The ground-breaking democratic advances in South Africa and the genocide in Rwanda were at the extremes of Africa's human rights developments. In between these poles, African states experienced the perpetuation of one-man-no-vote rule and military regimes, varying forms of communal violence, civil war, and near disintegration. Half a continent apart, South Africa and Rwanda provide instructive human rights and humanitarian law lessons. In South Africa, fears of endless and destructive civil war have not materialized as political and social change is taking the form of a dramatic democratic transformation. To the north, between 500,000 and a million Rwandans were killed before a one-party genocidal government was swept away in a whirlwind of its own creation. Rwanda remains in a state of precarious peace with most fundamental issues of political and social change awaiting urgent resolution.
The transition to democratic rule in South Africa represents the magnificent outcome of the long and costly struggle of the South Africans themselves, but also reflects the value of the support and assistance given them by many throughout the world, from both civil society and governmental quarters. Although it was slow in coming, and not as consistent and sustained as it might have been, international support to the cause of democracy and human rights in South Africa did make a contribution, not least through the imposition of sanctions and effective isolation of the offending apartheid regime.
Despite the clear victory of their cause, and the powerful and visionary leadership provided by President Nelson Mandela and his colleagues, the people of South Africa must nevertheless maintain the vigil and struggle to protect and enhance their hard-won liberty. Close monitoring and activism must continue in order to keep the present democratic government in conformity with its obligations to protect and promote human rights for all the people of South Africa. To this end, the country's human rights community must adapt to the demands of the new situation, and make the necessary conceptual and methodological adjustments. During this next and indefinite stage of sustaining and consolidating past achievements, the international community also has a role to play in supporting the local human rights community as well as engaging in its own monitoring and advocacy efforts.
One of the benefits of the dramatic transformation in South Africa is that it is no longer expected to play the disruptive and destabilizing role it did in the past. South Africa when under apartheid rule secretly armed the single-party Habyarimana regime in Rwanda as it prepared its army and militia for genocide (others who provided arms during this crucial period included France, Belgium, and Egypt). The arming of Rwanda was the subject of a Human Rights Watch/Africa and Human Rights Arms Project report published four months before the genocide began. In addition to its domination of Namibia for decades, in defiance of the international community, South Africa also actively participated in the decades-long wars in Angola and Mozambique. With Namibia now one of Africa's examples of democratic government, and Mozambique seemingly on its way to stability and democratic rule after holding national elections under international supervision, one can hope that South Africa will now play a positive role in promoting an end to the war in Angola and a transition to democratic government there as well.
South Africa is also now expected to provide leadership and support for human rights efforts throughout the continent. It is true that other Africans should not have unrealistic expectations of South Africa, and must make due allowance for the competing domestic priorities of the South African government and civil societies. Nevertheless, there is much that the country can and should share with the rest of Africa.
As shown in this report, one of the main lessons of the genocide in Rwanda is the need to appreciate and address the role of the state in promoting and manipulating ethnic tensions. Another conclusion to draw from that catastrophe of untold proportions is that the international community must take its obligations to prevent and punish the crime of genocide seriously. The fact that the U.N. Security Council voted on April 21, 1994 to reduce the U.N. peace-keeping force (UNAMIR) to a skeletal presence in Rwanda soon after the mass killings started appears to have been interpreted as a license to commit genocide with impunity. The lengthy, though expected, delay in reinforcing the U.N. presence contributed to the loss of hundreds of thousands of Rwandan lives, most of them identified as Tutsis and moderate Hutus, and to the subsequent flight of millions of Hutu refugees into Tanzania and Zaire upon the defeat of the former government by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A fraction of the effort and costs of humanitarian assistance provided for the refugees could have prevented most of the mass killings and the flight of civilians in the first place. Only 5,200 of the 6,800 troops approved on May 17 were on the ground by the time of writing in November 1994.
The continuing crisis in Rwanda also merits two further conclusions. First, evidence of violations of human rights and humanitarian law by the present government, installed after the RPF military victory in early July 1994, clearly show that victims can turn victimizers. Unfortunately, genocide and civil war diminish and inhibit the ability of local and international non-governmental organizations to monitor and advocate for the protection of human rights. Local Rwandan groups in particular suffered not only from the killing of their own members, but also, for the survivors, from the society-wide loss of trust across the ethnic divide as allegations of partiality to one side or the other become the norm.
Second, while accountability for previous and current violations should be seen as integral to, indeed essential for, national reconciliation and reconstruction, this is too often sacrificed to political expedience. The tendency of local and international actors is to rush to some sort of "peaceful settlement" that includes the premature granting of amnesty or immunity from prosecution to human rights violators. In the case of Rwanda, there appears to be a commitment to accountability by the present government under its own domestic jurisdiction, but the international community does not seem to be willing to provide necessary assistance in this regard. Given the collapse of the country's judicial system, and the many competing priorities facing the government, the lack of substantial international assistance can in effect mean impunity for the perpetrators of genocide.
An international tribunal for genocide, crimes against humanity, and other grave breaches of humanitarian law can provide another important avenue through which to establish accountability. Although the Security Council has determined to create an International Tribunal on Rwanda, the success of the initiative will ultimately depend upon the cooperation of the international community in the pursuit of those responsible for the genocide and in surrendering these individuals to the custody of the tribunal. The effective work of the tribunal in particular requires action to apprehend those who are now living abroad_notably within the large refugee populations in Zaire and Tanzania, and the few key leaders believed to be in France and elsewhere in Europe.
The flight of refugees from Rwanda to Zaire and Tanzania, followed by the army and militia of the former government, has created an extremely dangerous situation for the whole central African region. The refugees continue to suffer serious abuses in the camps from elements of the army and Hutu militias who effectively control the camps. Yet, at the time of writing, the international community is doing nothing to protect the refugees or to address and defuse the situation as a whole. Preparations by the well-armed former army to return in force to Rwanda, with a stated intention to "finish" the genocide of that nation's Tutsi minority, have been met with the seeming indifference, if not complicity, of some of the governments with a special capacity to make a difference in the region.
The conclusions and lessons of South Africa and Rwanda clearly apply to other crises involving severe violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Africa today, whether it is a "failed state" situation like Somalia and Liberia, a horrendous civil war as in Angola and Sudan, a state of collapse and political deadlock as in Zaire, or massive repression by a military regime as in Nigeria. From a human rights point of view, the question for the international community should always be how to empower and protect local human rights groups in their monitoring and advocacy efforts, and how to pressure offending governments into compliance with their human rights and humanitarian law obligations. That challenge should not be evaded by claiming that killing and torture and other violations cannot be helped because they are the result of age-old "tribal" hatreds. Governments and ruling elites must be held accountable for their role in promoting and manipulating existing communal and other tensions.
The Right to Monitor
Opportunities for African human rights monitors and activists continue to grow, and so does the struggle with governments over the right to monitor as well as the frustrations of limited resources. There is a vibrant and robust human rights community in all parts of the continent. But human rights workers are continuously detained, intimidated and otherwise harassed in violation of national constitutional and legal systems, and of international human rights law. Some human rights monitors have been tortured or killed. All suffer from the lack of resources and other limitations on their practical ability to monitor and advocate human rights.
Although there is a role for the international community to play in protecting and promoting the right to monitor, the primary responsibility must lie with African civil society in general, and African human rights activists and organizations in particular. In looking for local monitors to support, however, international human rights and development nongovernmental organizations and aid agencies should not confine themselves to preconceived models of what an NGO is supposed to look like or be. African forms and processes of civil society must be accepted for what they are and supported on their own terms in their work for human rights, whether they are informal groups of elders, associations of women market-traders or, Western style, formally constituted NGOs.
In the case of Rwanda, the U.S. hung back from effective engagement in part because of fears of becoming involved in "another Somalia." But even beyond the difficult issues of how best to deploy U.N. peacekeeping forces in Rwanda, the United States failed to take the lead diplomatically, deferring instead to Rwanda's former European patrons, France and Belgium. This deference to France, in particular, was also characteristic of U.S. policy towards other African countries, such as Zaire. For the United States to have a more effective policy in Francophone Africa, the Clinton administration should come out from behind France's shadow, articulate its own human rights policy, and encourage the French government too, to introduce objective human rights criteria into its policy in Africa.
Elsewhere on the African continent, where the United States has not insisted upon taking a back seat to other governments, human rights policy has been more vigorous. In the case of Nigeria, for example, the United States responded strongly to President Ibrahim Babangida's disruption of the democratic electoral process and the subsequent military coup by General Sani Abacha, imposing economic sanctions and sharply condemning the human rights abuses that accompanied the political upheaval. Similarly, a strong human rights stance on Malawi, adopted in cooperation with Malawi's other donors, played a key role in persuading the Banda regime to submit to demands for multi-party elections. In South Africa, U.S. involvement in the tense period preceding the elections was useful in encouraging the Inkatha Freedom Party to participate, and in helping minimize the threat of violence. Significant political and economic support for the new South African government, and a high-level delegation at President Mandela's inauguration, sent a welcome signal that multi-racial democracy in South Africa is of deep interest to the United States.
The cases of Nigeria, Malawi, and South Africa suggest that the Clinton administration does have the capacity to support human rights and democracy vigorously on the African continent. But the administration has failed to devote the political and diplomatic resources required to the continent's human rights disasters, particularly Angola, Sudan, Rwanda, Somalia, and Liberia. In Angola, for example, the United States has been engaged in the peace process (and appointed a special envoy to add weight to diplomatic efforts), but the action comes only after over 100,000 Angolans lost their lives in the resumption of hostilities that followed the aborted elections of 1992.
Clearly, the United States' bitter experience in Somalia is the key factor in the Clinton administration's disinterest in humanitarian engagement elsewhere on the African continent. Yet a retreat from leadership in some of the worst human rights crises of our time is the wrong lesson to be drawn from Somalia. In fact, the United Nations' ill-fated experiment in "peace enforcement" in Somalia points to the need to incorporate human rights protection into humanitarian operations, and to limit those operations to the protection of civilians.
Throughout the Cold War, U.S. involvement with Africa was largely determined by support for anti-communist regimes and forces opposing regimes considered to fall into the Soviet camp. In the 1980s, for example, the top recipients of American assistance were the governments of Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Zaire, Liberia_and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA in Angola. In each of these cases, political, economic and military and security assistance contributed considerably to gross abuses of human rights. Today, anti-communism is no longer the single overriding principle guiding such assistance, and the U.S. has largely abandoned its associates of the recent past. Yet it is not clear that another framework for U.S. relations with Africa has taken its place. Consequently, events in Africa seldom receive the attention they deserve, and the Clinton administration appears disinclined to commit the political, economic, and diplomatic resources needed to help resolve the continent's most intractable human rights disasters.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Africa
Throughout 1994, Human Rights Watch/Africa continued its work of close monitoring and documentation of the human rights situation in twelve countries in Africa, while following developments in the continent as a whole. Central Africa was a primary concern, with the aftermath of the attempted coup in Burundi, genocide, and massive abuses in Rwanda, and the situation of refugees in Zaire requiring particular attention. A report on Rwanda issued in January provided documentary evidence of the formation and arming of the government's Hutu militias, and the series of killings by them that proved the immediate antecedents of the genocide to come.
Continuing with a theme underscored throughout 1993, it focused on the role of governments and associated elites in promoting and manipulating communal tensions for their own political ends. This theme is emphasized in several of the country sections that follow.
During 1994, it collaborated with four of the specialized projects within Human Rights Watch, namely, the Arms, Children's, Prison, and Women's Rights Projects, in monitoring and advocacy efforts in relation to Angola, Botswana, Liberia, South Africa, Sudan, and Zaire. The work concerned landmines in Mozambique, the arms trade and violations of the laws of war since the 1992 elections in Angola, prison conditions in South Africa and Zaire, and discrimination against women with respect to the citizenship of children born in Botswana. Details of that work can be found in the respective sections of this report concerning those projects of Human Rights Watch. The newest project, the Children's Rights Project, worked with Human Rights Watch/Africa to address the issue of child soldiers in Liberia and in southern Sudan.