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The Rwandan government has resettled hundreds of thousands of Tutsi refugees who came home after decades of exile, four years of war, and the 1994 genocide that killed at least half a million Tutsi living inside Rwanda. This report deals not with that resettlement, which has drawn general praise, but rather with another, less well-known process which took place in its shadow and which resulted in violations of the rights of tens of thousands of Rwandan citizens.

On December 13, 1996, the Rwandan Cabinet adopted a National Habitat Policy dictating that all Rwandans living in scattered homesteads throughout the country were to reside instead in government-created "villages" called imidugudu (singular, umudugudu). Established without any form of popular consultation or act of parliament, this policy decreed a drastic change in the way of life of approximately 94 percent of the population. In the subsequent four years, the Rwandan government moved hundreds of thousands of citizens into imidugudu, a significant number of them against their will.

The government adopted the habitat policy to achieve long-term development goals enunciated by the dominant Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) years before, but it then linked this rural resettlement plan to efforts to end the housing crisis provoked by the return of the refugees. As international agencies and donor governments hurried to assist in housing the returnees, the government ordered that all new houses be built within government-designated settlements. Hundreds of thousands of homeless Rwandans, most of them Tutsi returnees, but some of them survivors of the genocide and other victims of the conflict, moved willingly to the settlements.

At the same time and without fanfare, local authorities began insisting that rural-dwellers who had homes, both Tutsi and Hutu, move to imidugudu. It even compelled home-owners to destroy their houses before making the move. High-level national officials claimed to have never authorized coercion to enforce this policy, but they knew that local officials used threats and force to make people move. They praised communes where residents moved most quickly to the settlements and even promoted the prefect of Kibungo, the region where the policy was implemented most rigorously.

Officials carried out rural reorganization first in the east where returnees were most numerous and where the control of property threatened to become a major source of conflict. Later, after suppressing an insurgency in the northwest, soldiers and local authorities enforced the habitat policy there, asserting that regrouping people into imidugudu was essential to their security.

In several cases, Rwandans who spoke openly against the policy of forced resettlement or who refused to obey the order to destroy their homes and move to imidugudu were punished by fines or arrest.

The first to relocate, many of them Tutsi returnees or genocide survivors, received ready-built homes or materials for construction from foreign-funded agencies. Those who moved later, many of them Hutu or Tutsi who were obliged to leave solid homes, received little or no assistance. Many of them lacked the resources to build houses and cobbled together temporary shelters of wood, grass or leaves, and pieces of plastic. Some have lived in such temporary shelters for two years or longer. According to information gathered in late1999 by the United Nations Development Program and the Rwandan government, well over half a million imidugudu residents live in such shelters or in unfinished houses.

Many of those who have suffered most from forced villagization are women and children who are heads of households.

In implementing the rural resettlement program, local officials in many communities established imidugudu on land confiscated from cultivators, most of whom received no compensation. The choice of the site was often made without popular consultation.

In conjunction with establishing imidugudu, local officials provided land to repatriated Tutsi refugees who had none. In parts of Kibungo, Umutara, and Kigali-rural prefectures, they obliged landholders to share their holdings with those who came from outside the country. Officials made this decision, too, without popular consultation. Those who were compelled to divide their property ordinarily received no compensation for the part lost. Some of those who refused to cede part of their property to others were punished by imprisonment. Authorities also appropriated land for officials, military officers, and their associates, including businessmen, and permitted these powerful persons to confiscate land for themselves. The recipients are supposed to develop large-scale farms to benefit the local and national economy.

In imposing and implementing the National Habitat Policy, the Rwandan government violated the rights of tens of thousands of its citizens:

* by compelling them to reside other than where they choose

* by arbitrarily and unlawfully interfering with their homes

* by obliging them to destroy or cede their property without due process and without compensation.

* by punishing those who spoke out against this policy and

* by failing to provide adequate remedy for those whose rights were violated.

When the policy was first implemented, the international community was still coming to terms with its sense of guilt for having done nothing to halt the genocide. Eager to atone by funding shelter for the homeless, donors, U.N. agencies, and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) poured tens of millions of dollars and substantial human resources into construction programs. Even as they did so, most of them knew that the housing programs were intertwined with a rural resettlement program that had occasioned multiple human rights abuses. At first they discussed these problems, but they then lapsed into silence before the determined Rwandan effort to carry the policy through. Only after two-or in some cases three-years did most donors again begin to question the lack of popular participation in the program and other abuses that it entailed.

Whether in response to international criticism, shortage of funds, or domestic opposition, the Rwandan government slowed implementation of the policy during the year 2000. But it did not alter its determination to move all rural-dwellers eventually to imidugudu and it was obliging people in the southwestern prefecture of Cyangugu to move to the settlements as the year ended.

This report is based upon field work in ten of the twelve prefectures of Rwanda (Butare, Byumba, Cyangugu, Gisenyi, Gitarama, Kibungo, Kigali, Kigali-rural, Ruhengeri, and Umutara) as well as on interviews with officials of the Rwandan government, staff ofembassies in Kigali, and representatives of various international agencies and nongovernmental organizations. It draws also on documents from the Rwandan government, the United Nations, and diplomatic sources.

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