IV. REACTION OF THE RWANDAN AUTHORITIES
The Rwandan government professes commitment to enforcing both domestic law and international humanitarian law. Rwanda ratified the Geneva Conventions, in particular Additional Protocol II relating to the protection of victims. Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions as well as the principles of Protocol II apply to this conflict and bind both parties involved in it.
The Rwandan military justice system has prosecuted a number of cases of grave human rights violations. But most convictions have been of ordinary soldiers or low-ranking officers. Senior officers have rarely been tried on such charges and if tried and convicted have generally received light sentences. Extremely serious allegations of war crimes by Rwandan government troops in the Congo, made by local and international human rights organizations, by the United Nations special rapporteur for the Democratic Republic of Congo, and by the secretary-general's Investigative Team, have not been seriously investigated far less prosecuted by Rwandan authorities.
During the 1997-1998 rebellion in the northwest, the Rwandan army generally treated the local civilians as collaborators of the rebels. They killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands of others into miserable relocation camps or into the bush where many died of illness and malnutrition. In the current conflict Rwandan authorities have adopted a different strategy. Brigadier-General Kabarebe reportedly told an audience in Ruhengeri that the army was doing its best to avoid violating the rights of citizens as it fought ALIR.60 According to information available to Human Rights Watch in early December, Rwandan government soldiers have not engaged in reprisal attacks against local residents. The few cases reported thus far of locally resident civilians killed or injured by Rwandan government fire appear to have been accidental.
The Rwandan army quickly reinforced the northwest after the May clashes, increasing the number of soldiers at large bases and establishing some new smaller posts. On several occasions when large numbers of ALIR were sighted, army units responded rapidly and inflicted heavy losses on them. In a major engagement on June 6, a force of several hundred ALIR combatants attempting to advance through Mutura and Cyanzarwe districts were stopped by Rwandan forces with armored personnel carriers and helicopter gunships. During the battle ALIR suffered casualties but also apparently shot and disabled an Rwandan army helicopter, forcing it to make an emergency landing in a military camp. The Rwandan army reported that it killed 400 rebels and captured 150 that day.
On June 21, there were heavy clashes in the districts of Bugarula (formerly Cyabingo and Ruhondo) and Bukonya (formerly Ndusu and Gatonde). Local witnesses estimated that 500 ALIR combatants were involved, of whom twenty were killed along with fifteen government soldiers. They said an RPA bomb fell on a home in Munyana cell, Munanira secteur, of Bukonya district, killing the man who lived there and seriously injuring his wife. In another incident the same day, a woman was reported injured by Rwandan government fire in Muhaza secteur, Bugarula.61
In addition to cases in which local residents were injured or killed who were apparently not deliberately targeted, a number of apparent civilians traveling with ALIR were killed when Rwandan government troops fired on the ALIR group. From accounts of survivors, for example, it appears that civilians, including young women who were part of a prayer group, accompanied ALIR combatants who were engaged by government soldiers in the major clash at Cyanzarwe on June 5 and 6. At least eight young women and a number of children were killed there.62 In late June, government soldiers gave chase to looters in Nyarwaya cell, Mutobo district and killed twenty-seven persons. One witness commented that the group may have included children and noncombatants who had accompanied the fighters to carry off the loot.63
Persons not part of an armed force who accompany combatants in roles such as porters, spiritual advisers, or general helpers are civilians-and are protected as such-so long as they do not themselves participate in hostilities. But civilians who voluntarily put themselves in close proximity to combatants have accepted a greater risk of harm and may suffer incidental injury or loss of life even if they are not targeted. General principles of humanitarian law require both parties to a conflict to accord civilians the greatest protection possible against the dangers arising from military operations. Troops should not shield themselves behind civilians; similarly, opposing forces should attempt to minimize the harm to civilians even should shielding take place. Judgments in such cases are complex.
Some local residents complained that Rwandan government soldiers failed to respond to their calls for help when looters arrived to raid their property. Army soldiers repulsed only one of four ALIR attacks on health centers. Families living near ALIR bases have suffered most. The people of Bisate sector adjacent to the Virunga forest, for example, had their homes and fields looted on four consecutive nights in mid-June.64
Treatment of Captives
In past years the Rwandan army took relatively few enemy captives, but in another demonstration of a change in policy in the recent conflict they have taken captive or accepted the surrender of more than 1,800 persons. Many of them were combatants and others were civilians who had accompanied the troops.
In general, captives who are participating in solidarity camps at Mudende and Nkumba in the northwest appear not to have been ill-treated. But in three cases, unarmed captives have reportedly been summarily executed by Rwandan government forces. In late June six ALIR combatants were found hiding in the bushes shortly after a skirmish between their group and the RPA. The cattle herder who discovered them took them to the Rwandan government soldiers at Gikombe, between Karara and Rusengye cells in Kareba sector, Buhoma district. When RPA soldiers asked them what they were doing, they answered that they had just been waiting for the shooting to end to surrender. Four of the six were armed and handed over their weapons. An officer reportedly named Captain Mutabazi took one of these weapons and tried to shoot one of the ALIR combatants who had surrendered. The weapon did not fire, so the captain supposedly took a weapon from one of his guards and killed all six. Local people were ordered to bury the dead but initially refused. When the captain insisted, they buried the corpses in a mass grave in Rusengye cell in Kareba. The same captain was allegedly also involved in violence against members of the Local Defense Force, as described below.65
In another incident, Rwandan government soldiers reportedly killed seven unarmed ALIR combatants at a post between Nyabirehe, Mutobo district, and Musomba, Buhoma district. In the third case, members of the Local Defense Force supposedly executed two combatants who had surrendered at the Kanama district office.66
One of the children now in Rwandan hands says that he was beaten when captured in the Congo by Rwandan government soldiers and another said both children and adults were beaten after being caught in Rwanda on May 21. Otherwise none of the two dozen adults or children interviewed by Human Rights Watch researchers complained of ill-treatment and several said that they had been well cared for.67
Captives were initially held at military camps near where they surrendered or were captured. Within two weeks, most of these early detainees were transferred to Camp Muhoza, a military camp in Ruhengeri, where some 400 captives, including two women and fifty-two children, slept in two crowded rooms.68 Food and medical supplies were insufficient. The most seriously wounded were eventually transferred to hospitals, although some of them received this kind of medical attention only days or weeks after they had been wounded and captured. In mid-July, some two dozen captives were being treated at the Ruhengeri hospital.69
The government subsequently transferred some 1320 adult and child captives to a "solidarity camp" at Mudende, Gisenyi run by the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. The number of captives continued to swell and, in August, the government established another, makeshift solidarity camp for over 700 more at Nkumba, Ruhengeri. There they follow a "re-education" program meant to promote nationalism and RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) ideology and erase ideas of ethnic loyalty. In general, captives have been treated relatively well, although overcrowding and lack of basic supplies have at times been problems. Over 1300 participants in Mudende were housed in quarters supposedly meant for some 500, creating conditions of over-crowding that fostered the spread of disease.70 In early August, one child and three adults died at the Mudende camp, apparently as a result of diarrhea.71 After the solidarity camps, the captives will supposedly be free to go home. However, the RPA will most likely "reintegrate" most of them into its forces and deploy them along the front lines in Congo.
Rwandan authorities have encouraged captives to make contact with their families. The national radio broadcast names and other identifying information about the captives and authorities presented some of them at public meetings in the northwest and elsewhere in the country. Families came from considerable distances and were allowed to visit with their relatives and some captives were permitted to spend several days at home before returning to detention.72
Enlisting the Population
In assessing the situation on June 30, 2001 Brigadier-General Kabarebe said that the effort against ALIR was 20 percent based on the military strength of the Rwandan government army and 80 percent based on the assistance of the local population.73 To encourage that assistance, both local and national government officials, including the minister of defense and the minister of internal security, have held frequent public meetings (called sensibilisation) throughout the northwest. In some cases, they have reportedly paid local people who helped capture ALIR combatants and they have bestowed ample public praise on others.74
Authorities have also repeatedly reminded people of the sufferings of previous years of war and, using the well-worn proverb about how the grass suffers most when elephants fight, they have warned them of the consequences of encouraging ALIR forces. Local residents do indeed remember vividly the misery and deaths of 1997 and 1998 and seem to have generally heeded official orders to shun the ALIR combatants.
In some areas, people have interpreted the official warnings as direct threats. One local official who attended a number of meetings led by Rwandan army officers commented:
The military tell the people that the insurgency is their fault because it is their children who are the Rebels. These threats are made very often. The people are very intimidated. They just want to survive. . . .We are civilians. Politics are not our business. We live off our fields. We haven't ever gone to school. How can the military see us as political opponents?75
Rwandan authorities have also held meetings elsewhere in the country to urge residents to be vigilant in watching for any sign of ALIR activity in their areas.76
Authorities have called on people to do more than just stay alert. In many communities, residents are obliged to patrol at night and on occasion thousands have been mobilized to search local fields or the Gishwati and Nyungwe forests for signs of ALIR combatants.77 Even in the eastern province of Kibungo, distant from the troubled northwest, authorities warned "severe sanctions" would be imposed on any citizen who did not participate in nightly patrols.78 In some cases, civilians have been obliged to assist the military in other ways. People who reside near the military post in Burambi sector of Bukamba district (formerly Kidaho) are often required to supply water to Rwandan army soldiers. During the dry season, they had to walk six miles round trip to Lake Bulera to fetch the water. In the sector of Shingiro, Bukonya district, residents are obliged to provide food for the members of the Local Defense Force.79
For the past several years, young people have been called upon to serve in the Local Defense Force. Some do so willingly, others only under duress. They ordinarily receive two to three months training by Rwandan government soldiers and work under their supervision. They live at home and are supposed to protect their local communities, for which they receive no salary. Some members of the LDF are under eighteen years of age.80 Usually some but not all LDF members have firearms when on patrol. On June 8, the Governor of Gisenyi province announced that more weapons would be distributed to local LDF members and that they would be deployed to patrol along the Gishwati forest.81 LDF members have engaged in skirmishes with ALIR combatants, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of Rwandan government soldiers. They have killed members of ALIR and several have been themselves killed in exchanges of fire.82 Their service has lightened the burden on the Rwandan government army, both in the northwest and in the Congo. Many of the early LDF members have been subsequently transferred or recruited into the regular army and sent to fight across the border.83
Members of the Local Defense Force ordinarily follow the orders of Rwandan government soldiers, but on July 7, several LDF in Kareba sector refused to execute the command to send local people to their homes at about 5:30 in the evening. They say that there was no apparent reason to impose a curfew at that hour. According to witnesses, the soldiers had been drinking and got into a scuffle with the LDF members who refused to follow their orders. One of the soldiers threatened the young auxiliaries with his weapon. Captain Mutabazi, mentioned above, reportedly intervened and ordered the soldiers to beat the LDF members, which they did. One of the LDF was so seriously injured that he required medical attention. This incident, following a week or more after the shooting of the surrendered ALIR combatants, caused an outcry among the local people. Three days later, Captain Mutabazi was reportedly transferred to Mudende. 84
ALIR officers interviewed by Human Rights Watch researchers recognized that international humanitarian law prohibited recruiting children under the age of fifteen for military service and using them in hostilities.85 One even cited the higher limit of eighteen years of age provided for by the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.86 Several said that their commanding officers had prohibited the recruitment of children, in one case by three written orders. One mentioned having seen another officer punish a soldier for having used a child as a porter.87 But orders against the recruitment and use of children were not generally obeyed: in early August 280 children were in Rwandan custody, after having been part of the ALIR forces. Fifty-six of those children were Congolese and have since been handed over to the Governor of North Kivu and installed in a youth center in the Congo.88
At least several dozen child soldiers accompanying ALIR combatants have been killed in combat since May 2001.89 The number may be far higher. Three of fourteen children seen by a Human Rights Watch researcher in a Gisenyi detention center on June 8 were suffering from bullet wounds.
Like the adults in ALIR, the Rwandan children included some who had been in the Congo since 1994 and who had suffered through the attacks and dispersion of the refugee camps. Others had fled to the Congo with refugees in 1997 or 1998. One fourteen-year-old orphan from Gisenyi said that he was never part of ALIR. His aunt and grandmother were killed during the 1997 fighting in Giciye in Rwanda and he has no other family. He had been living in a makeshift refugee camp in a forest in Walikale. One day in May 2001, he and another boy went out to search for food and came back to find that the other residents of the camp had left. Alone in the forest, they met Rwandan government soldiers who accused them of being part of ALIR. According to the child, the soldiers refused to believe their claims that they were refugees and beat them. The soldiers took the boys to detention in Goma and then to Rwanda. The child thought he would be turned over to UN refugee officials and was surprised to find himself in military detention.90
The youngest children seen by Human Rights Watch researchers were ten and eleven years old. Some who were older were extremely small in size probably due to malnutrition and frequent disease. One who looked about seven years old was in fact twice that age. He explained, "I am small because I haven't eaten well."91 All were dirty and ill-clad. One excused his appearance saying there had been no water that morning to wash his face. Most appeared completely exhausted. During the two days that Human Rights Watch researchers were conducting interviews at the camp where the children were detained, dozens of children simply stood or sat passively in a nearby field. Several fell asleep in the sun.
The young captives engaged in none of the banter or high-spirited jostling characteristic of children of this age. Even sitting in a group, most seemed solitary and unconnected to others. Many were orphans. Others did not know if their parents or other family members were alive, and if they were alive, where they might be. One child who had had no news of his father for three years rediscovered him at the military camp where both were held captive. At first, the father did not recognize him. When another small child was asked where in Rwanda he came from, he replied with the names of his parents and of a place in Kigali-rural. He added that he was not sure of this information but that was what others in the forest had taught him.92
Most of the smaller children had been attached to a particular combatant who fed them and for whom they worked. But they often knew this person only by his rank, not by his name. One child proud of his gift of a blue and orange tee shirt spoke of the donor as "the sergeant." Many did not know the names of other children with whom they had spent days or weeks, as if they expected the connections to be so brief as to make learning names futile. Asked to identify other child soldiers from his unit who had been killed in combat two weeks before, one eleven-year-old said that he no longer remembered who they were.93
Recruitment of children
Some of the children were abducted by ALIR combatants; they were usually taken from their homes in the course of raids and pressed into service immediately to transport the booty. One Congolese child was taken this way from his home in Kinigi, Bunyana, North Kivu as recently as early June 2001.94 Other children followed the troops in search of food and protection, often after their parents had died or they had become separated from their families. Another child fled Rwanda with his mother in 1998 and lived with her in the forest on the other side of the volcanoes that mark the border with the Congo. One day when he was out seeking food and firewood, Rwandan government soldiers came and forced his mother to return to Rwanda. He came back and found her gone and decided to go to a nearby ALIR camp. After spending some time with the combatants, he fell ill and they left him with a Congolese family to recover. They later returned to take him away again to use him as a porter.95 As this account illustrates, combatants could often find other solutions for needy children than incorporating them in their ranks but ordinarily chose instead to keep them in order to exploit their labor.
Training of children
Almost all of the children interviewed by Human Rights Watch researchers had been taught how to fire weapons. One had refused to learn because he "didn't want to spill blood."96 One fourteen year-old said that he was severely beaten when he refused to learn to shoot but in the end was not forced to do so.97 A thirteen-year-old child said that he did not learn to fire weapons because he was judged too young. This was unusual: children as young as eleven learned to shoot. Most learned informally in small groups in the camps where they lived, usually ten children together. Only one said that he did three months of regular military training with fifty-six other children at Kingingo camp in the forest. In addition to learning how to handle several weapons, he learned tactics of self-defense and military regulations. According to the child, who is only eleven years old, the training ended one morning and the children departed together for Rwanda that same afternoon.98
The children interviewed by Human Rights Watch researchers varied in their understanding of what the war was all about. Several could articulate the political goals also cited by adult combatants: to overthrow a repressive government and end injustice. Others spoke in more blatantly ethnic terms, saying that Tutsi were more "cruel" than other people. One said he had been taught that "Hutu and Tutsi are different ethnic groups and there will never be good relations between them." Another said he heard commanding officers saying that Tutsi kill and imprison people in Rwanda. Others said simply that they did not know or were still waiting to find out what the war was all about.
It appears that in general ALIR did not use children younger than sixteen years old in combat. Both children and adult combatants indicate that younger children were not officially registered on ALIR roles. The advance unit known as the Commando for Research and Intensive Action, however, seems to have integrated younger children in its ranks, perhaps because they were expected to be useful in gathering intelligence, one of the objectives of that unit. Some seventeen and eighteen year olds apparently served as regular soldiers; according to one officer, he had three such children among his eighty-one combatants.99
ALIR used younger children to fetch water, do other domestic chores, and to transport loads, some of them extremely heavy. One child who spent approximately one year with ALIR remembers having moved camp ten times in the Congo before coming to Rwanda.100 According to one young child, they also were ordered to shout and otherwise make noise to distract and frighten opponents during battle. One witness who saw the arrival of the first combatants on May 20 said that there were ten children carrying empty pots among the group of seventy. According to accounts of battles in the Congo, children sometimes bang on pots to create a diversion.101
Some children complained that ALIR combatants beat them severely if they did anything wrong or even if they were angry for some other reason. They said that some children had died of such beatings. Others said that they had been warned that anyone trying to escape would be caught and killed.102
A Step Towards Reintegration: "Like flowers that had been watered"
Fortunately the majority of children from ALIR now in the hands of Rwandan authorities are not hardened soldiers. Although they have suffered great privation and seen much death and misery, most have actually been in combat only two or three times. Unlike the tragic children of Sierra Leone or the Lord's Resistance Army in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, they have not been trained to commit nor have they committed atrocities.
In mid-August, Rwandan authorities moved the children to the Gitagata center south of Kigali where they will spend a year being "re-educated" and attending school or learning a trade. According to a government announcement on August 13, the center will also be providing services to hundreds of street children recently rounded up in the capital and other towns as well as to children younger than fourteen years old who have been convicted of crimes.103
Approximately one month after the first children were taken into custody, UNICEF began to supply food, clothing, and medicine for the children and continue to provide assistance to the Gitagata center.104
A Human Rights Watch researcher who visited the children at Gitagata in late August found them eating regularly and sleeping in beds with bedding. They had access to fuller medical care than was available in camps where they were previously housed. Educational, counseling, and psycho-social services were being planned by international humanitarian agencies. These services had not yet begun, but a performing arts group was present singing, dancing, and playing the drums with the children. As one observer commented, the children "looked like flowers that had been watered."105
By early December, the families of more than one hundred of the children had been located and were ready to reintegrate their sons, but the government insisted that the boys remain at Gitagata. Only one child, the only girl out of more than 200, was allowed to go home. She claims to have been a refugee and never to have participated in the ALIR forces. Shortly after arriving at Gitagata, she was harassed by boys participating in the camp. In late August, after strong urging from UNICEF agents, Rwandan authorities allowed her to rejoin her mother in Gisenyi.
Most of the children come from northwestern Rwanda. If they have any remaining relatives, they are likely to live in that area, far from Gitagata. This distance will complicate regular contact between children and family members, which is essential to properly prepare for their reintegration into communities. UNICEF is urging the government to provide for family visits and other activities that will make it easier for the children to reintegrate into life with their families after leaving the camp.
An estimated 400,000 children in Rwanda are orphans. They live in child-headed households, in foster families, as live-in domestic servants, or on the streets. Many of them are gravely abused and exploited. The challenge for the Rwandan government and the international community will be to find durable solutions for these newly arrived needy children and for the others who will doubtless follow them if the war continues.
60 Radio Rwanda, Evening News, July 10, 2001.
61 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, by telephone, June 29, 2001.
62 Human Rights Watch, Ruhengeri, June 18, 2001.
63 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, July 10, 2001.
64 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, June 18 and Kigali, June 22, 2001.
65 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, July 10, 2001.
66 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, July 10, 2001.
67 Human Rights Watch interviews, Gisenyi, June 8, 2001 and Ruhengeri, June 18-19, 2001.
68 Human Rights Watch interviews and field notes, Gisenyi, June 8, 2001; Ruhengeri, June 18-19, 2001.
69 Human Rights Watch interviews and field notes, Gisenyi, June 8, 2001; Ruhengeri, June 18-19 and July 9, 2001.
70 Radio Rwanda, Evening News, July 16, 2001.
71 Human Rights Watch interview, Gisenyi, by telephone, August 14, 2001.
72 Human Rights Watch interviews and field notes, Gisenyi, June 8, 2001; Ruhengeri, June 18-19 and July 9, 2001.
73 Bar, "Winning with words : Rwanda battens down against cross-border foes "
74 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, June 18, 2001.
75 Human Rights Watch interview, July 10, 2001.
76 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, May 23, 2001 and Gisenyi, May 24-25, 2001, Herve Bar, "Winning with words : Rwanda battens down against cross-border foes, " Agence France Presse, June 30, 2001 ; Radio Rwanda, Evening News, May 21, June 12, and July 7, 2001, Morning News July 8, 2001.
77 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, May 23 and Gisenyi, June 8, 2001.
78 Radio Rwanda, Evening News, July 7, 2001.
79 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, May 25 and June 18, 2001.
80 See Human Rights Watch, "Rwanda : The Search for Security and Human Rights Abuses, " vol. 12, no. 1, April 2000. Rwanda is a party to Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits at article 77 the recruitment of children under the age of fifteen and requires that all feasible measures be taken to ensure that those under fifteen not take part directly in hostilities. Rwanda has ratified the Convention on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which provides similar prohibitions at article 38. Rwanda has signed, but not ratified, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which requires states parties to refrain from recruiting children, defined as persons under the age of eighteen, and to take all necessary measures to ensure that no children participate in hostilities. By recruiting children for Local Defense Forces, Rwanda violates these international conventions and standards.
81 Human Rights Watch interviews, Gisenyi, June 8, 2001, and Ruhengeri, June 19, 2001.
82 "A Gisenyi, Les Infiltrés ont tué un `Local Defense' ," Umuseso, No. 47, June 25-July 1, 2001.
83 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, May 25 and July 9-10, 2001.
84 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, July 10, 2001.
85 Article 4(3) (c-d),Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions, which applies to all forces in a noninternational armed conflict.
86 General Assembly Resolution 44/25 of November 20, 1989, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp (No. 49) at 167, U.N. Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990. The Optional Protocol to this convention establishes eighteen as the minimum age for recruitment or use in hostilities by nongovernmental actors as well as by governmental forces.
87 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, June 19, 2001.
88 Human Rights Watch interview, by telephone, Gisenyi August 14, 2001.
89 Human Rights Watch interviews, Gisenyi, June 8, 2001 and Ruhengeri, June 18-19, July 9-10, 2001.
90 Human Rights Watch interview, Gisenyi, June 8, 2001.
91 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, June 18, 2001.
92 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, June 18, 2001.
93 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, June 18-19, 2001.
94 Human Rights Watch interviews, Gisenyi, June 8 and Ruhengeri, June 18-19, 2001.
95 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, June 18, 2001.
96 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, June 18, 2001.
97 Human Rights Watch interview, Gitagata, Kigali-rural, August 23, 2001.
98 Human Rights Watch interviews, Gisenyi, June 8 and Ruhengeri, June 18-19, 2001.
99 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, June 18-19 and July 9, 2001; Kigali, July 24, 2001.
100 Human Rights Watch interview, Gisenyi, June 8, 2001.
101 Human Rights Watch interview, Ruhengeri, May 23, 2001.
102 Human Rights Watch interviews, Gisenyi, June 8 and Ruhengeri, June 18-19, 2001.
103 Radio Rwanda, Morning News, August 13, 2001.
104 Human Rights Watch interview, Kigali, June 28, 2001.
105 Human Rights Watch field notes, Gitagata, August 23, 2001.