Human Rights Developments
Authorities also saw dispersing the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons clustered in camps as a central concern. During 1995, they eliminated the camps, but at the cost of thousands of lives. In the worst massacre of the displaced, at Kibeho camp in April, as in some other cases of soldiers killing civilians, military authorities justified the slaughter on the grounds of self-defense. They announced investigations into several such incidents or, in the case of Kibeho, they called for an investigation by an international commission, but they have not published the results of their own investigations. Authorities removed commanding officers and even detained several junior officers accused in these cases, but, as of late 1995, they had apparently not brought to trial anyone involved in these killings.
Outside Rwanda some two million refugees who had fled the new government in mid-1994 remained unwilling to return home, but those in Zaire, where the largest number lived, were facing the possibility that they might be forcibly expelled before the end of the year. Meanwhile leaders of the former government, which was responsible for the genocide, were training and arming soldiers for incursions to Rwanda.
At the beginning of 1995, some 15,000 persons had been jailed in official prisons, communal lockups, or regular places of detention. As the year neared its end, the number had increased to some 57,000, and arrests were continuing at the rate of more than 2,000 per month. Virtually all the detained were accused of having participated in the genocide, most on the basis of denunciations alone. Relatively few detainees had been formally charged after some form of investigation.
On April 6, 1995, the anniversary of the start of the genocide, the prosecutor in Kigali brought seven persons to trial on charges of having participated in the mass slaughter. The proceedings lasted only a few hours before the prosecutor asked for a postponement to permit further investigation. By November 1995, this trial had not resumed, nor had any other trial begun on charges of genocide.
Rwandan authorities attributed the judicial paralysis to lack of resources, both material and human. International assistance to the judicial system, promised by a number of donors in late 1994 and early 1995, trickled in. In July 1995, about a third of a promised $13 million had actually been delivered. The situation in terms of personnel was equally difficult. With only thirty-six judges, fourteen prosecutors, and twenty-six police inspectors, the government hardly had the staff necessary to prosecute tens of thousands of persons. The government initially favored bringing in foreign judges to aid in the trials, but by mid-year the Transitional National Assembly had rejected the proposed legislation needed to authorize foreign judges to sit in Rwandan courts.
Although real shortages of human and material resources slowed the operation of the judicial system, this did not account for the failure to try even one of the more than two hundred cases that were ready as early as April 1995. The authorities who ended the genocide appeared unwilling to prosecute its perpetrators, either because they lacked confidence in judges named by the previous government or because they saw some political interest in detaining large numbers of persons indefinitely.
Since the establishment of the current government, soldiers have been responsible for maintaining law and order because there has been no functioning police force: backed by some civilian recruits known as the local defense force, soldiers carried out thousands of arrests without warrants, often without the knowledge or approval of appropriate judicial or local authorities. Efforts by the minister of justice and various prosecutors to end this practice had little effect. Similarly, the military has interfered with the release of detainees by judges or prosecutors. In February, for example, soldiers refused to release the priest Joseph Ndagijimana, who was ordered freed by the prosecutor at Gitarama. In other cases, soldiers or local authorities have immediately re-arrested persons freed by magistrates.
In late 1994, Minister of Justice Alphonse-Marie Nkubito created a "Selection Commission" (Commission de triage) to review cases of detainees who might be eligible for release, and in 1995 similar commissions were established in about half the major jurisdictions in Rwanda. The commissions, however, were ineffective; they met irregularly and freed at most several dozen persons in each of the jurisdictions where they operated. Those few people released by the commissions were only provisionally at liberty and had not been cleared of the charges against them. They, as well as those freed directly by magistrates, remained at least suspect, if not already convicted in the eyes of some in their communities. Some of those released were attacked or killed, such as Deputy Prefect Placide Koloni, while others lived in hiding (see below).
The arrests of persons accused of genocide so long after the end of the slaughter raised the question of why it took so long for complaints to be registered, particularly against persons who had been living in their home communities in the interim. In February, March and April, a number of officials from the former government, including some re-appointed to their posts by the current government, were arrested, arousing concern that the arrests were politically motivated.
The capacity of Rwandan prisons is officially given as 12,250 but the number actually in jails was more than 57,000 in October. In the worst of the prisons, four inmates shared every square yard of space, unable to sit, far less to lie down. Many suffered from illness or infection. Several hundred cases of gangrene were reported at the Gitarama prison, where ill prisoners had limbs amputated in an effort to save their lives. In this worst of the Rwandan prisons, nearly 1,000 of 7,000 inmates died in the period from September 1994 to June 1995. These inhumane and life-threatening conditions drew extensive criticism from the international community, which offered aid in building new prisons. In early October, the first of these new prisons was opened and one thousand prisoners were transferred there. Immediately after the opening ceremonies, however, the prisoners were returned to their original place of detention.
Conditions at the brigades, communal lockups, and other irregular places of detention were even worse. Complaints of beating and torture were rare at the regular prisons, but detainees arriving from other facilities reported brutal and humiliating treatment.
Rwandan authorities improved the treatment of imprisoned minors, of whom there were more than a thousand. Several hundred, most of them aged seven to thirteen years old, were moved to a special facility established by UNICEF. At Butare prison, children aged fourteen to seventeen were separated from adult prisoners and given educational facilities.
At the end of 1994, the Rwandan authorities announced that they would soon close the displaced persons' camps in southwestern Rwanda that housed some 220,000 people. The vast majority of the camp residents were unarmed civilians who had fled before the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) troops in June and July 1994. Hidden among the displaced were a small number of armed extremists, members of the militia and others that had participated in the genocide, who continued to kill, rob, and threaten others in the camps and in neighboring communities.
Representatives of various U.N. agencies and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were discussing a plan for closing the remaining camps with Rwandan authorities when several thousand RPA soldiers surrounded four camps in mid-April. The largest of these was Kibeho, with a population of some 120,000.
On April 18, the soldiers fired in the air to herd the residents into the center of the Kibeho camp. Thousands of persons panicked and stampeded, causing the deaths of nine persons. In a series of incidents between April 20 and 22, the troops fired directly into the crowd, using machine guns as well as rock-propelled grenades, killing thousands of people. On April 23, they chased and shot at unarmed civilians, including children, who were attempting to flee the carnage. During the nights of April 20 and 21, unidentified assailants killed and wounded dozens of camp residents in attacks with machetes. Rwandan authorities cited these attacks and the wounding and death of several RPA soldiers on April 22 as evidence that troops faced a serious threat and were justified in firing. Several hundred troops of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), the U.N. peacekeeping force, were present at Kibeho during the massacre but failed to execute their mandate to protect the displaced.
On April 23, UNAMIR soldiers assisted RPA soldiers in burying some of the dead, who were estimated by U.N. officers to number 8,000. Other victims were not buried but rather were thrown in latrines or were removed from the camp in trucks for disposal elsewhere. The Rwandan government sharply contested the U.N. figures and announced that fewer than 400 had been killed. Later, U.N. officials lowered the estimate of those killed to about 2,000.
At the request of the Rwandan government, an international commission carried out an investigation into the Kibeho killings. In a generally inconclusive and superficial report, the commission concluded that the slaughter had not been planned. It added, however, that there was evidence of serious human rights abuse by both RPA soldiers and unidentified elements among the displaced population. It gave no estimate of casualties, but indicated that the death toll was higher than the number advanced by the Rwandan government.
Following the closing of the camps, thousands of the displaced were sent home by truck, but thousands of others left Kibeho and the other camps in convoys escorted by RPA soldiers. En route, many were attacked by gangs of civilians who beat them and pillaged their belongings. Hundreds of the displaced were arrested as they arrived in their home communes and were crammed into lockups that were already full to bursting. In the commune of Rusatira, twenty-eight persons died of suffocation on April 26 after having been forced with hundreds of others into a small jail.
In early September, RPA troops killed at least 110 unarmed civilians in the northwestern commune of Kanama. According to Rwandan and UNAMIR authorities, a number of militia and soldiers of the former government had made incursions into the region in the weeks just before. On the evening of September 11, an RPA lieutenant was killed by unidentified assailants on the highway that passes Kanama. At dawn the next morning, RPA soldiers assaulted local residents in three separate attacks. Many of the victims were older women and children, and some were killed while sleeping in their beds. When General Paul Kagame, vice-president and minister of defense, went to the scene, he admitted that the soldiers had committed excesses and announced that any found guilty of violations would be punished. At the same time, he warned that local residents must prevent any infiltration of their area by forces from Zaire or suffer the consequences.
In addition to the massacres described above, unidentified assailants, often in uniform, killed or caused to disappear a substantial number of Rwandans during the year. Some of the best-known cases involved government officials or local leaders, who had criticized government policy. In January, Edouard Mutsinzi, a leading journalist who had criticized the government, was attacked by a gang of five armed men and barely survived. The prefect of Butare Prefecture, Dr. Jean-Pierre Rwangabo, was shot at an improvised roadblock on March 4 along with his son and the driver of his vehicle. He had called for the release of prisoners against whom there was little evidence of guilt. On July 27, Placide Koloni, Deputy Prefect of Gitarama Prefecture, was assassinated along with his wife, two children, and the family cook. Oreste Habinshuti, Deputy Prefect of Gikongoro Prefecture until the end of July, was killed on the night of August 1. A judge, Bernard Nikuze was shot outside his home in Butare in late August, and a local government official, Jean-Baptiste Sinamenaye, was assassinated in Gisenyi at the end of September. Authorities have opened investigations in several of these cases, but no one has been brought to trial for these crimes.
Concerned with continuing insecurity and abuses by the military, Interior Minister Seth Sendashonga insisted upon some resolution to the problem of military indiscipline at a cabinet meeting at the end of August. The meeting turned hostile and ended without settling the issue.On August 28 Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu resigned over this issue of insecurity, as did Sendashonga. Minister of Justice Nkubito and two other ministers were ousted at the same time, eliminating the most effective voices against military influence in the government.
The two million Rwandans in refugee camps in Zaire, Tanzania, Burundi, and Uganda have suffered from intimidation and violation of their rights, by officials of the former Rwandan government and officials of host countries. Robbery, rape, and murder were frequent occurrences, although the presence of a special unit of Zairian soldiers under the supervision of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees improved the security of the camps in Zaire somewhat. In March, Tanzania closed its border to any new refugees, and in August, Zaire expelled some 16,000 refugees, 14,000 of them to Rwanda, the others to Burundi. Zaire has threatened to drive out the 1.2 million refugees in its territory by the end of 1995.
Reports by the Human Rights Watch/Arms Project and others documented the flow of arms to the camps as well as military training by forces of the former government, sometimes together with militia of Burundian exiles. Although the international community repeatedly expressed alarm about the risks of renewed war in this region, the U.N. was unable to muster the forces needed to separate the soldiers from civilian refugees and to interrupt these military preparations. As the year ended, incursions from Zaire into Rwanda were increasing in number and scale. In early November the RPA killed a reported 300 soldiers of the former government in an attack on an island in Lake Kivu, nominally in Zairian territory.
The Right to Monitor
The once dynamic Rwandan human rights movement split this year into two groups, only one of which criticized violations effectively. Activists have been occasionally threatened and harassed by the military. Some have chosen to live abroad, saying that it is impossible to carry on human rights work in Rwanda today.
Abbe Andre Sibomana, editor of the largest newspaper in Rwanda and vice-president of the Association pour la defense des droits de la personne et des libertés publiques (ADL), has criticized human rights abuse under both the former and the current governments. Threatened by RPA soldiers and others, he was also subjected to unsubstantiated charges of involvement in the genocide.
The Role of the International Community
The United Nations
When the first UNAMIR peacekeeping force failed to protect the targets of genocide and political slaughter in 1994, U.N. officials justified its inaction on the grounds that its mandate did not extend to such protection and that the force was too small and ill-equipped to undertake the task. The second UNAMIR, created on May 17, 1994, had a broader mandate, including specifically the protection of civilians at risk, and a far larger complement of troops (5,500), but it too failed to protect unarmed civilians, both those slaughtered at Kibeho camp in April 1995 and those who were attacked on the trek back to their home communities in the days immediately after. NGO personnel working in the Kibeho area had observed the buildup of troops in the weeks before the attack and expected a potentially violent closing of the camps. Presumably UNAMIR soldiers and military observers were also well informed about these preparations. Even had they been taken by surprise when the camps were encircled, they still would have had time to reinforce their contingents before the massacre four days later.
While the failure of UNAMIR at Kibeho is clear, it is more difficult to estimate the impact of the U.N. peacekeepers on general security in the country. Many Rwandans took comfort from the presence of the international troops, and those at risk often preferred to live near U.N. posts. Proximity to U.N. locations was no guarantee of protection, however. Deputy Prefect Koloni was assassinated although he lived just next to a U.N. post and after he had specifically asked for protection (see above). UNAMIR soldiers and military observers, like human rights field officers and personnel from NGOs have played an important role in informing the world about human rights violations.
In June, the mandate for UNAMIR was extended until December 1995, but the force was to be gradually reduced to 1,800 and its duties were also to be shifted from providing security to "assisting in the normalization of the country." As financial problems worsened for the U.N., the secretary-general proposed further reductions in the number of troops in early October.
The U.N. human rights effort was a tangle of overlapping authorities destined for permanent conflicts over mandate and materials, limiting the impact of one and all on the real problems of human rights and accountability for abuses. The effort included the work of a special rapporteur named by the U.N. Human Rights Commission, a field operation run by the Geneva-based Human Rights Centre under the authority of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and an International Tribunal created by the Security Council. None of these human rights agencies had the resources required for their work. The special rapporteur operated with virtually no staff. The field operation was so short of funds that it was never able to field the full complement of one officer for each of the 147 communes of Rwanda. The International Tribunal was so restricted by lack of staff and resources that Justice Richard Goldstone, its chief prosecutor, was obliged to call a special conference in May to raise money for its operation.
The High Commissioner's field operation was supposed to gather data on the genocide, to monitor the current situation of human rights, and to assist in re-establishing the judicial system and a rule of law. When the International Tribunal was established, the field operation was directed to deliver to it all materials on the genocide. Apparently the Tribunal staff found little of the material usable for its prosecutions and, since the field operation failed to publish any of the data, its investigation has thus far served little purpose.
In monitoring the current situation, the field operation worked with such complete discretion that it was difficult to see what impact it had. Its officers had no regular reporting procedure to inform all relevant Rwandan officials of abuses. The head of the field office rarely made a clear and forceful public condemnation of even major human rights violations. Such impact as the operation had came from the local activities of some persistent and dedicated field officers. Logistical and administrative problems, enormous at the start, diminished in the course of the year.
The U.N. field operations's technical assistance unit sought to improve the judicial system and to coordinate foreign assistance to it. The unit spent many months hammering out an agreement between international donors and the Rwandan government for aid to the judicial system only to have it all delayed by conflicts between U.N. agencies over which would control the funds. An accord to bring in foreign experts at first provided for teams of four persons for each prefecture, a judge, a prosecutor, a police inspector, and a defense lawyer. But when Rwandan interlocutors indicated that the program would be approved more easily if the provision for defense lawyers were dropped, the U.N. human rights experts made that change.
As the International Tribunal ended its first year of operation, it was still dependent upon a handful of permanent staff members and a slightly larger number of others seconded by supportive governments. The Tribunal promised to announce at least one indictment before the end of 1995.
The European Union
In January, the Clinton administration named a special Rwanda coordinator, initially Ambassador Townsend Friedman, and after his death in June, Ambassador Richard Bogosian. The U.S. also chaired the Rwanda Operational Support Group, a group of eleven donor nations, the U.N., the OAU and the E.U. which met regularly to coordinate policies and promote reconciliation in Rwanda and Burundi.
In dealing with current human rights violations, the U.S. issued statements condemning the assassination of Pierre-Claver Rwangabo in March, expressing concern about the violence in Kibeho in April, and calling for an inquiry into the massacre at Kanama in September. It failed to press vigorously enough for progress in the judicial domain.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Africa
Human Rights Watch/Africa worked first to ensure that those accused of genocide be brought to justice. In order to establish a firm, detailed body of information about the slaughter, Human Rights Watch/Africa carried out a major study of the genocide in several communes in southern Rwanda, based on extensive documentary material as well as eye-witness testimony. It provided substantial expert witness testimony in the proceedings against former Rwandan officials being prosecuted outside of Rwanda, including Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza and Leon Mugesera as well as in the cases pending in Belgium. It supplied both evidence and general information to Justice Goldstone and his staff on the International Tribunal. Through contacts with U.S., European and African officials as well as with U.N. staff, Human Rights Watch/Africa sought to secure continued commitment to prosecutions for genocide. In frequent conversations with Rwandan officials, it stressed the importance of prompt trials and improvements in the conditions of detention in Rwandan jails. It sought to persuade foreign donors to provide adequate funding for the Rwandan judicial system and to use their influence with the Rwandan government to speed the beginning of trials.
Even while seeking to keep alive a sense of the horror of the genocide and the need to punish it, Human Rights Watch/Africa sought to ensure that these crimes against humanity not serve to excuse current human rights violations. Present at Kibeho during the killings, Human Rights Watch/Africa reported fully on the massacre. As a result of frequent visits to the prisons, it was able to present detailed information about the sufferings of detainees and the consequences of the paralysis of the judicial system. Human Rights Watch/Africa testified at a rare joint hearing of the U.S. House and Senate Africa Subcommittees on April 5, and published fifteen press releases and reports on human rights conditions in Rwanda.
Human Rights Watch/Africa supported Rwandan human rights activists with training and advice on methodology as the local organizations carried out their own work in documenting the genocide.
Field work was carried out during the year by a research team based in Rwanda sponsored jointly with the International Federation of Human Rights.