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Human Rights Developments

      An ongoing war in Rwanda that claimed thousands of civilian lives overshadowed human rights developments in 1991. Thousands of alleged rebel sympathizers primarily belonging to the minority Tutsi ethnic group were arbitrarily detained under harsh conditions, and twenty were convicted in trials that did not meet international standards. Throughout 1991, military and local authorities used the war as a pretext to beat, terrorize and kill Tutsi and other perceived civilian opponents.

      Despite a March 29, 1991 cease-fire agreement and several regional summits with the presidents of neighboring Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Zaire to resolve the conflict, the war continued in northern Rwanda. Each side has accused the other of killing civilians and violating the cease-fire agreement. During the year, the government announced a process of democratization, although it did not show itself to be entirely committed to the process, especially in its attacks against the press.

      The war began in October 1990 when several thousand members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded northern Rwanda from southern Uganda.31 The RPF presents itself as a national organization, claiming that its membership, almost exclusively from the Tutsi ethnic group, is a result of historical circumstance. Tutsi, who now comprise roughly fourteen percent of the Rwandan population, ruled Rwanda as a monarchy until 1959 when power was seized by members of the Hutu ethnic group, who now comprise roughly eighty-five percent of the Rwandan population.

      According to the RPF, it invaded Rwanda for three reasons: to overthrow the government and institute democracy; to eliminate corruption, political persecution, and discrimination; and to solve the refugee problem. The issue of refugees is central to an understanding of the invasion, since many of the 400,000 to 700,000 Tutsi exiles have a long-standing desire to return to their country. These Tutsi, who live primarily in neighboring Zaire, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania, were forced to flee Rwanda following outbreaks of interethnic violence between 1959 and 1966 and, most recently, in 1973. Tens of thousands of Tutsi were massacred and several hundred thousand more were forced into exile. Originally, the eighteen-year-old Hutu government of President Juvénal Habyarimana argued that the country's limited resources prevented it from accommodating the desire of these Tutsi to return.32 President Habyarimana has since changed his position and said that refugees are welcome to come back. Although the government is supposedly in the process of searching for resettlement sites, no significant number of refugees has returned.

      Between January and March 1991, over three hundred civilians of a Tutsi subgroup known as the Bagogwe people were massacred in the northwestern region of Rwanda, following a major RPF offensive in the area at the end of January.33 During the offensive the rebels held an important town for a day, opened the local prison, and released hundreds of prisoners. This brief RPF success became the pretext for Rwandan police, military and civilian officials, along with ordinary civilians, to commit the massacre. When the RPF withdrew from the town, some of the freed prisoners followed them, but others simply returned to their homes, only to be re-arrested or killed by the authorities.

      While the massacre was widely discussed among Tutsi in Kigali, the capital, there was no press coverage of the incident until June 20, when the Belgian newspaper L'Instant broke the story. The Rwandan government did not acknowledge that any killings had occurred until August 14, the day after the RPF held a news conference denouncing the killings; the Rwandan ambassador to Belgium then reportedly admitted that "a massacre of Tutsi civilians had occurred in the region." He did not specify the number of casualties and blamed the RPF for the killings. He also indicated that the government had commenced an investigation into the matter and that those responsible would be prosecuted, although no prosecutions have since occurred. Those Bagogwe who survived the massacre still fear for their lives and some have fled to other parts of the country.

      On two separate occasions in October, local authorities in Kanzenze, a region not for from Kigali, picked up at least a dozen Tutsi men whom they suspected of recruiting others to join the RPF. At least two of these men were severely beaten before being released without charge, and at least eight others have since disappeared.34

      In November, roughly five hundred civilians, primarily Tutsi, were forced to flee a region in eastern Rwanda following a series of savage attacks in which a local civilian official participated. During the course of the attacks, an elderly Tutsi woman was killed, three young Tutsi girls were gang raped, an eight-month-pregnant Tutsi woman was severely injured, several other Tutsi men were injured with machetes and badly beaten, and several homes were destroyed or pillaged. At least one Hutu man who had attempted to help a Tutsi neighbor during the attacks was beaten the following day by military authorities. In a separate incident in mid-October, a civilian official in this same area ordered the communal police to pick up sixteen men who have not been seen since.

      In September, in another region in the east, local military authorities reportedly picked up several persons, both Hutu and Tutsi, many of whom lacked identity papers and at least some of whom have since disappeared. In a separate incident in this same area on November 13, soldiers killed the president of a fishing cooperative.

Immediately following the 1990 invasion, civilian and military authorities began to arrest arbitrarily and detain without charge or trial several thousand citizens whom it suspected of collaborating or sympathizing with the RPF. Thousands of those arrested remained in detention until April 1991. Many of the arrests occurred in and around Kigali. Although the government denies that the massive arrests were based on ethnicity, roughly seventy-five percent of those arrested were Tutsi, particularly Tutsi priests, intellectuals, businessmen, and other prominent Tutsi whom the government suspected of providing financial support to the rebels. Many Tutsi were arrested because of family relations with individual rebels.

      The government arrested several hundred Ugandans on the basis of their nationality, undoubtedly due to a drastic deterioration in relations between Rwanda and Uganda after the war began. The Rwandan government maintains that Uganda is providing military assistance to the rebels.

      Many of those arrested and detained were tortured or severely beaten and were not provided adequate food, water, medical care or toilet facilities. Civilian authorities confiscated and encouraged crowds to confiscate personal belongings from many homes.

      According to the government, over 2,500 persons had been arrested within two weeks of the invasion. By mid-November 1990, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had registered over 4,500 detainees in twenty-five places of detention. By mid-April 1991, the government acknowledged that it had arrested 8,047 persons since the invasion and that forty-eight remained in detention.35 Roughly three thousand were released without charge between October 1990 and February 1991. Most of the remaining detainees were released without charge between late March and early April 1991. Although no charges are outstanding against any of the former detainees, dozens have been fired from their jobs. Among government employees who lost their jobs are five persons who worked at the Commercial Bank of Rwanda and one person who worked at the Ministry of Agriculture.

      In January 1991, thirteen peasants from the east were tried without counsel before the State Security Court. One was charged with "threatening state security" for allegedly having recruited people to join the RPF. The others were charged with having been recruited in the RPF and with having failed to inform the authorities of these recruitment efforts. One was sentenced to death, eleven received prison terms ranging from two-and-a-half to twenty years, and one was acquitted. In February, two other sets of defendants were tried: a group of eight, most of whom were intellectuals, were tried for "threatening state security," and a group of four, including a minor of ten years of age, was reportedly accused of having cassettes of RPF music. Several of these defendants complained that they had been beaten or forced to make confessions; two Rwandan lawyers representing some of the defendants were intimidated by threatening anonymous telephone calls and a hostile public into withdrawing before the end of the trial. Of those tried in February, seven were sentenced to death, one received a ten-year prison term, three were acquitted, and one remained in jail pending further investigation. According to a presidential pardon issued in April 1991, all of the death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

      Not all human rights violations were directly war-related. In May 1991, several journalists signed a letter to the president protesting what they termed "the censorship orchestrated by certain authorities with regard to the independent press." Since the beginning of the year, the government has arrested at least ten journalists in connection with articles they had written and charged many of them with defamation, subversion or "threatening state security." Many of the offending articles relate to government corruption, including within the president's family. At least four journalists were detained in late November, one was badly beaten, and several others are in hiding. Some also face civil defamation charges initiated by former or current government officials. In August, the government enacted a new press law that increases government control of the press.

      Despite these attacks, the number of independent journals has increased greatly in the last year. There are now over fifty journals, compared to fewer than a dozen before the war. The proliferation is due to the government's decision in July 1990 to permit greater freedom of the press as part of a declared transition to a multiparty democracy. In July, an independent journalist's association was formed _ the first of its kind in Rwanda. In addition to defending journalists from government attacks and promoting professional standards, the association has lobbied against the new press law.

      Ostensibly at least, Rwanda is moving toward a multiparty democracy. The process was announced in July 1990, but the government noticeably accelerated the pace of reform after the war began. A new Constitution, a new law on political parties, and a new National Political Charter were all adopted in 1991 and are in effect. These documents guarantee freedom of expression (but not explicitly freedom of the press) and abolish the previous single-party system. To date, eight opposition political parties have registered and are formally recognized by the government.

      Despite these developments, certain official actions raise doubts about the sincerity of the government's commitment to democracy. First, the government is increasingly harassing individuals who oppose the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND), the reorganized former ruling party, by threatening them, disrupting their meetings and denying them documents needed to travel throughout the country.36 Second, although officials claim to be impartial toward the newly formed parties, they are still members of the MRND and are pressuring others to become members. Third, although the new Constitution of June 1991 requires the president to appoint a prime minister, President Habyarimana waited until October 1991, and then made an appointment without consulting any of the new political parties. Finally, the president, who is a military officer, has joined the reorganized MRND even though the new law on political parties prohibits military, police, and magistrates from belonging to political parties. Several of the newly formed political parties have demanded that the president either resign his military commission or abandon his membership in the MRND to comply with the constitutional requirement.

The Right to Monitor

      On September 30, 1990, the Rwandan Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ARDHO) was formed. An apolitical organization that works on behalf of all Rwandans irrespective of ethnicity, ARDHO is actively investigating and documenting individual cases of human right abuse and intervening with Rwandan authorities. The cases pursued frequently involve illegal detentions and mistreatment of civilians by the military or police. It also has begun its own investigation into the massacre of the Bagogwe people. To date, it has not published any reports, but it has attempted to alert the public to its findings through radio broadcasts. The government denied ARDHO the right to broadcast its first declaration immediately after the outbreak of the war, but the organization has been able to broadcast all subsequent declarations without interference. In late November or early December, ARDHO filed a complaint against a civilian official in Kanzenze concerning the October disappearance of several persons and the beating of others. An official investigation into the case reportedly has begun.

      In late 1991, five other human rights organizations were formed: the Association of Volunteers of Peace (AVP); the Rwandan Association for the Defense of Human Rights and Public Liberties (ADL); Kanyarwanda; the Christian League for the Defense of Human Rights in Rwanda; and Society and Perspective. One of these organizations, ADL, has a full-time staff member who has been actively taking testimony of people beaten by military and civilian authorities. At least three of these organizations, ADL, AVP and Kanyarwanda, are known to be compiling information about people who have been killed, disappeared or beaten and, in some cases, have intervened with authorities.

      To date, none of the members of these six human rights organizations has been arrested. However, the president of ARDHO, who is also a prosecutor, was transferred to an inferior position. At least one of the members of another organization has been involved in a suspicious "automobile accident."

U.S. Policy

      Because the United States has few economic or political interests in Rwanda,37 Rwanda does not figure prominently in U.S. foreign policy. According to State Department officials, the Bush Administration has a generally positive view of the country's human rights record, regarding it as a politically "moderate" state that is less repressive than many other African countries. These officials indicate that the Administration sees Rwanda's human rights record as having improved in 1991 following a deterioration in 1990 immediately after the invasion, and supports the democratization process announced by the government. In 1991, the Administration had several opportunities to raise human rights concerns with the Rwandan government, but did not always do so.

      According to the State Department, the Administration has privately encouraged Rwandan officials to increase respect for basic human rights and popular participation in the political process. State Department officials told Africa Watch that the U.S. ambassador to Rwanda, Robert Flaten, privately raised concerns about attacks against the press, particularly following the May arrest of four journalists. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs James Bishop also were reported to have privately raised concerns about the detention of these journalists at two separate meetings with Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Casimir Bizimungu during his visit to Washington in June.

      In March, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Irvin Hicks met with President Habyarimana and other officials in Kigali. According to State Department officials, the secretary expressed U.S. appreciation for Rwanda's supportive position during the Persian Gulf conflict, encouraged democratization, and delivered a note from Secretary Cohen to similar effect. In Burundi in April 1991, Secretary Cohen met with U.S. ambassadors to Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya to discuss the Rwandan crisis; once again, democratization was discussed.

      The State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1990, issued in February 1991, was the only written statement on human rights in Rwanda for the public record in 1991. The report rightly noted that human rights deteriorated in Rwanda in 1990 following the invasion in October. It accurately depicted some of the serious human rights violations committed in connection with the war, including torture, beating of detainees, and poor conditions of detention. However, the report did not discuss the widely reported incident of soldiers firing indiscriminately on rural civilians in up to ten pastoral settlements in early October 1990, in the Byumba prefecture, in northeast Rwanda.38 For fiscal year 1991, the Administration requested for Rwanda $9 million in development assistance, $625,000 for the Peace Corps and approximately $100,000 for the International Military Education and Training program. Training of Rwandan military personnel did not occur in 1990 due to the war in the north.

      To date, it appears that Rwanda will receive $15,768,000 in U.S. aid for fiscal year 1991 _ over sixty percent more than was requested. The increase is largely due to congressional support for the Rwandan democratization process and thus the doubling of the grant for development assistance.39 The Administration should use this grant to press for greater accountability on human rights issues, such as prosecution of those responsible for the massacre of over three hundred Bagogwe people.

      In the first half of 1991,40 three World Bank loans and one African Development Bank loan to Rwanda were formally considered. U.S. votes before multilateral lending institutions are governed by Section 701 of the International Financial Institutions Act of 1977, which prohibits U.S. support for loans to governments that engage in a systematic pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, unless the loan addresses basic human needs. The bar should have applied in the case of Rwanda, following the atrocities committed in the course of the war in the north. Two of the World Bank loans appeared to address basic human needs and were thus justifiably supported by the United States. However, a third World Bank loan of $90 million for a structural adjustment project, which the United States also supported, did not meet basic human needs and should have been opposed. Similarly, an $11.16 million African Development Bank loan for a road project did not address basic human needs. The United States did not support the loan, but on economic rather than human rights grounds, missing an important opportunity to use its vote to advance respect for human rights.

The Work of Africa Watch

      Africa Watch began to monitor Rwanda in mid-1991. Several letters were written to President Habyarimana protesting the government's attacks on the press. An article was published in the July 1991 issue of The Nairobi Law Monthly which highlighted the plight of the independent press. In November, Africa Watch interviewed Rwandan refugees in Belgium and conducted a two-week mission to Rwanda to investigate the general state of human rights. A report on the mission will be issued in early 1992.

The invaders belonged to the Rwandan Patriotic Army, the military arm of the RPF. Although estimates vary, the initial invading force included roughly seven thousand insurgents; it now numbers roughly ten thousand. Over half of the soldiers were deserters from Uganda's National Resistance Army.

With a population of roughly seven million in an area about 10,000 square miles, or slightly over 26,000 square kilometers, Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world -- roughly 690 persons per square mile. It also has one of the world's highest population growth rates and is unable to produce enough food to feed adequately over two million of its citizens.

Estimates range from 300 to 1,200.

The number of disappeared may be as high as eleven.

The number arrested may have reached as high as ten thousand.

At an extraordinary congress at the end of April 1991, the party restructured itself and jettisoned its old name, the National Revolutionary Movement for Democracy.

There has been a large decline in the value of Rwandan exports to the United States, primarily coffee, because of the sharp decline in coffee prices. The only significant American investment in the country is a privately owned tea plantation.

On October 11, 1990, State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler stated that the Department had been unable to verify reports of a massacre in the northeast.

The projected aid figures for fiscal year 1991 are $668,000 for Peace Corps activities and $15,000 in development assistance. IMET remains unchanged from the amount requested by the Administration.

Reports are available only for this time period.

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