining a foothold in the camps (two big "ifs") the new FPU could make a difference by creating an acceptable partner for dialogue with Kigali. But in the short to medium term, the the Rwandese conundrum is perhaps best summed up in the concluding article of the last issue of Traits d'Union Rwanda, a magazine on Rwandese problems put out by a consortium of Belgian NGOs. The article is called: "Synthèse: de divergences en impasse" ("Synthesis: from disagreements to stalemate").[40]


The views expressed in the papers are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of UNHCR.


[1] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting Radio Cairo, 28 November 1995

[2] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting Radio France Internationale, 7 February 1996

[3] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting Radio Rwanda, 9 February 1996

[4] Le Monde, Frédéric Fritscher, "Le Zaïre entreprend d'évacuer un million de réfugiés", 14 February 1996

[5] Le Monde, Frédéric Fritscher, "Les réfugiés refusent toujours d'être rapatriés malgré les pressions du Zaïre", 17 February 1996

[6] Le Monde, "Le Zaïre interdit les activités humanitaires en faveur des Rwandais", 23 February 1996

[7] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting RTBF, 28 January 1996

[8] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting Radio Rwanda, 9 February 1996

[9] Newsweek, Joshua Hammer, "An overstayed welcome", 26 February 1996

[10] Amnesty International, Rwanda and Burundi: The Return Home - Rumours and Realities (London, 20 February 1996)

[11] Libération, Florence Aubenas, "L'éxil sans fin des réfugiés rwandais", 11 March 1996

[12] Le Monde, Jean Hélène, "Entre Zaïre et Rwanda, une descente aux enfers", 23 January 1996; Le Monde, Frédéric Fritscher, "Le Zaïre soupçonne les extrémistes Hutu de vouloir créer un sanctuaire dans le Masisi", 20 February 1996

[13] Out of a total population of about 600,000 people in Masisi there are today about 450,000 Banyarwanda as against only 150,000 natives

[14] See United Nations Department of Human Affairs, "Situation Report on Masisi, North Kivu, Zaire", IRIN Nairobi Office, 26 February 1996; Le Soir, Colette Braeckmann, "Un Hutuland au nord de Bukavu", 8 March 1996

[15] Le Partisan, No. 33, November 1995

[16] Le Monde, 25 December 1995

[17] Le Monde, Frédéric Fritscher, "Trois enquêteurs du Tribunal International agressés par des militaires", 1 February 1996. For the government's reactions see BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting Radio Rwanda, 1 and 2 February 1996

[18] Le Monde, "Un général dénonce la dérive mortelle des autorités de Kigali", 5 January 1996. General Rusatira had condemned the genocide while it was in progress and tried to negotiate with the RPF. After the collapse of the previous government he had voluntarily returned to Rwanda and joined the new RPA where he had been commissioned and where he had served for almost eighteen months before finally fleeing to Kenya.

[19] L'Express, Laurent Hugueux, "Les démons du Rwanda", 7 December 1995; Le Monde, Jean Hélène, "Au Rwanda et au Burundi, les rébellions Hutu provoquent des représailles des armées Tutsi", 6 January 1996; Le Nouvel Observateur, Laurent Bijard, "Les sacs de cadavres de Gahanga", 21-27 March 1996

[20] Libération, Stephen Smith, "Rwanda: enquête sur la terreur Tutsi", 27 February 1996

[21] See Alan Zarembo, "War-winning soldiers are loosers in peace", The East African, 15-21 January 1996; The Economist, "Justice for some", 6 January 1996; Le Monde, Frédéric Fritscher, "Le gouvernement tente de mettre fin aux exactions de l'Armée", 8 February 1996

[22] Interviews with various Rwandese exiles, Nairobi, February 1996

[23] "The walking dead". This is the name popularly given to the survivors of the genocide or to people not in Rwanda then but whose whole family was wiped out.

[24] See African Rights, Killing the Evidence: Murder, Attacks, Arrests and Intimidation of Survivors and Witnesses (London, April 1996)

[25] See Forces Politiques Unies, Manifeste, Programme Politique et Statuts (Nairobi, February 1996). The Manifesto takes great care to make clear the reality of the genocide of the Tutsi, which Hutu opponents of the present regime have an unfortunate tendency to gloss over. The only point which is factually questionable is the figure of Hutu deaths due to RPF attacks since April 1994 which is put at an improbably high 200,000.

[26] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting Radio Rwanda, 20 June 1995. See also Gérard Prunier, Rwanda: Update to the End of July 1995, WRITENET for UNHCR/CDR, August 1995

[27] Africa Confidential, vol. 37, no. 6, 15 March 1996; Le Monde, 20 March 1996. Interviews with Seth Sendashonga and various members of his family, Nairobi, 27 February 1996

[28] BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, quoting Radio Cairo, 28 November 1995

[29] Libération, Stephen Smith, "Second sommet sur les réfugiés Hutu", 16-17 March 1996

[30] Libération, Stephen Smith, "Huit mises en accusation anonymes du Tribunal International au Rwanda", 13 December 1995

[31] Libération, 11 January 1996

[32] See for example the letter to the editor written by Afandi Ndabamenye in Nyabarongo, no. 27, November 1995

[33] Le Monde, 13 March 1996; Trait d'Union Rwanda, no. 11, 1 April 1996

[34] Gérard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis (1959-1994): History of a Genocide (London: Hurst, 1995), particularly pp. 225, 232 and 240

[35] Le Monde, 9-10 March 1996

[36] Le Monde, 26 March 1996

[37] See Gérard Prunier, Rwanda Update to the end of July 1995, WRITENET for UNHCR/CDR, August 1995. The debate on the role of the Church is so intense that the White Fathers specialized review for Rwanda, Dialogue, devoted its latest issue (February-March 1996 Special Issue) entirely to the question.

[38] Le Monde, Henri tincq, "Le fardeau rwandais de Jean-Paul II", 23 March 1996

[39] Libération, Marie-Laure Colson, "Absolution judiciaire pour le Père Wenceslas", 23-24 March 1996

[40] Gaspard Karemera, "Synthèse: de divergences en impasse", Trait d'Union Rwanda, no. 11, 1 April 1996

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