UNHCR CDR Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Rwanda


Rwanda has been an important source country of refugees and asylum-seekers over a number of years. This paper seeks to define the scope, destination, and causes of their flight.

In the first part, the paper provides a statistical overview of refugees and asylum-seekers from Rwanda in the main European asylum countries, describing current trends in the number and origin of asylum requests as well as the results of their status determination. The data are derived from government statistics made available to UNHCR and are compiled by its Statistical Unit.

The second part of the paper contains information regarding the conditions in the country of origin, which are often invoked by asylum-seekers when submitting their claim for refugee status. The Country Information Unit of UNHCR's Centre for Documentation and Research (CDR) conducts its work on the basis of publicly available information, analysis and comment, with all sources cited.


This analysis concerns asylum applications lodged by Rwandan citizens in 19 European countries during the period 1990-1997 as well as the adjudication of these claims. The analysis is based on statistics as provided by Governments. As Rwanda is a relatively unimportant country of origin for asylum-seekers and refugees in Europe, some asylum countries do not distinguish Rwanda separately, but include it under "Other nationalities". Therefore, the current analysis underestimates the number of Rwandan applications and decisions for some countries. In the Tables, a "dash" (-) indicates that the value is zero, not available or not applicable.

1.1       AsylumApplications

During the period 1990-1997, some 5,750 asylum applications were lodged by Rwandan citizens in the 19 countries considered here. In 1997, the number of Rwandan citizens who applied for asylum (1,410) increased with 37 per cent as compared to 1996 (1,030). Whereas during 1990-1993, less than 300 Rwandans applied for asylum each year, the annual number has fluctuated between 1,000 and 1,500 during the period 1994-1997.

During 1990-1997, Belgium received slightly over one-third of all Rwandans applying for asylum in Europe. Three countries, that is Belgium, France and Germany received two-thirds of all Rwandans applying for asylum in Europe during the past eight years.

Whereas the share of Belgium and France in total Rwandan applications has remained fairly constant over the years, that of Germany has recently fallen sharply, from 11 percent in 1996 to 6 per cent in 1997. Conversely, the share of the Netherlands in the total number of Rwandan asylum applications doubled from 1996 (7%) to 1997 (14%). During 1996-1997, Switzerland's share in Rwandan asylum-seekers fell from eight to four per cent.

Rwandan asylum-seekers constituted 0.4 per cent of the total number of asylum-seekers in Europe during 1997. During the entire period 1990-1997, this was around 0.2 per cent (Table 1).

1.2       Recognition

During 1990-1997, some 2,080 Rwandan asylum-seekers were recognized under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating To The Status Of Refugees in the 19 European countries under consideration. The largest numbers were granted asylum in Belgium (1,200), France (410), and Italy (120). Together, Belgium and France granted Convention refugee status to 80 per cent of all Rwandan asylum-seekers recognized as refugees under the 1951 United Nations Convention during the past eight years.

1.3       Rejections

Some 1,500 asylum requests of Rwandan asylum-seekers were rejected during the period 1990-1997.

1.4       HumanitarianStatus

During 1990-1997, some 360 Rwandan asylum-seekers were allowed to remain on humanitarian grounds, mostly in the Netherlands (45%). The numbers of grants of humanitarian status to Rwandan asylum-seekers has been the highest during 1996 and 1997.

1.5       RecognitionRates

During 1990-1997, the recognition rate, that is the number of positive adjudication decisions compared with the number of negative decisions, for Rwandans was relatively high: 53 per cent of all decisions pertaining to Rwandan asylum-seekers was positive (Convention refugee status) as compared to some 11 per cent for all nationalities. When the granting of humanitarian status is included, the recognition rate for Rwandan asylum-seekers in Europe amounts up to 62 per cent ( Table 2), more than three times the recognition rate for all nationalities (around 20%). Except in 1991 and 1992, the Convention recognition rate for Rwandan asylum-seekers has been consistently over 50 per cent.


Rwanda is located in eastern central Africa, just south of the Equator, bounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the West, by Uganda to the north, by Tanzania to the east and by Burundi to the south (Europa World Year Book 1998, 2869). The official languages are French, English (which is widely spoken by the Tutsi minority) and Kinyarwanda, the native language (a Bantu language with close similarities to Kirundi, the main vernacular language of Burundi) (Africa South of the Sahara, 1998, 83). Kiswahili is also widely spoken in Rwanda. About one-half of the population adhere to animist beliefs. Most of the remainder are Christians, mainly Roman Catholics. There are Protestant and Muslim minorities. (Europa World Year Book 1998, 2870). Rwanda is a patrilineal society: if a Hutu married a Tutsi woman, their children would become Hutu.

2.1       The RwandesePeople

The population is divided into three groups: the Hutu, the Tutsi and the Twa (Europa World Year Book 1998, 2871). Rwandan society is characterized by a rigid Hutu-Tutsi cleavage. The Hutus (85%) constitute the vast majority of the population who are mainly peasants cultivating the soil; the Tutsis (14%) are mostly cattle-herders representing a different racial stock than the local peasants; and the Twas (1%) are pygmies who either lived as hunter-gatherers in the forested areas or served high-ranking personalities and the King in a variety of menial tasks (Prunier, 1997, 5). There is no clearly defined territory for either the Hutus or the Tutsis, thus creating a lack of territoriality (Lemarchand, 1994, 29-30).

The patterns of domination/subordination between these two major ethnic groups were strengthened by the European perception with its corresponding belief in the natural superiority of the Tutsis. As a result, this perception had at least three important impacts on the historical evolution of Rwanda. First, it conditioned the views and attitudes of the Europeans regarding Rwandan social groups. Second, it governed the decisions made by the German and Belgian colonial authorities. And, third, it had a profound impact on both ethnic groups in inflating the Tutsi cultural ego inordinately and insulting Hutu feelings until they coalesced into an aggressively resentful inferiority complex (Prunier, 1997: 8-15). As Newbury notes, "the ethnic polarization that occurred in Rwanda during the 1990s, culminating in the genocide of 1994, was in many respects a continuation of the evolving tensions of late colonial rule" (1998, 15).

2.2       The ColonialLegacy

During the pre-colonial period, a Tutsi mwami (king), Ruganza Barimba, amalgamated a number of Tutsi chieftaincies under his rule in the 15th century. It was then followed by a lengthy period of steady expansion for the monarchy. The death of King Kigeri Rwabugiri in 1895 brought the last of the Tutsi chieftaincies under royal control (The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Country Profile 1997-98, 4). In the following years, Rwanda witnessed political turbulence associated with the crucial transformation of the country's politics.

It was under these political circumstances that the German colonialism emerged in Rwanda. They were open to manipulation by various local political groups (Prunier, 1997, 23). They maintained a very light administrative implantation in Rwanda and were unable to directly control a certain number of areas with or on behalf of the royal court. Their presence in Rwanda represented a colonial policy of indirect rule which allowed a considerable leeway to the Rwandese monarchy, acted in direct continuation of the pre-colonial transformation towards more centralization and annexation of the Hutu principalities and an increase in Tutsi chiefly power.

The German colonial presence in Rwanda lasted until 1916 when the Belgian colonial domination in Rwanda began with a military conquest. The Belgian colonial presence was subsequently made official by a League of Nations Mandate in 1919. Unlike the Germans, the Belgians valued Rwanda as an important part of their colonial empire (Prunier, 1997, 35).

The Belgian colonization policy was progressively implemented between 1926 and 1931 (Prunier, 1997, 26). The Catholic church played an important role in the Belgian reorganization of Rwanda. The Belgian colonialists continued to rely on the established governing structure-the Tutsi aristocracy-to exert their control (Ibid., 32). The whole process of Belgian administrative reorganization was finally and symbolically brought to a close by removing King Yuhi Musinga in 1931 and replacing him with one of his sons, Mutara, a Catholic (Ibid., 30-31). The Belgian reforms brought about a centralized, efficient, neo-traditionalist and Catholic Rwanda.

A "modern" Rwanda subsequently provided the Tutsi minority with almost total dominance of the chiefly functions. The three traditional types of chiefs were fused into one which was almost always handed over to a Tutsi. It is significant to note that by the end of the Belgian presence in Rwanda in 1959, forty-three chiefs out of forty-five were Tutsi. The Hutu peasants, who before had cleverly manipulated one level of chiefly authority against another, now found themselves tightly controlled by one chief only, whose backing by the European administration was much more efficient than the loose support the traditional chiefs used to receive from the Royal court (Ibid., 26-35). Consequently, the Hutu population perceived the system as dual colonialism-Europeans and Tutsi. As one observer put it:

Throughout Rwanda the dual colonial, ruled by Europeans and by Tutsi, imposed taxes, compulsory cultivation of certain crops, regulation of the labor force, and forced labor (corvee) which served to make chiefly rule more oppressive and to define the primary objects of this oppression (the Hutu) in ethnic terms.

The fact that virtually all the chiefs were Tutsi helped to create the popular view that "Tusi" meant those who were wealthy and powerful and could treat others, especially Hutu, abusively. "Hutu" was synonymous with subordinate, those who were excluded from political power and who were particularly vulnerable to the depredations of the chiefs. One result of these conditions was the development of political consciousness among the rural masses, based on discontent at the treatment meted out by the chiefs. Thus, the dual colonial system, while it attempted to promote the power of chiefs, eroded their legitimacy (Newbury, 1988:178-179).

The Hutus, deprived of all political power and materially exploited by both the Europeans and the Tutsis, were told by everyone that they were inferiors who deserved their fate and to believe it. Therefore, it was not a coincidence that the Hutus began to hate all Tutsis, since all Tutsis were members of the "superior race." The Hutu majority began to organize themselves politically.

The transition to independence for Rwanda in 1962 saw the political mobilization of the Hutu, increasing ethnic conflict, the overthrow of the Tutsi kingship, and the exile of tens of thousands of Tutsi refugees in Burundi and Uganda.

2.3       The1959-1990 Period

The period 1959-1961 was a period marked by violence and revolution leading to Rwanda's independence. Gregoire Kayibanda, a leading Hutu intellectual, was the chief editor of the European-led periodical Kinyamateka, the most widely read journal in Rwanda at the time. He created the Movement Social Muhutu (MSM) in June 1957. The MSM was instrumental in orchestrating the revolution against the colonial rule (Prunier, 1994, 16-19).

The Kayibanda years: 1961-1973

In the early 1960s, Kayibanda transformed his movement and the Rwandese Democratic Movement/Party of the Movement and of Hutu Emancipation (MDR- PARMEHUTU) was consequently born. It politically orchestrated communal violence, leaving thousands, mostly Tutsi, slaughtered in late 1950's. Around 300,000 Tutsis fled mostly to Burundi and Uganda (EIU, Country Profile 1997-98, 5). MDR-PARMEHUTU won communal elections in 1960, leading to more killings, and more refugees. In 1961, MDR-PARMEHUTU, with the support of Belgian, toppled the monarchy in a coup d'etat. The party won legislative elections in 1963, establishing the Republic of Rwanda (Ibid., 7).

The Habyarima regime: 1973-April 1994

In 1973, Juvenal Habyarimana, the army Chief of Staff, a Hutu by origin, mounted a successful coup d'etat against President Kayibanda. He then proclaimed a second republic and established a military administration under his presidency (World Directories of Minorities, 1997, 506). He outlawed all political parties and in 1974 created his own political party: the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) with the army, Forces Armees Rwandaises (FAR). On 5 July 1991, the MRND transformed its party and became the National Revolutionary Movement for Development and Democracy (MRNDD) (Prunier, 1997, 126).

In September 1990, a group of 4,000 Rwandese Tutsi refugees in Uganda formed the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). From late 1990 onwards, the RPF began a war with the government in Kigali. It was first led by Major-General Fred Rwigyema who was killed in a battle in late 1990. Major-General Paul Kagame took the leadership of the RPF. In 1993, the RPF made its advance on Kigali but was stopped by the Rwandese army who received support from the French military advisers to the Government of Rwanda (EIU, Country Profile, 1997-98, 6). The Habyarimana regime, with the support from France, struggled for survival. War and violence continued in Rwanda until August 1993 when the Arusha Peace Agreement was signed between the Government of Rwanda and the RPF.

2.4       The 1994Genocide

On 6 April 1994, the plane carrying President Habyarimana home from Arusha was shot down as it approached Kigali airport, killing all aboard including the President of Burundi. The death of the Rwandan President triggered a series of killings targeted mainly at Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Violence immediately broke out in Kigali (The United Nations and Rwanda, 1996, 37). The killings were started by the Presidential Guards as early as the night of 6 April 1994. It was quickly replicated throughout Rwanda. The vast majority of civil servants who participated in the genocide at different levels also carried out killings. Ordinary peasants also participated in the killings. One of the shocking aspects of the killings was the nature in which they were carried out; murders were mostly perpetrated with machetes (Prunier, 1997, 240-255).

The organizers of the genocide consisted of the regime's political, military and economic elite who had decided through a mixture of ideological and material motivation to resist political change which they perceived as threatening after the death of President Habyarimana. It appears that this small group of organizers included Colonel Theoneste Bagosora who was involved in the creation of the "Provisional Government"; the Defense Minister, Major-General Augustin Bizimana, who oversaw the logistics of the genocide; Colonel Aloys Ntabakuze who commanded the paratroopers; and Lieutenant Colonel Protais Mpiranya who headed the Presidential Guards (Ibid.).

According to the United Nations Security Council, these acts of violence resulted in the deaths of civilians and government leaders (S/PRST/1994/16 of 7 April 1994). Although the vast majority of victims were people of Tutsi origin, the perpetrators of the violence also targeted moderate Hutu leaders-militants or sympathizers of the opposition, including journalists, professionals and academics (Prunier, 1997, 240-255).

At least 500,000 people, Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were killed in the space of six weeks (UNHCR, 1997, 20). Other observers put the figure much higher. The Joint Evaluation Report estimates that 500,000 to 800,000 people were killed (Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance, March 1996, 5). The historian G. Prunier provided a figure of 800,000 to 850,000 Tutsis, including 10,000-30,000 Hutus (1997, 264).

War re-started as the RPF resumed their military operations on 8 April 1994. The magnitude of the violence in Rwanda reached its peak when 250,000 Hutu refugees crossed the Kagera River between Rwanda and Tanzania as the RPF moved into western Rwanda and army resistance collapsed. The oganizers of the genocide organized a mass evacuation of the Hutu population. Around 1.75 million people-including members of the former regime and army-moved to the neighbouring countries of former Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi. As the Hutus were leaving, approximately 700,000 Tutsi refugees-including children who had been born in exile-returned to Rwanda. These are people who had been mostly in Uganda for many years and whose repatriation had been blocked by the Hutu regime in Kigali (UNHCR, 1997, 20). The 1994 genocide also created many hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout Rwanda. The World Refugee Survey estimated that nearly a half million were internally displaced (U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1997, 1).

2.5       Interventionby the United Nations

Following the Arusha Peace Agreement of August 1993 signed between the Government of Rwanda and the RPF, the UN Security Council authorized the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) (United Nations Security Council, S/RES/872, 5 October 1993). UNAMIR's presence was at the request of both the government and the RPF. The mandate of UNAMIR was strictly traditional peace-keeping: to monitor observance of the cease-fire agreement; to monitor the security the security situation during the period leading to elections; and to investigate instances of alleged non-compliance of the parties to the planned integration of armed forces. In addition, UNAMIR was also mandated to monitor the repatriation of refugees and to assist in the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance activities. On 5 April 1994, the Security Council extended UNAMIR's mandate until 29 July 1994 (United Nations Security Council, S/RES/909, 5 April 1994).

In the early days of the 1994 genocide, the UN leadership commenced a series of unsuccessful negotiations to broker a cease-fire. UNAMIR forces were trying to protect thousands of civilians. While the Security Council debated the choices in New York, Belgium, after the death of its ten peace-keepers, announced the withdrawal of its troops from UNAMIR, leaving the force mainly comprised of poorly equipped contingents from Bangladesh and Ghana. On 21 April, the Security Council voted to cut back UNAMIR to 270 personnel (United Nations Security Council, S/RES/912 of 21 April 1994).

The Secretary-General did not propose the use of force to stop the massacres (The United Nations and Rwanda, 1996, 44-45). UN Security Council Resolution S/RES/918 of 17 May 1994 expanded UNAMIR's mandate to provide security to displaced persons, refugees and civilians at risk, including the establishment and maintenance of secure humanitarian areas, and to impose an arms embargo on Rwanda. On 8 June 1994, the UN Security Council passed another resolution expanding the mandate of UNAMIR until 9 December 1994 (S/RES/925, 8 June 1994). The RPF opposed a strengthened UNAMIR presence.

On 20 June 1994, the Government of France formally indicated its intention to intervene militarily in the Rwandese situation for humanitarian purposes (United Nations Security Council, S/1994/734, 21 June 1994). The Security Council approved the French proposal which will involve military forces acting under Chapter VII and "using all necessary means to achieve the humanitarian objectives" (United Nations Security Council S/RES/929, 22 June 1994), and authorized the French-led force to operate in Rwanda until 21 August 1994 (The United Nations and Rwanda 1996, 54).

The operation became known as Operation Turquoise with mostly French troops with additional troops from several African states. The French established a safe humanitarian zone in south-west Rwanda in early July 1994 (United Nations Security Council S/1994/798, 6 July 1994). Operation Turquoise was a rapid and forceful military intervention which, whatever its motivation, had humanitarian benefits. It stemmed the flow of refugees to Zaire, thus saving many lives, given the crisis conditions which prevailed there (Landgren, 1995, 450). The increasingly strengthened UNAMIR took over the zone when the French withdrew in August 1994.

2.6       Review ofthe Main Rwandese Protagonists

The Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)

The RPF was formed in Uganda largely by former Tutsi refugees from Rwanda many of whom fought against the former government between 1990 and 1994. The party is only partially committed to press freedom, and the harassment of critical journalists is increasingly commonplace (EIU Country Profile 1997-98, 10). The RPF controls the presidency, the vice-presidency, and the key interior and defence ministries. Its military component is the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA).

The Republican Democratic Movement (MDR)

It is based on the Republican Democratic Movement-PARMEHUTU-which was originally used by what had been the Party of Bahutu Emancipation. It was the ruling party, heading the pre-independence government in 1962 up to the 1973 coup d'etat (Political Parties of Africa and the Middle East, 1993, 227). One of its factions took part in the genocide. Since July 1994, it has been the RPF's major partner in government. It was headed by the former prime minister, Faustin Twagiramungu, until August 1995, when he was removed and replaced by Pierre-Celestin Rwigyema, who has shown himself to be much more in agreement with the RPF on key issues.

Union for the Return of Refugees and Democracy to Rwanda (RDR)

This is the main political party which is formed and operational outside Rwanda. Its membership includes several high-profile politicians of the former regime. The Government of Rwanda has ruled out negotiations with the RDR, because it wants the party's main members to stand trial for genocide.

The Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR)

It was a radical Hutu racist party. It supported the Habyarimana regime and then criticized it for being "soft" on the RPF (Prunier, 1997, 410). It was one of the main organizers of the 1994 genocide.

The Christian Democratic Party (PDC)

It is the smallest of the four "serious" opposition parties (Prunier, 1997, 409-410).

The Liberal Party (PL)

It has been in existence since 10 August 1991 and has been led by Justin Mugenzi. One of its factions was involved in the 1994 genocide (EIU, Country Profile 1997-98, 11). It currently ranks third among the opposition parties with a large number of Tutsi members (Prunier, 1997, 410).

The Parti Social Democrate (PSD)

One of its factions participated in the genocide. It is a junior partner in the July 1994 government (Prunier, 1997, 410).

The National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND)

It was founded in 1975 as the National Revolutionary Movement for Democracy and was registered in July 1991 under the new constitution of the same year (Political Parties of Africa and the Middle East, 1993, 226).

The Islamic Democratic Party (PDI)

It represented the small Rwandese Muslim community. It was a political ally with the former President Habyarimana. It later became a junior partner in the July 1994 government (Prunier, 1997, 410).

National Revolutionary Movement for Development and Democracy (MRNDD)

It had been Habyarimana's party. It was later reorganized and renamed its party by adding the word, "democracy." Many of its leaders were among the main organizers of the genocide (Prunier, 1997, 409).

The United Political Forces (FPU)

In March 1996, a new party, the FPU, was launched in Brussels, Belgium by Mr. Twagiramungu and Mr. Sendashonga. The party advocates the return of Rwanda to the status of a UN trust territory, pending the resolution of its internal security difficulties (Africa South of the Sahara 1998, 836).


3.1.      The NationalPolitical Context

On 19 July 1994, the RPF announced the composition of a new government to be headed by Faustin Twagiramungu as Prime Minister. Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, was inaugurated as President. The new government had representatives of both ethnic groups and of four political parties. RPF members assumed the majority of cabinet posts, including the RPF military chief Major-General Paul Kagame, who became Minister of Defence and took over the newly created post of Vice-President. The remainder were divided among the Republican Democratic Movement (MDR), the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Liberal Party (PL) and the Christian Democratic Party (PDC) (Europa World Year Book 1998, 2870-2872; Africa South of the Sahara 1998, 834-836).

A political crisis emerged in August 1995 when Prime Minister Twagiramungu expressed his dissatisfaction with the government concerning its non-compliance with the power-sharing provisions of the Arusha accord. The resignation of Mr. Twagiramungu was seen by one observer as the result of disagreements between him and Vice-President Kagame over security issues and human rights violations (Prunier, 1995, 1). Subsequently, Twagiramungu and four other ministers were forced to resign in a cabinet reshuffle in late August 1995. One of them was the trusted Interior Minister, Seth Sendashonga, who went into exile in Kenya and who was shot dead in May 1998 after leaving a United Nations building in Nairobi (Africa Confidential, May 1998, 8). In the aftermath of the reshuffle, Pierre Celestin Rwigyema of the MDR, the former Minister of Primary and Secondary Education, was named as the new Prime Minister. The new Council of Ministers continued to include representatives of both major ethnic groups and four political parties in order to dispel the fear that the government had rejected its former commitment to power-sharing.

In March 1997, there was another cabinet reshuffle when Colonel Alexis Kanyarengwe resigned from his post of Interior Minister and he was replaced by Abdul Karim Harerimana (Prunier, July 1997, 4). In January 1998, all the ruling bodies of the RPF were dissolved, and on 16 February 1998, Vice-President Kagame officially became President of the RPF, with President Bizimungu as Vice-President (Le Monde, 18 February 1998). A number of commentators have observed that there are now no independent-minded Hutus in the coalition government (EIU, 3rd quarter, 1998, 32).

3.2       The RegionalPolitical Context

Events in the DRC and Kenya have had important impacts upon the Rwanda situation. During the period 1994-1996, Kenya had been a refuge for prominent members of the former regime. In July 1997, Vice-President Paul Kagame went to Nairobi to meet with Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi who was up for re-election, to seek a political agreement for the return of the genocidaires to Rwanda in order to stand trial (Prunier, March 1998, 9-10). Nine key prominent members of former regime were arrested and handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal For Rwanda (ICTR) in July and August 1997 (EIU, Country Profile 1997-98, 13). It is interesting to point out that in 1995 President Moi of Kenya termed the ICTR as "partisan", provoking Rwandan Vice-President Kagame to threaten to "do everything to prosecute the genocidaires" (Prunier, November 1995).

The Tutsi communities in the DRC include both those Rwandese who left Rwanda between 1959 and 1994 and those who have lived in Zaire for generations. The latter group known collectively as Banyarwanda comprise principally Tutsi from the Masisi region of North Kivu Province and the Tutsis from South Kivu Province known as Banyamulenge. In 1996, the then Government of Zaire expelled a large number of Banyamulenge. In May 1997, the Government of Rwanda assisted Laurent Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in the overthrow of the late President Mobutu Sese Seko (EIU, Country Profile 1997-98, 12). Since then, almost all Rwandese refugees in the DRC have returned to Rwanda.

3.3       TheInsurgents

Those who are involved in the insurgency in Rwanda and have their base in the North Kivu region of the neigbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are generally ex-FAR soldiers. According to Prunier, they now have organized almost 25,000 active men and have acquired large quantities of weapons. Their political programme is largely that of the old genocidaires (1998, 2).

Many Interahamwe and ex-FAR members were among the 600,000 Hutus who were forced to return home in 1996 (Africa Confidential, March 1997). The Interahamwe and ex-FAR members have stepped up their campaign in the north-western prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri by attacking mostly military targets and the homes of local officials (Africa Confidential, 26 September 1997, 5; Prunier, June 1997, 1). The existence of numerous Hutu IDP camps in Kibuye, Cyangugu and Gikongoro prefectures posed not only a humanitarian problem but also a significant security problem for the new government in Kigali (Africa Confidential, December 1997, 5).

3.4.      TheRefugee/Returnee Situation

The ethnic conflict and genocide in Rwanda in 1994 produced a major refugee crisis in 1994. Approximately 1.7 million Hutus fled to the neighbouring countries of Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi. From late April 1994 to early 1996, the former FAR and the political leadership responsible for the genocide who fled Rwanda in 1994 had been hiding among genuine refugees. Their cross-border raids had intensified during late 1995 and early 1996 and posed a major threat to Rwanda (Prunier, 1997, 196). These attacks triggered Rwandan army repression which usually targeted Hutus in Rwanda.

When civil war erupted in eastern Zaire in late 1996, refugees were caught in the fighting and some 600,000 of them were forced to return to Rwanda which was ill-prepared to receive such large numbers in a few days, particularly as some weeks later, almost all Rwandans from Tanzania also returned.


4.1.      The GeneralSituation

A number of human rights observers have continued to collect information on the genocide and other crimes against humanity that took place in Rwanda in 1994. After his visit to Rwanda on 11-12 May 1994, the then United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presented his findings concerning the breaches of international law and all violations and abuses of human rights in Rwanda and urged the international community to condemn, in the strongest terms, the "wanton killing" which had occurred in Rwanda (Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 19 May 1994). Following several visits to Rwanda, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Rwanda determined that the conditions specified by the 1948 Genocide Convention had been found to exist and that the term "genocide" was applicable to the killings of Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 (United Nations Security Council, 2 November 1995). A Commission of Experts was subsequently established to verify the human rights condition in Rwanda (United Nations Security Council, 1 July 1994).

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established by the United Nations Security Council in November 1994 to prosecute the perpetrators of genocide and other crimes against humanity committed in Rwanda between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994 (United Nations Security Council, 8 November 1994). Amnesty International noted that the ICTR had concurrent jurisdiction with the Rwandese courts and that Articles 17 to 20, 22, 24, and 25 of the statute of the ICTR incorporate a number of important international standards for fair trial including inter alia the right of a defendant to consult with a defence lawyer of his or her choosing. The first trial before the ICTR commenced in Arusha, Tanzania, in January 1998. Amnesty International raised a number of concerns including the level of competence of prosecutors and judges, most of whom have only received up to six months' training with no prior legal training (1998, 13). It therefore urged the Government of Rwanda to ensure that all trials are conducted fairly. Africa South of the Sahara also noted that "ICTR still had many problems to overcome, including matters involving the safety of witnesses and arrangements for defense representation (1998, 836).

The start of the trials is a significant step towards justice in Rwanda and ending the culture of impunity which has allowed massive human rights violations to continue for decades. On 2 September 1998, after four years since its establishment, the ICTR found Mr. Jean-Paul Akayezu, a former Mayor of Tabi, guilty of inciting the massacre of 2,000 Tutsis; and on 4 September 1998, it passed a sentence of life imprisonment on Jean Kambanda, Prime Minister in the transitional government formed immediately after the death of President Juvenal Habyarimana on 6 April 1994 (Africa Confidential, 11 September 1998, 8). On 5 June 1998, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) announced the creation of a panel of seven eminent personalities to investigate the causes of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda (African News, 6 June 1998, 1).

Amnesty International sums up the human rights situation in Rwanda in 1997 as follows:

Thousands of unarmed civilians were deliberately killed; some were extrajudicially executed by government soldiers, others were deliberately and arbitrarily killed by armed opposition groups. Critics of the government were arrested and harassed, or killed in circumstances suggesting extrajudicial executions. More than 130,000 people were detained, most in connection with the 1994 genocide. Most were held in conditions, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; many died as a result. Torture or ill-treatment of detainees, leading to scores of deaths, were reported. Scores of people "disappeared". At least 111 people were sentenced to death, but no executions were reported. The government forcibly returned hundreds of refugees to Burundi (1998, 290-291).

The U.S. Department of State Country Report for 1997 comments that in Rwanda,

[t]he Government continued to be responsible for numerous serious human rights abuses...The RPA killed hundreds of people; some killings were for political reasons, some were acts of revenge...Prison conditions are harsh. Authorities hold more than 80,000 prisoners in overcrowded jails; most are accused of participating in the genocide (1997, 5).

4.2.      The Nationaland International Legal Framework

Rwanda's legal system is based on Belgian law, the June 1991 constitution and the Arusha accords of August 1993 (EIU, 1998, 3rd quarter, 23). The judicial system dealing with crimes of genocide and other crimes against humanity is not yet fully functional. The genocide bill was eventually approved by the Constitutional Court on 30 August 1996. Rwanda has taken several measures in setting up an independent judicial system. The General Prosecutor and the Attorney General to the Supreme Court were appointed by the Government in April 1995. The members of the Supreme Court were appointed by the Parliament at the end of October 1995, pursuant to article 20 of the Protocol on Power Sharing in the Arusha Agreement, and they have been given the authority to appoint the first members of the Conseil Superieur de la Magistrature, which has the duty to select all judges. The Military Courts have been modified according to Law No. 8 approved by Parliament on 6 December 1995. One of the weaknesses of the judicial system is that the country, after the genocide, was left without lawyers or magistrates.

Rwanda is a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (ratified on 26 January 1982) and the 1967 Protocol (ratified on 26 January 1982) as well as the 1969 Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) Convention Concerning Refugees (ratified on 26 January 1982). Rwanda is also signatory to a number of human rights instruments including the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ratified on 12 February 1975), the International Covenant on Economic. Social and Cultural Rights ratified on 12 February 1975) and the African Charter on Human and People's Rights (signed by Rwanda in Addis Ababa on 11 November 1981 and ratified on 17 May 1983), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified on 19 September 1990), the Genocide Convention (ratified on 12 February 1974), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (ratified on 19 September 1990), and the four Geneva Conventions and the two additional Protocols relating to armed conflicts of August 12, 1949. Rwanda is not a State Party to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, nor to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless persons.

The Fundamental Law which was passed by the Assemblee nationale (parliament) in May 1995 comprises the 1991 Constitution, the Arusha Peace Agreement of 4 August 1993, the Rwandese Patriotic Front Declaration of 17 July 1994 and the Protocol of Agreement among 8 Political Parties (excluding the MRND and CDR) of 24 November 1994. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the considerable presidential powers allowed for in the 1991 constitution have been curtailed, and the Assemblee nationale has the power to force individual ministers, and the government as a whole, to resign. However, the presidential powers, which are based on a declaration made by the RPF on July 17, 1994, remain considerable. According to the declaration, the President can dismiss cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister subject to agreement from two-thirds of the national Assembly (Country Profile 1997-1998, p. 9).

4.3.      GeneralRespect for Human Rights

Extrajudicial Killings

Amnesty International reported that during 1997 "thousands of people were extrajudicially executed by government soldiers" (Report 1998, 291). Unarmed civilians, including young children and elderly, were often killed by RPA soldiers in reprisal for armed opposition attacks, especially in the north-west, including scores of unarmed civilians who were killed in church sanctuaries. Killings of unarmed civilians by armed opposition groups have also increased in recent months. Although the exact composition, leadership and organization of these groups remains unknown, they are believed to include members of the ex-FAR and associated militia (U.S. Department of State, 1997, 3).

The RPA killed civilians for political reasons, in revenge for earlier violence or in response to rebel infiltrations (Ibid.). Amnesty International reported that in 1997, between 5,000 and 8,000 unarmed civilians were killed by RPA soldiers in a large cave at Nyakimana, Gisenyi, between 23 and 28 October 1997 (1998, 291).

Human Rights Watch also reported that during 1997 the government of Rwandan launched various military operations in the country that killed thousands of unarmed civilians (1998, 59). It further noted that "the Rwandan authorities claimed that civilian killings were the unintended consequence of operations justified by the needs of self-defense" (1998, 59).

Several employees of international organizations were also targeted: In January 1997, three Spanish employees of the non-governmental organizations Medicos del Mundo (Doctors without borders) were shot dead at their home in Ruhengeri. Five members of UNHRFOR were ambushed and killed by armed men in Karengera, Cyangugu in February 1997. In June 1997, two employees of the World Food Programme (WFP) were killed in Ruhengeri. In many cases, those responsible for killing unarmed civilians remained unidentified (Amnesty International, 1998, 292).

Arbitrary Arrests

Arbitrary arrests frequently took place, particularly in Cyangugu, Butare, Gitarama and Kibuye Prefectures during 1998. The persons affected, mostly belonging to the Hutu ethnic group, are civil servants, teachers, retunees working as small-scale traders, soldiers of Rwanda's former armed forces and local employees of humanitarian organizations (U.S. Department of State, 1997, 3). These arrests were often made following denunciations of participation in the genocide; other reasons were given such as unauthorized association and breaches of the peace. Some people appeared to have been arrested because their relatives had served in the former government or army (Amnesty International, 1998, 293).

Amnesty International reported that more than 130,000 people, most accused of participating in the 1994 genocide, were held in civilian prisons and detention centres throughout the country. An unknown number were held in military detention centres. Many of them were refugees who had returned to Rwanda in 1996; human rights and humanitarian organizations had no access to these individuals. (1997, 292-293). However, Human Rights Watch in 1997 provided a slightly lower figure of some 83,000 persons (1997, 48).


Ill-treatment of detainees was common. Detainees in Rwanda were frequently beaten with sticks during arrest or soon after while held in detention centres. Scores of deaths in detention as a result of torture or ill-treatment were reported (Amnesty International, 1998, 293). Most prisoners were held in overcrowded conditions amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. These conditions led to scores of death (Amnesty International, 1997, 2).

According to the Report on the situation of human rights in Rwanda submitted by Rene Degni-Segui, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, most of the cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment still occurred at detention centres (United Nations Security Council, January 1996, 18). In August 1997, soldiers reportedly executed some 150 detainees at the communal jails in Kanama and Rubavu in north-western Rwanda, while two soldiers killed eleven detainees at Maraba commune (Human Rights Watch, 1998, 61). In December 1997, a United Nations Security Council resolution was adopted by the General Assembly to reaffirm the need to improve conditions of detention. (Amnesty International Report, 1998, 291).


"Disappearances" are not a new phenomenon in Rwanda, but the number of people reported to have "disappeared", including many refugees who had returned from the former Zaire in late 1996 have reached alarming proportions (Amnesty International, 1998, 293). In a report published in June 1998, the organisation stated that large-scale "disappearances" occurred as RPA soldiers carried out mass arrests in the Northwest. Many others, especially from the Northwest, "disappeared" after identity checks in the capital Kigali. By early 1998, "disappearances" had become so frequent that many families no longer made the effort to notify the authorities or international organizations about the "disappearance" of their relatives, either for fear of their own lives or in the knowledge that little or no effective action would be taken to investigate them (Amnesty International, 1998, 20-22).

In his report submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Rene Degni-Segui, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Secretary-General on Rwanda, mentioned that acts of "disappearances" are attributed to APR soldiers and sometimes to militiamen and soldiers from Rwanda's former armed forces. The victims are often reported missing after being arrested, detained or transferred from one detention centre to another; they are almost exclusively adult males (1996, 20). The report further noted that "the greatest number of people were abducted or reported missing in Gisenyi prefecture, followed by Kibuye, Ruhengeri, Kigali-Ville and Rural Kigali prefectures" (Ibid., 21).

Freedom of Expression

According to the U.S. Department of State Country Report, the government harassed and intimidated the media (1997). Violations of freedom of expression occurred frequently and aimed at journalists, religious workers and persons belonging to other professional categories who make their opinions known orally or in writing. The press is subject to censorship, suspension of newspapers and seizure of copies (United Nations Commission for Human Rights, E/CN.4/1996/68, 1996, 13). Attacks on the freedom of the press have mainly taken the form of physical aggression preceded by threats and intimidation, to which several journalists were subjected between January and November 1995. There have three well-known cases. The first concerned Mr. Edouard Mutsinzi, Editor of the newspaper, Le Messager who was severely beaten up in a bar after he criticized the government. The second case was that of Mr. Theoneste Mubuantwali, Editor of the weekly Nyabarongo, who narrowly escaped an attempt on his life a soldier. The case concerned the disappearance of Mr. Manasse Mugabo, Rwandan correspondent of UNAMIR radio (Ibid.).



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This information paper was prepared in the Country Research and Analysis Unit of UNHCR's Centre for Documentation and Research on the basis of publicly available information, analysis and comment, in collaboration with Regional Bureau Responsible for Somalia and the UNHCR Statistical Unit. All sources are cited. This paper is not, and does not, purport to be, fully exhaustive with regard to conditions in the country surveyed, or conclusive as to the merits of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.