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Between April and July 1994, the Rwandan government, army (Forces Armées Rwandaises, FAR), and militia, carried out a genocide that killed more than half a million Tutsi, a minority people who formed some 10 per cent of the Rwandan population. The authorities, who were part of the Hutu majority, also massacred thousands of other Hutu who opposed them and their extermination campaign. Defeated by the largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), the military branch of the RPF, the genocidal authorities fled the country. From bases in neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC), they re-organized and began incursions against the new government established by the RPF.

Arguing the need to cut short this threat, the current Rwandan government has twice sent its army to invade the Congo, where its troops now occupy a resource-rich territory some ten times the size of Rwanda itself. General Paul Kagame, president and minister of defense of Rwanda, has repeatedly asserted that RPA troops must stay in the Congo so long as any ex-FAR soldiers or Interahamwe remain there.

The numbers of former FAR soldiers and militia have been considerably diminished by losses suffered in 1994 and since. In addition to those killed in battle, some 15,000 former FAR soldiers have been integrated into the RPA according to General Kagame. Insurgents active against the Rwandan government are now estimated at between 15,000 and 20,000 combatants. Rwandan authorities and foreign observers generally call these combatants Interahamwe, which was the name of the largest militia involved in the genocide. But a substantial number of the current combatants are recent recruits and belonged neither to the former Rwandanarmy nor to the Interahamwe militia as it existed at the time of the genocide. The distinction is important because incorrect use of the term implies that all those now fighting the RPA participated in the genocide.

In 1997, ex-FAR and Interahamwe who had returned from the Congo and who had strengthened their forces by recruiting inside Rwanda, conducted a major insurgency in the northwestern prefectures of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri. In suppressing this uprising, as in the first Congo war, RPA troops killed tens of thousands of unarmed civilians, a slaughter which Rwandan authorities sought to justify by their need for security.

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