Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) deplore the closing of the United Nations Human Rights Field Office in Rwanda but commend U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson for maintaining the principle that monitoring is an appropriate and integral part of a U.N. human rights operation. The Rwandan government, which suspended the operation of the field office in May, sought to end the monitoring while keeping a U.N. presence only to assist in educational and technical capacities.
The two international human rights organizations declared that the special case of Rwanda - a society recovering from the effects of the 1994 genocide and troubled by a serious insurgency - requires continued on site international investigation of the human rights situation. Rebel forces attack civilians regularly, most recently on July 12, when they slaughtered thirty-four persons at Tare, some twenty miles from the capital. The rebels include soldiers and militia from the forces responsible for the genocide. Rwandan government troops have also killed large numbers of civilians particularly in the northwest of the country. In addition, government and military authorities have taken into custody a growing number of persons suspected of ties with the rebels who are never seen or heard from again. In one such case, authorities reportedly removed dozens of persons from the Ruhengeri market and stadium on July 2. The Rwandan government claims that local human rights groups and a recently-established National Commission for Human Rights will report on any future abuses. But local groups lack the resources necessary even to observe the trials for persons accused of genocide being held all over the country and they rarely send investigators to combat zones. The National Commission has not yet begun to function and has no record of effective reporting on human rights violations.
Although the U.N. operation was also limited by lack of staff and by security considerations, it did produce regular reports on various subjects, including the conduct of military forces towards civilians and the functioning of the judicial system. At the time of its suspension, the human rights office was about to publish two reports describing the killing of civilians by government troops as well as by rebels in 1997 and the first quarter of 1998. Human Rights Watch and FIDH call upon the U.N. Human Rights Field Office to publish these reports before terminating its activities in Rwanda. In addition to monitoring the human rights situation, the field office contributed considerable technical assistance to the judicial system and to efforts to educate Rwandans about human rights.
The United States and the countries of the European Union have been anxious to assist the Rwandan government in rebuilding Rwanda, but they cannot responsibly do so without consideration for the human rights situation in the country. With the closing of the U.N. human rights office, reliable reporting on alleged abuses will be significantly reduced. This change will make scrutiny of human rights developments more difficult but certainly no less necessary.
In 1997, the Rwandan government persuaded the U.N. Human Rights Commission to end monitoring by a Special Rapporteur, arguing that this work was being done by the field operation. Human Rights Watch and FIDH urge that the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights restore the monitoring mandate to a Special Rapporteur now that the field operation has ended.