The organization of citizens to protect their own communities dates back ten years to the period before the genocide when the Habyarimana government established groups of civilians to assist soldiers against incursions of the RPF. When the current government was established in 1994, there was initially no system of local police. To remedy this lack and to protect against remnants of the genocidal forces in several parts of the country, authorities created the Local Defense Force (LDF), a kind of citizens' militia. In 1995, the Minister of the Interior ordered these forces disbanded, both because regular communal police were working again and because some of the LDF members had themselves been guilty of abuses against other citizens.
With the insurgency of 1997-1998, the government once again organized the Local Defense Force, groupsof young people (virtually all male) who received two or three months training by soldiers. In some communities, the young people recruited for these forces were "friends of the soldiers," who had been spending their time at military posts, performing various services for the soldiers, such as fetching water or doing the laundry, in the absence of any more regular employment. Others had previously shunned contact with the RPA. They joined the LDF only under pressure or at the direct order of local administrative officials who themselves had been required to provide a certain number of recruits. Most of the LDF are between the ages of eighteen and thirty, but in some communities in the northwest where most adult males have been killed or are absent, children as young as fourteen have been pressed into service. They are often called "the young ones" or even Kadogo, the local term for child soldier. In October 1999, some five thousand LDF members had been trained. Continuing programs have since added thousands more to the number. Communes in the northwest each have between 150 and 250 LDF members, the number varying with the size of the local population and the state of development of the program.42
The LDF members live at home and work in their own communities without pay. In most communes, each group of ten to twelve members has two or three firearms, which are supposedly stored in a central place and are taken by the LDF only when they go on patrol. In fact, some members of the LDF keep their arms at home and carry them whether they are on duty or not. In some communes, the members have received magenta uniforms while in others they have no distinctive dress.43
At the height of the insurgency, LDF members assisted regular soldiers as scouts. Since the start of the second war in the Congo, some of them have been sent to fight alongside soldiers there. In one area, more than two-thirds of the men trained in a group of some thirty LDF have gone to fight in the Congo since 1998. None had previous experience as soldiers and many were forced to do the training and go to the Congo against their will. Once in the Congo, they were dispersed among various units and so lost touch with each other. Only one is known to have returned to Rwanda and this was after he was injured in combat. As soon as he had recovered from his injuries, he was sent back to the front. At various times, most recently in February 2000, more young men have been recruited, in part to replace those who have been sent to the Congo.44
In theory, the LDF members are meant to provide added security to their home communities, but in some cases, they commit abuses against the people whom they are supposed to serve. In a recent case in Byumba, LDF members are said to have killed three women traders. In other cases, members of the LDF are reported to have killed one person in Mutura commune and another at Rambura, both in Gisenyi prefecture. In Byumba, five members of the LDF shot four people, killing two of them in a cabaret in Kivuye. In yet another instance, five members of the LDF of Kayove commune, including two with firearms, raided a home in Nyambyumba commune where they shot a woman. Several cases of rape have been reported committed by LDF, one in the commune of Nkuli.45
In a number of cases, members of the LDF have wounded or killed other LDF members. Sixteen-year-oldBaranabe Habanabakize, who had been a member of the LDF for about a year, was shot and killed by other LDF in Jenda sector as he returned home from a wedding celebration on February 9, 2000. His companion, Misi Rutegamingi, also sixteen and also a member of the LDF, was shot and seriously wounded. In this case, other LDF, who reportedly did not know the two, had opened fire because they saw Misi was carrying a firearm and did not believe their claim to be civilians. In another shooting that took place on January 3, 2000, one LDF member named Nkweto killed another named Vincent in Kigarama sector, Ruhondo commune, reportedly because Vincent talked too much about LDF thefts from civilians. At the end of January, another young LDF member, Gaspard Ndagijimana, was shot just outside Ruhengeri town, in the sector Gahondogo, commune Kigombe. The assailants have not been identified but may have been men from his own LDF group.
Gaspard, who had been an unwilling recruit to the LDF, survived the shooting but had to have an injured leg amputated.46
In many communes in Byumba, Ruhengeri and Gisenyi prefectures, members of the LDF have beaten local people and extorted or stolen goods from them. Occasionally they commit these abuses in the company of regular soldiers; at other times, they use their own firearms to force compliance with their demands. But where the victims are women or the elderly, the young LDF members do not need firearms to get what they want; they just threaten to beat them with large, stout sticks. One widow complained that the LDF in her area stole the fabric she had bought to make clothing. Others complain of being robbed of a bicycle or of being forced to give free beer to young men of the LDF. In other communes, LDF are accused of appropriating food deliveries from the World Food Program meant for the needy.47
Accountability for Members of the Local Defense Force
The LDF are organized under the authority of the Minister of Local Administration and Social Affairs. They are supposed to be under the orders of local civilian officials within the communes and subject to supervision by a military officer at the level of the prefecture. In some communities, the LDF who abuse their authority have been quickly called to account, usually following complaints by local people to the officials at sectoral or communal level. Some LDF have been disciplined by being taken to military posts for beatings, others have been dismissed from the force and, in the most serious cases, some have been arrested. In the case of the killings at Kivuye, described above, two of the assailants have been tried and found guilty. One has been sentenced to death and the other to life in prison. But where local officials unquestioningly support the LDF or are themselves intimidated by its members, they have ignored complaints by the population and the abuses continue.48 In some cases, local authorities claim that abuses committed by the LDF were actually the work of insurgents, just as RPA authorities, in the case of the killing of Jean-Pierre Niyonzima, described above, asserted that the killers must have been insurgents, not demobilized soldiers.42 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kigali, October 8, December 10, 1999; Nkuli, November 17, 1999; Cyeru, December 7, 1999; Ruhengeri, February 8 and 24, 2000. 43 Ibid. 44 Human Rights Watch interviews, Kigali, December 10, 1999; Ruhengeri, February 24, 2000. 45 Human Rights Watch interviews, Gisenyi, December 8, 1999; Kigali December 11, 1999; Nkuli, November 17, 1999; Byumba, February 12, 2000; Nyarutovu, February 25, 2000; by telephone, April 12, 2000; Resolutions et Recommandations de la Tenue de la 9ème Assemblée Générale de la Ligue Rwandaise pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits de l'Homme, "LIPRODHOR," 20/03/2000. 46 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhergeri, February 8 and 24, 2000. 47 Human Rights Watch interviews, Ruhengeri, November 17 and December 7, 1999, February 8, 24, 25, 2000; Byumba, February 12, 2000; Gisenyi, December 8, 1999.