Human Rights Developments
The year 1992 ended and the new year began with another crisis for human rights in Rwanda. Local government officials, acting on orders from the general staff of the Rwandan army, organized attacks on Tutsi, a minority people, in several communes in the northwest. Three were killed, dozens injured and thousands forced to flee their homes for refuge in churches, schools or government centers. The operation was to "clear the brush" that might be used as "cover" by members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in their guerrilla war against the Rwandan government. Most members of the RPF are Tutsi, and, following their invasion of Rwanda in October 1990, the government had identified Tutsi within Rwanda as RPF "accomplices" providing "cover" for the invaders. Using this excuse, the government killed approximately 2,000 Tutsi between 1990 and 1992, some singly or in small groups, others in massacres that took hundreds of lives at Kibilira, Bugesera and in northwest Rwanda. In addition, the government arrested or detained without charge about 10,000 Tutsi and members of the political opposition in 1990 and 1991, and dozens of others in 1992. Many of these were tortured or badly beaten; some were held incommunicado in military camps rather than in regular prisons.
The Tutsi, once a ruling aristocracy, had been driven from power by a revolution in 1959. Hundreds of thousands fled to surrounding countries, where many continued to live as refugees in 1993. The largely Tutsi RPF invaded Rwanda to back their demands that the refugees be allowed to return home and that the current government be changed.
President Juvenal Habyarimana, who first took power in a military coup twenty years ago, publicly deplored the attacks on the Tutsi. However, although he had widened his single-party government into a four-party coalition in April 1992, he had maintained his control over the party militia, police and local administration. This control allowed him to continue abuses against Tutsi and members of the opposition, and Tutsi were targeted in an effort to bolster crumbling solidarity among Hutu, who form about 85 percent of the population of Rwanda. President Habyarimana is himself Hutu as are virtually all officials. His role in the violence emerged clearly just prior to the December 1992 attacks when one of his spokesmen made a widely publicized speech calling on Hutu in the northwest to rid the region of Tutsi by all means necessary, including killing them and dumping them in the nearest river. President Habyarimana never denounced this inflammatory speech nor disassociated himself from this spokesman.
Several Rwandan human rights associations, united within the coalition known as the Liaison Committee of Associations in Defense of Human Rights in Rwanda (CLADHO), had been urging the creation of an international investigatory commission on human rights in Rwanda. During 1992, they asked Africa Watch, the International Federation of Human Rights (Paris), the Inter-African Union of Human Rights (Ouagadougou) and the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development (Montreal) to organize the inquiry. The commission, a ten-person panel representing eight
nationalities, known as the International Commission of Investigation on Human Rights Violations in Rwanda since October 1, 1990, was co-chaired by representatives from Africa Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights. On their arrival in early January 1993, the commission's members were welcomed by President Habyarimana, a public posture belied by attempted assassinations and threats against potential witnesses that had taken place in the days immediately preceding. The commissioners collected testimony from hundreds of persons, ranging from ordinary cultivators out on the hills to the highest government officials. They engaged in formal interviews, but also collected information presented spontaneously, sometimes by persons who had learned of their presence in Rwanda from radio news broadcasts. They reviewed numerous official documents, including many judicial dossiers, and verified lists of victims presented by families, clergy and human rights associations. They excavated two mass graves where Tutsi victims had been buried, one in the backyard of a local government official.
While conducting its investigation, the commission had been told that the government was only awaiting its departure to launch new violence. Just hours after the commission left on January 21, 1993, supposedly spontaneous demonstrations against a recent political agreement between the RPF and the Rwandan government turned into attacks on the persons and property of Tutsi and opponents of the regime. Apparently wary of increased unfavorable attention to official participation in abuses, President Habyarimana this time had attacks led by militia of his political party, the National Republican Movement for Democracy and Development (MRND), and its ally, the Coalition forthe Defense of the Republic (CDR), rather than by local officials. In the next five days, more than 300 people were killed, and thousands of others were driven from their homes.
On February 8, the RPF violated the cease-fire in effect since the previous July and drove Rwandan troops farther south. After this resumption of the conflict, Rwandan soldiers took vengeance on Tutsi civilians and opponents of the regime. They killed at least 147 persons and beat, tortured and raped many more, often after detaining them in military camps. They burned and looted hundreds of homes and businesses. In some cases, the soldiers acted alone; in others, they were joined by local mobs of civilians. In some communes where Tutsi had been repeatedly attacked in the past, the military distributed arms to groups of civilians known to support President Habyarimana.
These abuses came shortly after a group of Rwandan soldiers calling itself amasasu (meaning "bullets" in Kinyarwanda, the local language) threatened to "detect and destroy" opposition politicians and others who, in their view, were supporting the RPF. They declared themselves above the law and said they would deliver "an exemplary lesson to these traitors from inside." In early February, Prime Minister Dismas Nsengiyaremye, a member of the political opposition included in the government since April 1992, criticized the Minister of Defense for the official compilation of a list of "accomplices" of the RPF and asked that the names of those accused be turned over to the Ministry of Justice for prosecution by legal channels. As late as May, civilians were being detained without charge in military camps and were eventually delivered to the regular judicial system only after vigorous intervention by local human rights associations.
When the RPF launched its early February attack, it justified the offensive in part by the need to counter human rights abuses of the Rwandan government, such as the massacre two weeks earlier of hundreds of Tutsi. The Rwandan government in turn accused the RPF of massive killings of civilians, including thousands who had sought shelter in camps for displaced persons. While most of the government charges lacked credibility, investigations by local human rights associations established that the RPF had summarily executed sixteen civilians, eight government officials and eight others, mostly family members of the officials. One of those executed was the local official whose backyard contained a mass grave excavated by the international commission. According to information collected by local human rights groups and the clergy, the RPF killed more than one hundred civilians during its February attack. Open warfare was halted once more in March by a new cease-fire.
In a report published March 8, 1993, the international commission found the Rwandan government guilty of serious and systematic human rights abuses between October 1990 and January 1993, the period it investigated. The commission's report concluded that the majority of the approximately 2,000 victims of massacres and other abuses were Tutsi who had been targeted for the sole reason that they were Tutsi. It determined that authorities at the highest level, including the President of Rwanda, were responsible for these abuses, which were carried out by civilians, soldiers from the Rwandan army, and by the militias attached to the MRND and the CDR. Local administrative officials had coordinated the attacks in many cases. The report pointed out that the president and government of Rwanda tolerated the activities of armed militias attached to political parties, a clear violation of Rwandan law, and that these militia were playing an increasingly important role in violence against Tutsi and members of the political opposition. The commission also observed that the judicial system was paralyzed by political interference even more than by lack of resources and the poor training of judicial officials. Although hundreds of accused persons had been arrested following massacres, for example, all had been released shortly after and not one had actually been brought to trial.
The international commission also found that during the same twenty-seven month period, the RPF had attacked civilian targets and killed and injured civilians who were clearly protected by the Geneva conventions. It reported that the RPF had also kidnapped Rwandans and forced them to go to Uganda and has looted and destroyed the property of civilians.
The Rwandan government responded to the report of the international commission by "recognizing and regretting" the human rights abuses that had taken place in Rwanda. In a joint statement of acknowledgment and apology delivered in April, President Habyarimana and Prime Minister Nsengiyaremye promised a ten-point set of reforms that conformed closely to recommendationsmade by the international commission on March 8 and by Africa Watch in its February 1992 report. At the same time that they admitted and deplored the abuses, the Rwandan authorities promoted the formation of four supposedly autonomous human rights associations whose chief purpose was to denounce the international commission and its report. These associations, whose names sounded remarkably like those of the authentic human rights associations, published a pamphlet critical of the commission in Rwanda and held press conferences in Europe and the U.S. The leading propagandist, Ferdinand Nahimana, for this effort was the official responsible for radio broadcasts that had provoked the massacre of hundreds of Tutsi in Bugesera in March 1992.
One of the reforms promised by the Rwandan government was administrative and judicial sanctions against authorities responsible for human rights abuses. Even before this date, several local officials (burgomasters) accused of abuses had been removed as part of a general administrative house-cleaning that had also removed officials guilty of corruption, negligence, or other shortcomings. The burgomasters were replaced in a restricted electoral process that represented a welcome, if limited, step toward democratization. The officials removed, however, were all low-level and none was brought to trial.
The Rwandan government instituted its own investigatory commission to look into the massacres of January 1993. Like several earlier internal commissions that inquired into abuses in 1992, this one produced a report that assigned responsibility to some local officials but obscured the role of higher authorities. As part of an agreement with the RPF, the Rwandan government replaced some of the officials implicated in the January killings, but as of November not one of them had been indicted or tried for participation in the violence.
The Rwandan government also undertook to prosecute individuals and organizations that promoted armed militias attached to political parties. For several months following the April 7 statement, the militia adopted a low profile, but in August and September, they became visible again, easily identifiable on the streets by their distinctive dress. No one has been prosecuted for supporting such militias. The post of Minister of Justice, vacant for six months following the December 1992 resignation of the incumbent to protest interference in the judicial process, was finally filled and the new minister began trying to reform the system.
Although the Rwandan government partially executed some of the reforms promised in April, by November 1993 it had not carried out its commitment to guarantee the security of all Rwandans. No large-scale killings took place since after April, but assassinations and a series of explosions took a number of lives. Among the victims of assassinations were Emmanuel Gapyisi, a leading opposition politician, killed in May, and Fidèle Rwambuka, a former burgomaster, shot down in his home in August. Attacks by bombs, grenades and landmines continued thorough fall 1993, with the worst, an explosion at Kirambo, killing sixteen and injuring 127 in late May. Many of these killings were attributed to "death squads" reputedly operating under the direction of high authorities and hence protected from arrest and prosecution.
The insecurity and privations of war, coupled with open and easy trading of guns and grenades, fostered a rapid increase in crime of all kinds. In the face of the ineffectiveness of the police and judicial systems, private citizens organized neighborhood guards who were armed and who threatened and shot persons whom they suspected of wrongdoing. The government did nothing to halt the formation of such groups or to prosecute those who injured or killed alleged criminals.
Security within the prisons was also inadequate. In August, two prisoners who supposedly had provided information to the secret police were killed by fellow inmates at Kigali prison, while in the prison at Butate, thirteen prisoners met death at the hands of their fellows in the four hours that it took guards to intervene and reestablish order.
On August 4, the Rwandan government and the RPF signed, in Arusha, Tanzania, a peace treaty in which both sides reaffirmed their commitment to establishing human rights and a state of laws in Rwanda. The agreement transferred much of the Presidential power to a cabinet which would be staffed during a twenty-two-month transition period by representatives of the three political blocs: President Habyarimana's political party and its allies, the internal opposition parties, and the RPF. The accords named Faustin Twagiramungu of the MDR, the largest internal opposition party, as Prime Minister during the period of transition. The armies of the Rwandan government and of the RPF were to be combined into a single joint force of13,000, considerably reduced from the 40,000 then under arms on the government side and the approximately 10,000 in the RPF army. The parties asked the United Nations to send a force to keep the peace during the twenty-two months leading to national elections. This force would replace troops provided by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) that had enforced the cease-fire in the year prior to the signing of the peace treaty. The transitional government was to take power after the arrival of the U.N. troops, on September 11. The U.N. force was delayed, however, and was expected to arrive in December 1993. In the meantime, the old government-a coalition of Habyarimana and internal opposition representatives-continues to function.
During the period of most intense warfare, nearly one million Rwandans-about one-seventh of the total population-were forced to flee their homes in the battle zone. Many took refuge in hastily improvised camps where shelter and sanitation were completely inadequate. They depended on food assistance delivered by the Red Cross, the World Food Program, and other agencies. In June, members of parliament and local human rights groups publicized thefts of food by local officials and aid workers, some of whom had been charging displaced persons for the supplies or confiscating them for resale on the open market. With the end of fighting, the displaced began returning to their homes, leaving about 300,000 in the camps.
The peace treaty guaranteed the right of all refugees living abroad to return to their homeland. Reintegrating the returnees and balancing their rights against those of other Rwandans was likely to prove a serious challenge to the new government.
Providing for the thousands of soldiers to be demobilized with the return of peace would pose significant problems as well.
Encouraged by the signing of the peace accords, Rwandans began to explore paths to national reconciliation. Human rights activists stressed the need to establish reconciliation on a foundation of honesty and justice and pressed for continued investigation and prosecution of those responsible for abuses in recent years. As of November, neither the Rwandan government nor the RPF had demonstrated a serious commitment to bringing the guilty to justice.
The Right to Monitor
While President Habyarimana made a show of welcoming international inquiry into the situation of human rights in Rwanda, his subordinates threatened or attacked those who could or did give testimony before the investigative commission. The family of one young man who aided the commission was attacked by a mob incited by local officials, and the father of the family was forced to commit suicide. A student who had provided information to the commission was among the victims killed in the massacres that began the day of the commissioners' departure. A human rights activist, Monique Mujawamariya, executive director of the Rwandan Association for Human Rights and Public Freedoms (ADL), who had been instrumental in organizing the visit of the commission, was injured in an automobile accident of suspicious origin shortly before the arrival of the commission. In addition, she was threatened with death by Capt. Pascal Simbikangwa, known to have tortured many persons detained by the secret police, in full view of members of the commission who were preparing to board the plane to leave Rwanda. In April, Gakwaya Rwaka, executive secretary of the human rights association, The Christian League for the Defense of Human Rights in Rwanda (LICHREDHOR), was threatened, as were members of his family. In May, Ignace Ruhatana, an activist with the human rights group Kanyarwanda, was attacked and wounded in his home and many of his papers were taken. Carpophore Gatera, another member of Kanyarwanda, was attacked five days later. In late 1992 and early 1993, the offices of Kanyarwanda were attacked three times. On November 14, 1993, Alphonse-Marie Nkubito, president of CLADHO, and one of the founders of the Rwandan Association for Human Rights (ARDHO), was attacked by several assailants who threw a grenade into his car, and he was hit in the back by a second grenade as he tried to flee. As of mid-November, he was in critical condition in a hospital in Kigali.
Despite official intimidation, five human rights associations actively monitored the situation and cooperated effectively in joint investigations, letters of protest, and press releases. They developed a network of contacts with international human rights organizations that enabled them to publicize abuses promptly to an audience outside of Rwanda.
The Role of the International Community
Belgium, the former colonial power in Rwanda, recalled its ambassador from Rwanda for consultations within hours of the publication of the report of the international commission. Subsequently the Belgian Senate unanimously passed a resolution acknowledging the report of the commission, condemning abuses by the Rwandan government and the RPF, and directing its own government to review aid policies towards Rwanda.
France has consistently supported President Habyarimana over the years and continued this policy during 1993 despite evidence of human rights abuses by his regime. Just after the beginning of the war in 1990, France sent a contingent of troops "to protect French citizens and other expatriates" in Rwanda. After the RPF violated the cease-fire in February, France sent an additional 300 soldiers, some of whom actively supported Rwandan troops in the combat zones. Some of the French troops were withdrawn after the March cease-fire, but others remained in Rwanda, in violation of accords which called for the departure of all foreign troops. France supplied Rwanda with arms and with political and propaganda support within the European Community.
The European Parliament reacted to abuses reported by the international commission with a March 11 resolution condemning the violations and asking increased financial and logistical support from its member nations for OAU observers in Rwanda to implement the cease-fire. The legislative body of the European Economic Community and its affiliated countries, the Assemblée Paritaire ACP-CEE, passed a stronger resolution condemning the abuses and asking the European Community to suspend price supports for agricultural products from Rwanda (STABEX) until reforms had been instituted.
The diplomatic community in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, also intervened effectively on the spot to defend human rights. The ambassadors and other representatives of the United States, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the Vatican and the European Community protected individuals in danger and censured the Rwandan government at critical times. The ambassador of France joined in some of these protests even as his government continued to support President Habyarimana.
The Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions appointed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights investigated the situation in Rwanda in April. He issued a report that confirmed the findings of the international commission and called for a number of measures including a mechanism for protecting Rwandans against any further massacres, dismantling the armed militias, further investigations and bringing violators of human rights to account, an end to arbitrary detentions and arrests, and support for local human rights organizations.
The OAU played an important role in bringing the Rwandan government and the RPF to a final settlement of the war. In addition to facilitating the peace negotiations, the OAU provided a neutral peacekeeping force that effectively patrolled the cease-fire line from 1992 on.
During the first months of 1993, the United States showed increasing concern with human rights abuses in Rwanda. Following publication of the report of the international commission in March, the State Department announced it was "deeply disturbed" by the Rwandan violations. Soon after, the U.S. reduced to about $6 million its projected $19.6 million aid package for Rwanda. This decision resulted as much from dissatisfaction with the continuation of the war and with poor economic performance, however, as from concern with human rights abuses. The U.S. eliminated or froze funds for economic development, while amounts designated for humanitarian aid were increased. Rwanda had been a country targeted for special U.S. assistance but was now put on the "watch list," meaning that it could lose this status if it did not improve its performance in several areas, including protection of human rights.
The United States attributed human rights abuses largely to the tensions of wartime and expended great effort in obtaining a peace settlement for this as well as for other reasons. Once the peace treaty was signed in August 1993, the U.S. appeared ready to turn its attention to other issues. When President Habyarimana visited Washington for official conversations in October, Africa Watch urged Assistant Secretary of State George Moose to raise human rights questions with him, especially the important issue of accountability for past abuses. The U.S., however, appeared to place little if any stress on human rights during the talks so as not to spoil the "positive atmosphere" of the discussions.
The Work of Africa Watch
By immediate, direct and forceful communications to Rwandan authorities, the U.S. government and the press, Africa Watch intervened to call for a halt to abuses as they were happening, such as the massacres of January and February and the detention of civilians in military camps later in the spring. Through the same channels, it deplored violations brought to its attention after the fact, such as the executions by the RPF in February and the assassinations of Gapyisi and Rwanbuka, and pressed for those responsible for these crimes to be brought to justice.
Africa Watch continued to view certain reforms as essential for the establishment of the rule of law and the protection of human rights in the long term. It repeatedly brought such measures to the attention of the Rwandan government, the RPF and the U.S. government through correspondence and through recommendations made in its reports. Those recommendations included:
· dissolving armed militias, the amasasu military association, and bands of armed neighborhood guards;
· strengthening the judicial system, including creating measures to protect the courts from political interference and improving training for magistrates and police;
· equal treatment for all Rwandan citizens, a measure which would mean ending classification according to ethnic group and removing such labels from all government documents;
· ending impunity for human rights abuses in order to end the cycles of violence that have killed thousands in Rwanda.
To assist in establishing accountability, Africa Watch helped organize the international commission that documented human rights abuses from October 1990 to January 1993. It also pressed the Rwandan government and the RPF to conduct serious and credible investigations of civilian and military authorities accused of such crimes and to prosecute all those implicated.
In both short-term crisis intervention and long-term initiatives, Africa Watch worked closely with Rwandan human rights associations. The international inquiry, initiated by the Rwandan associations and carried out by Africa Watch, the International Federation of Human Rights, the Inter-African Union of Human Rights, and the International Center for Human Rights and Democratic Development, was an important innovation in human rights intervention and a model of cooperation between locally-based and international associations. The continued strength and growth of the Rwandan associations is vital to improving the situation of human rights in the country.
In March 1993, Africa Watch together with the other sponsors of the international commission issued a one hundred-page report documenting the findings of the commission. Africa Watch issued an update, "Beyond the Rhetoric: Continuing Human Rights Abuses in Rwanda" in June 1993.
Africa Watch invited Monique Mujawamariya, executive director of the Rwandan Association for the Defense of Human Rights and Public Freedoms, to be honored by Human Rights Watch as part of its observance of Human Rights Day, December 10.