In April 1994, a group of Hutu extremists took control of the Rwandan government and launched a genocide of the Tutsi minority, then some 10 percent of the Rwandan population. Within three months they had murdered at least half a million men, women, and children, Tutsi as well as moderate Hutu, some of them with extraordinary cruelty.1
President Juvenal Habyarimana and a close circle of supporters had governed since 1973, when Habyarimana had taken power in a coup. A Hutu, Habyarimana was initially popular with the majority Hutu, some 90 percent of the population. But by the end of the 1980s, the ruling group was losing support, partly because of corruption and increasing repression, partly because of general economic decline. Under pressure from a growing internal opposition and from international donors, Habyarimana was facing the end of his personal monopoly of power and the end of the exclusive control of his party, the National Republican Democratic Movement (Mouvement National Républicain Démocratique, MRND). At the same time, his regime was attacked by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a group based in Uganda and made up mostly of Tutsi refugees. Tutsi had ruled Rwanda before and during the colonial era but were driven from power by a revolution beginning in 1959 that left some 20,000 Tutsi dead and drove hundreds of thousands more into exile. In the face of continued Rwandan refusal to permit their return, the refugees had organized an effective army to cross the border. In 1990, the Rwandan government began discussions that seemed to offer a possibility of resolving the refugee crisis, but the RPF launched its attack anyway on October 1, 1990.
Habyarimana and his followers attempted to use the RPF attack to rebuild their slipping hold on power by rallying the majority Hutu against the Tutsi. They began a campaign to label all Tutsi and Hutu allied with them as ibyitso, "accomplices" of the RPF. The government arrested some 8,000 Tutsi and Hutu opposed to the government immediately after the invasion and thousands more in subsequent weeks. In mid-October, local government officials directed a massacre of Tutsi, the first in a series of killings that would prepare the way for and finally culminate in the genocide of 1994.
The war continued for nearly three years, interrupted by occasional cease fires and negotiations. In 1991, under considerable international pressure to democratize, the regime permitted the establishment of opposing political parties, several of which allied themselves with the RPF and so further undermined the power of Habyarimana and his immediate circle. By 1993 the extremists, determined to hold onto power, put in place all of the elements necessary for the genocide: a propaganda machine that operated first through the written press and national radio and later through a supposedly private radio station, Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM); the organization of militia groups-the most notorious of which was the Interahamwe-recruited in part from unemployed young men and trained to kill; supplies of arms and ammunition that had been distributed clandestinely; and a network of committed administrative, military, and political leaders ready to lead the attack on the Tutsi minority.
The international community ignored both the smaller massacres between 1990 and 1993 and the preparations for the catastrophic genocide. It focused instead on bringing about an end to the war between the Rwandan government and the RPF, a goal apparently achieved in August 1993 with the signing of the Arusha Accords. As stipulated in the accords, the United Nations provided a peacekeeping force (United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda, UNAMIR) to facilitate the transition to an elected government and to oversee the integration of the RPF army into the Rwandan Armed Forces (Forces Armées Rwandaises, FAR). But the U.N. wanted a cheap success and failed to provide either the mandate or the forces necessary to ensure a prompt and orderly transition.
Habyarimana had signed the accords only under duress and was determined to prevent implementation of the agreement. He created one obstacle after another to the installation of the transitional government, playing skillfully upon divisions within the internal opposition that was to share power with the Habyarimana group and with the RPF in the new government. The RPF rejected attempts to change the terms of the agreement, and the process dragged on from August 1993 to April 1994. During that time, both sides prepared to reopen the war. The extremists around Habyarimana pushed forward their plans for genocide, which they apparently considered a weapon for simultaneously winning the war against the RPF and recapturing political power within Rwanda.
On April 6, 1994, Habyarimana's plane was shot down as he was returning from a peace conference in Tanzania. People close to Habyarimana, including those at Radio RTLM, immediately blamed the RPF for his death but offered no convincing proof of this charge. The identity of those responsible for downing the plane has yet to be determined. The killing of Habyarimana was used as a pretext for initiating the massive killings that had been planned for months, both of Tutsi and of those Hutu who were opposed to Habyarimana.
Shortly after the killing began Rwandan army soldiers killed ten Belgian peacekeepers, apparently in reaction to reports that Belgians had helped shoot down Habyarimana's plane. The extremists had spread reports of Belgian complicity to ensure an attack on Belgian troops, the best trained and the best equipped troops in the UNAMIR force. Five days later Belgium withdrew its troops, as the extremists had hoped they would, and began exerting pressure on other members of the Security Council to remove the entire peacekeeping force. On April 21, the Security Council decided to remove all but several hundred of the UNAMIR soldiers who were then protecting some 20,000 persons at risk, many of them Tutsi.
Within a few days of the start of the killing, the organizers of the genocide were confident that the international community would not intervene. They extended and intensified the killing after the departure of most of the UNAMIR forces. Following lines laid out by national political, administrative, and military leaders, local-level authorities and politicians led the efforts to annihilate the Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Soldiers or national policemen (officially part of the army) launched and directed the killing in many communities. Party leaders directed their militia to join in the slaughter, sending them around the country as needed to initiate or intensify killings. Ordinary citizens also joined in attacks, following the orders of officials or militia heads. Many of these ordinary citizens acted from fear, both fear of the Tutsi whom they had been taught were coming to kill them, and fear of officials or militia who threatened reprisals against anyone who did not join in the carnage.
Once the genocide began, the RPF renewed its military offensive against the government, instigating massive movements of refugees, most of them Hutu, into Tanzania in late April. Fearing that these refugee movements would destabilize the whole region and horrified by the continued slaughter, the U.N. decided on May 17 to send an expanded peacekeeping force, UNAMIR II, to Rwanda. Because of bureaucratic delays at the U.N. and the lack of political will among most member states, the new force did not begin to arrive until August. By that time, the RPF had defeated the genocidal government and had established a new government.
The defeated government and army led a mass exodus of some two million Hutu into neighboring countries in July 1994. In a refugee crisis of unprecedented scale, some 50,000 predominantly Hutu refugees died of disease, hunger, and lack of water in neighboring Zaire in the next few weeks. Hundreds of thousands of others who believed they were threatened by the RPF advance took refuge in displaced persons camps in southwestern Rwanda in an area first protected by French troops and later supervised by UNAMIR.
Within months, soldiers of the defeated Rwandan army (now known as ex-FAR), members of militia, administrators, and political leaders who had directed the genocide began rebuilding their strength in Zaire. Using refugee camps as military bases in violation of international law, they began mounting incursions into Rwanda.2 In the absence of any effective international action to halt these attacks, the Rwandan government allied with the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (ADFL), a group opposed to the government of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire that was cobbled together for the occasion. In alliance with Uganda, Rwanda and the ADFL overthrew Mobutu, established a new government, and renamed Zaire the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, hereafter referred to as Congo). In the course of this war, the armed forces of the new Rwandan government, known as the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA),3 destroyed the refugee camps in eastern Congo, killing tens of thousands of civilians on the spot or in later pursuit through the forests. At this time, hundreds of thousands of refugees were repatriated to Rwanda, some of them against their will. Thousands of others returned in later years, but an estimated 173,000 people from the original camp population were still unaccounted for in 1999.4
During 1997 and 1998, ex-FAR and former militia members as well as new recruits who had not participated in the genocide launched incursions into Rwanda, particularly in the northwest. The RPA responded to these attacks ruthlessly. In these military operations both sides attacked civilians, causing numerous casualties. Seeking to deprive the combatants of any support from the population, Rwandan authorities forced many local residents to move to government-supervised camps. Nearly half of the population of the northwest had been displaced by the end of 1998, either to the camps or to forests in Rwanda or Congo.
By late 1998, the RPA had largely managed to push the combatants back across the border into Congo where fighting has continued in a second Congo war with Rwanda and its new local ally, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie, RCD) which is fighting the Congolese government.5 In this war, Rwandan military officers, politicians, and businessmen have profited by exploiting Congo's extensive natural resources including gold, diamonds, timber, and coltan, a mineral used in cellular phones and other products.6 Rwanda withdrew most of its forces from the Congo in 2002, but the situation in the region remained tense.
1 For a detailed study of the genocide, see Human Rights Watch, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999). A recent Rwandan government count of genocide victims claims that more than a million were killed. "Government Puts Genocide Victims at 1.07 Million," U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), December 19, 2001. For a discussion of the problem of statistics, see Leave None to Tell the Story, pp.15-16.
The word "children" is used in this report to mean anyone under the age of eighteen. Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as "every human being below the age of eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." The African Charter for the Rights and Welfare of the Child also defines a child as a human being under the age of eighteen (art. 2).
2 Human Rights Watch Arms Project, "Rwanda / Zaire: Rearming with Impunity: International Support for the Perpetrators of the Rwandan Genocide," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 7 no. 4, May 1995, p. 3; UNHCR Inspection and Evaluation Service, Refugee Camp Security in the Great Lakes Region, April 1997.
4 UNHCR Briefing Notes, Rwanda: Repatriations from DRC, May 4, 1999. See also, Human Rights Watch, "Democratic Republic of Congo, What Kabila is Hiding: Civilian Killings and Impunity in Eastern Congo," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 9 no. 5(A), October 1997. More than one thousand refugees per month returned to Rwanda from Congo most months through 2001. Most of these had fled Rwanda in 1994, but others fled more recently in 1997-1998 or subsequent periods of insecurity.
6 See the Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo, transmitted by the Secretary General to the Security Council in a letter dated April 12, 2001. U.N. Doc. S/2001/357; Addendum to the report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo, transmitted by the Secretary General to the Security Council in a letter dated November 13, 2001, U.N. Doc. S/2001/1072.