Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) today demanded that General Paul Kagame, Vice-President and Minister of Defense, and Rwandan President Pasteur Bizimungu order an end to killings of civilians by forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA), as described in the most recent report of the United Nations Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda (HRFOR).
In a report issued August 7, HRFOR states that at least 2,022 persons were killed in May and June during operations of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) in Ruhengeri prefecture. According to eyewitnesses, many of those killed were unarmed civilians, including children, women and the elderly. Others were insurgents who were waging armed struggle against the government of Rwanda.
In letters to General Kagame and President Bizimungu, the two international human rights organizations wrote:
The report has been in the hands of Rwandan authorities since July 21 and its publication was twice delayed to permit them to prepare an appropriate response, but thus far they have responded only that the sources of information were not reliable and that the investigators did not understand the country. Such a vague and superficial response fails to counter the highly detailed investigative report, which cites dates of the incidents and numbers of alleged casualties by sector. Should such an inadequate response stand, it would show clearly that Rwandan authorities do not take complaints of human rights abuses seriously.
The organizations note that Rwandan government representatives have conceded that the RPA killed more than 2,000 persons in Ruhengeri during the period in question but claim that only 200 to 300 of those killed were civilians. Human Rights Watch and FIDH declared:
The assertion that some 1800 of the more than 2000 killed by the RPA were all members of armed groups cannot be simply and unquestioningly accepted, given the amount and weight of testimony to the contrary.
We do not question the right and obligation of the Rwandan government to protect its people. Nor do we doubt that armed groups have increased the frequency and severity of their attacks in recent months. As you know, our organizations have long warned of the risk of resumed combat as increased amounts of arms have flowed to the region and we have campaigned to end this traffic in weapons. But Rwandan authorities must exercise their right and duty to protect the citizens of Rwanda within the limits set by international humanitarian law, which Rwanda has formally accepted.
Human Rights Watch and FIDH wrote to General Kagame:
As a senior commanding officer and Minister of Defense, you are responsible for ensuring that RPA forces know the limits of international humanitarian law and act within them. Although Rwandan authorities challenge charges by HRFOR that substantial numbers of unarmed civilians were killed, they do admit that RPA forces slaughtered 200 to 300 civilians, killings that clearly violation international humanitarian law. You have a duty to order that these killings of unarmed civilians and other violations of international humanitarian law cease and to see that the order is obeyed. You also have the responsibility for ordering a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into these massacres and for seeing that the commanding officers in charge of the operations are brought to justice.
The human rights organizations asked General Kagame and President Bizimungu to inform them how and when they would implement measures to ensure that RPA forces comply with international humanitarian law. They asked to be notified as well about when the investigations are to begin and the names and ranks of the officers in charge so that they can follow the progress of the inquiry.
Fédération Internationale des Ligues des Droits de l'Homme (FIDH)
The International Federation of Human Rights is an international nongovernmental organization for the defense of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Created in 1922, it includes 89 national affiliates throughout the world. To date, FIDH has undertaken more than a thousand missions for investigation, observation of trials, mediation or training in some one hundred countries. FIDH enjoys consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO, the European Council and observer status with the African Commission of Human and Peoples' Rights. Antoine Bernard is the executive director. Patrick Baudouin is president; Pascuale Bandiera, Hélène Cidade-Moura, René Degni-Segui, Enoch Djondang, Michael Ellman, Oswaldo Enriquez, Carmen Ferrer Peña, Cecilia Jimenez, Haytham Manna, Gerald McKenzie, Sabine Missistrano, Francisco Soberon, Robert Verdier, Vo Van Ai and Saadeddine Zmerli are vice-presidents; Odile Sidem Poulain, Claude Katz and William Bourdon are secretary generals; and Philippe Vallet is treasurer of the international board. Catherine Choquet is deputy secretary general and Eric Gillet is coordinator for Burundi and Rwanda.