Children Targeted in the Genocide
Over time, the bones have disappeared but many living children throughout Rwanda bear evidence of the genocide in amputated limbs and scars from machete wounds, especially across the face, head, and neck. They and all of the others, even those with no mark on their bodies, bear invisible but nonetheless real scars from having experienced horrors beyond anything imaginable. According to a survey of three thousand children done by UNICEF, 80 percent of children interviewed experienced a death in the family during the period of the genocide; 70 percent witnessed a killing or an injury; 35 percent saw other children killing or injuring other children; 88 percent saw dead bodies or body parts; 31 percent witnessed rape or sexual assault; 80 percent had to hide for protection; 61 percent were threatened that they would be killed; and 90 percent believed that they would die.11
Children had largely been spared death in previous armed conflicts in Rwanda. An elderly resident of Butare town, then in her mid-eighties, told Human Rights Watch in 1995 that she had observed the genocide with horror. She had seen the killing of Tutsi since the 1950s but she said this slaughter was different because "it killed babies on the back, children who were beginning to walk, pregnant women, old people." The elderly woman, a Hutu, had become a target when informers told the militia that she was hiding her Tutsi grandchildren.12 Straton Nsanzabaganwa, director of social planning and protection of vulnerable groups in the Ministry of Local Administration and Social Affairs, confirmed that children had seldom been targeted before even during the ethnic massacres of 1959 and 1973. With the 1994 genocide, he said, children lost their protected status.13
The targeting of Tutsi children along with adults carried the idea of "self-defense" to its logically absurd and genocidal end. To encourage assailants to kill children, some instigators stated that even the youngest could pose a threat; they often reminded others that Paul Kagame or Fred Rwigema, RPF commanders who led the guerilla force, had once been babies too.
Across the country, individual killers carried out their "work" with unfathomable cruelty. Two Hutu sisters each married to a Tutsi husband had to choose to die with their husbands at Mugonero church in Kibuye or to leave them to die. One chose to leave, hoping to save her eleven children. The children, classified as Tutsi because their father was Tutsi, would not ordinarily have been allowed to live, but assailants had said that they would be allowed to depart safely if she agreed to go with them. When she stepped out of the door of the church, eight of the eleven children were struck down before her eyes. The youngest, a child of three, begged for his life after seeing his brothers and sisters slain. "Please don't kill me," he said. "I'll never be Tutsi again." He was killed.14
Even infants were killed or left to die. The family of a Hutu member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) in Butare was massacred. The next morning corpses were found scattered in front of the house, including the body of a three-month-old child who had been shot in the back of the head lying at his mother's breast, which had also been blown open by a bullet.17 One man who survived a massacre in Nyakizu commune, Butare, told Human Rights Watch that he saw a small child trying to nurse at her dead mother's breast.18
In massacre after massacre, children were slaughtered alongside adults. On April 21, 1994, soldiers and militia members came to the Groupe Scolaire in Butare where six to seven hundred children and several hundred other displaced persons from Kigali had sought refuge. They called the displaced persons out to the courtyard, separated them into groups on the basis of their identity cards, and began killing the Tutsi, mostly with machetes and clubs. Local residents joined in the slaughter. According to one witness, several women killed other women and children.19
After a massacre at Matyazo near Butare, dozens of infants and small children were saved and brought to Ngoma church nearby. That church too was attacked and the children who survived that attack were put out in a field in front of the church. There the killers moved among the small bodies, clubbing them to death one after the other, chatting among themselves as they carried out their "work."20
In the first weeks of the genocide, authorities incited attacks primarily on the most obvious targets-men who had acknowledged or could be easily supposed to have ties with the RPF. Only later did they insist on the slaughter of women, children, the elderly, and others who were generally regarded as apolitical. In early May a physician asked interim Prime Minister Jean Kambanda and other officials to protect Tutsi children who had sought refuge at a hospital in Kibuye. They did not intervene, and the children were killed soon after. Lt. Colonel Simba, head of the so-called self-defense program for Butare and Gikongoro, called for a "final cleaning" on May 21 to "clear the brush," i.e. to kill all the Tutsi still in hiding. Eight children who had been hidden by their grandmother were subsequently killed in one locale, and eleven children were killed at another home.21 At a meeting in Ndora commune, Butare, on June 7, 1994, Callixte Kalimanzira, administrative head of the Ministry of Interior and Communal Development, warned the population that the RPF was using small children (abana bato), suggesting that they, too, were enemies to be killed.22
In some cases, killers spared small children or girls, who "had never done anything bad," as a group of attackers told a woman when they declined to kill her and girls she was hiding.23
Grace M., thirteen at the time of the events, was spared while most of her family was slain. She lived with her grandmother, three aunts, and little brother before the genocide. Her three aunts Murerwa, Dansila, and Vestine were killed, as was her little brother.
Grace M. survived the next few days by hiding.
Grace M. said she kept running for the next two weeks until she arrived at Bugesera, where she waited until the genocide was over. When asked if she was afraid to go home she said, no. "If I died I would be dead, and if I didn't then I would live. None of this is my choice."24
Many sought refuge and were able to escape the massacres by hiding with relatives or family friends. Others told Human Rights Watch that their would-be protectors turned them away at the door or, worse yet, alerted killers to their presence. Many Tutsi children had to flee the massacres by themselves because their parents had been killed or their families dispersed.
In some cases, desperate parents separated from their children or pretended not to know them, believing this would increase their chances of survival. Marie Claire U. said that her father had initially evaded assailants and they had hidden together. When the killers came for him again, he realized that they could no longer stay together. He left the children alone in their hiding place and was almost immediately caught. The children saw him struck in the head and killed. Marie Claire U. and five of her siblings survived, but her twin sister was killed.25
A Tutsi woman fled from Kigali after her husband had been assassinated. Because her features fit those of a stereotypical "Tutsi," she feared her children would also be marked for death. She told them to pretend not to know her when they came to barriers. The youngest, who did not understand, begged her mother to stay close to her, while the mother shooed her away like an unwanted stray.26
Rose S., a small, quiet orphan, described seeing a woman attacked at a barrier while she was fleeing on her own after her mother's death.
Daniel R., a ten-year-old from Taba commune, related how he tried to flee to Kigali to save himself. He saw that other unaccompanied children were being killed, so he begged a stranger to let him carry a mattress and pretend to be his son. In that way, he was able to get past the barriers where Tutsi were being selected for slaughter. 28
Theresa M., eight years old at the time of the genocide, survived because her would-be killer was tired. Her entire family was killed. Interviewed at an orphanage two years after the genocide, she said:
Many adolescent girls, as well as some very young ones, suffered rape and sexual torture.30 Two years after such an experience, Nadia U. was still traumatized. In a tearful interview during which she barely looked up, she described being raped when she was only eleven years old. The militia attacked her house, and although she thought she recognized some of them, she was not sure because their faces were covered in a chalky paste.31 They carried machetes and nail-studded clubs. Nadia U.'s parents and brothers were hacked to pieces in front of her. Then, one of the militia said, "don't kill the girl. I am going to take her and kill her myself." He told her that he was taking her as his wife. Nadia U. was taken to his house where she was locked in the kitchen.
After two weeks with the rapist, Nadia U. escaped and went to live with an elderly widow.
Children as Victims of Combat
RPA troops killed thousands of children outright when they attacked displaced persons camps inside Rwanda, refugee camps in Zaire in late 1996, and hundreds of smaller sites where persons in flight subsequently sought refuge in the forests of Zaire.35 Of the thousands of children who fled into the forest, large numbers traveled without adults. According to one such child, he had no idea where he was going and sometimes walked all day only to find himself at nightfall back where he started.36 Those who fled deep into the forest lived in makeshift camps in precarious conditions, rarely served by any kind of humanitarian assistance. Some children who had adult support at the start ended up on their own as parents or friends died or were slain. One thirteen-year-old who returned to Rwanda from Congo in 2001 first lost his parents and then lived with an older sister until she married and could no longer look after him. The child was left on his own until he was forcibly conscripted by armed combatants opposed to the current Rwandan government who made him join their force to help transport equipment.37
So deep was the trauma associated with Rwanda that some children refused to go home even when humanitarian agencies had located their families and could promise a reunion. "Even when you produce a photo of a member of their family showing they are safe, the child may ask for a photo of a different family member or a letter or other evidence to prove the family are safe and it is therefore safe for him to return," said a staff member of an international aid agency who worked tracing the families of unaccompanied children.38 More than one hundred children in Tanzanian camps refused to be reunited with their families in Rwanda; others refused to return to Rwanda even when their parents present in Tanzania had decided to go back.39
Children as Tools of Violence
Children as Perpetrators of Genocide
Rwandans questioned for a 1995 study carried out in eight communes, some more affected by the genocide and some less so, described the crimes they saw children commit in 1994. Almost all the participants said that children were involved in the gamut of crimes associated with the genocide: they committed murder, raped women and young girls, burned and destroyed houses, stole property, and pointed out people in hiding to the militias. Some groups also said that children kept an eye on the people that were marked for death so they could not escape. In another group, participants said that some children worked as informers, posing as orphans and asking people in hiding for refuge. A few days later, the children would return to the militias and give them the names and locations of those in hiding.42 Thirty-five per cent of the children interviewed for a 1995 UNICEF study said they saw children killing or injuring other children.43
Some who committed these crimes followed the example of their elders. Many children in detention interviewed by Human Rights Watch researchers said they had parents and older siblings in prison as well. Some simply joined in looting in hopes of profiting or because others were doing so. Still others acted under extreme duress and participated in the violence only in order to save themselves or family members from slaughter.
Children who took part in the genocide, like adults, rarely speak of what they did for fear of incriminating themselves. Of the more than one hundred detained children interviewed for this report, only three (all of them already convicted of genocide) admitted their involvement in genocide-related crimes. One of them killed two small children because he believed "they were accomplices of the RPF" and that he should heed the call of the authorities "to fight against the enemy." The second, a boy living on the streets, was drawn into looting and destroying property.
A third child, Roger M., admitted having killed his sister's children. He was found guilty of genocide and sentenced to time served in pre-trial detention in Gitarama Prison. He was released soon after his sentencing in September 1997. A quiet and thoughtful young man, he was living with his mother, father, and surviving family members in Taba commune, Gitarama, when he spoke to Human Rights Watch researchers. Roger M., who was sixteen at the time of the genocide, said:
I really don't have the words to describe how I was feeling. There were so many emotions. They were still alive, the children. They were not dead [when I pushed them in the grave].44
At least five thousand children and young people have been arrested on charges of genocide, as is discussed below. A recent study of detainees accused of committing genocide as children found that many of them showed signs of severe trauma.45
In some cases, children risked their own lives to save others, as did adults. They took food to people in hiding or refused to reveal the ethnic identities of their friends and classmates in the face of death. One elderly informant described how children provided information to both killers and to victims:
This woman and her family managed to escape after a thirteen-year-old boy came to warn her that they were going to be attacked that night. She had often given the boy handouts of food before the genocide.
The RPF used thousands of kadogo,47 or child soldiers, in its ranks as it sought to topple first the government of former President Habyarimana and later the genocidal regime. A 1996 Rwandan government study identified 5,000 children who had been part of the RPF forces, 2,600 of whom were under fifteen years of age at the time of their military service.48 Under international pressure to demobilize and rehabilitate the children, the new Rwandan government established a "Kadogo School" at the Non-Commissioned Officers School in Butare in 1995. Some 3,000 children received education, material assistance, and help with family reunification from 1995 through 1998.49 Approximately 800 of them later attended secondary school at government expense.50
Gilbert B. said he left primary school in 1993, before he turned fourteen, to join the RPF. He killed at least three people as a child soldier. When the war ended in 1994, Gilbert B. was demobilized without any provision for his future. When he returned to his home in Gitarama, he learned that his parents had been killed and their house destroyed. In a rage, he killed a fourth person, a Hutu boy he knew who had also been recruited by the RPF. Gilbert said that he deeply regrets having killed people and, since his demobilization, he has suffered from depression. He tried to live with an older sister who is married and has a family of her own, but he felt he did not belong so he went to live on the streets. "I had no place to live and I was alone in total isolation," he said. "I was going to commit suicide. I had so many problems. I was out of control. I had no one to help me. I could not see any solutions."51
If the total figure of 5,000 kadogo is correct, some 2,000 children like Gilbert B. did not benefit from the kadogo school. Another former kadogo, Pierre N. from Kigali Rural, stayed in the army until 1996, when he was demobilized to pursue his studies. The army did not pay his school tuition, but he struggled to make ends meet. Now a tough adolescent, Pierre N. explained:
He abandoned his studies in 1999 when local authorities recruited him for the Local Defense Force in his home commune. Then aged sixteen or seventeen, he was ordered to serve against his will and without his parents' consent. When asked how old he was when he joined the RPF in 1994, when he used a gun and grenades to chase Interahamwe away, he replied, "Let's just say I was under fourteen."52
Since 1998, the Rwandan government has continued fighting armed groups in the Congo, many of them led by soldiers or militia of the former government. In this ongoing conflict, both sides have used children as part of their fighting forces.
From May through July 2001, several thousand Hutu combatants of the Army for the Liberation of Rwanda (ALIR) entered Rwanda and engaged the RPA in combat.53 They brought with them hundreds of haggard children, some as young as eleven years old. Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed more than twenty of these children who had been captured by or had surrendered to government forces. Almost all had been taught how to fire weapons, though one said he had refused to learn because he "didn't want to spill blood."54 Only one said he had actively participated in battle. The others described being used as porters, as domestic servants, as decoys to shout or otherwise make noise to distract or frighten opponents during battle, or as spies. At least several dozen child soldiers were killed during the fighting.55
Many of the children had been abducted by ALIR forces in eastern Congo where they were refugees. Others joined the combatants in search of food and protection, often after their parents had died or they had become separated from their families. Some had been there since 1994, while others had fled during the 1997-1998 insurgency. Gregoire K. fled Rwanda with his mother in 1998 and lived with her in the Congo forest. One day Rwandan government soldiers came and dispersed the camp where they had been living, forcing his mother to return to Rwanda. Gregoire came back from looking for food and firewood to find the camp deserted, his mother and the others gone. Alone and with nowhere else to go, he wandered to a nearby ALIR camp and joined their ranks.56
When the RPA captured ALIR combatants in the first skirmishes in 2001, its soldiers detained both children and adults at military positions near the point of capture. In June 2001 they transferred some sixty children along with nearly 400 adults to the Muhoza military camp in Ruhengeri. When Human Rights Watch researchers visited them soon after, the children appeared tired, hungry, and despondent.57 In July Rwandan authorities moved all the captives to a "solidarity camp" at Mudende in Gisenyi to follow a program of ideologicial re-education. Following protests from UNICEF that the children should be separated from the adults, they transferred the children in August to the Gitagata center in southern Rwanda where they were to undergo rehabilitation programs with the aim of returning them with their families. By then, the children numbered more than 300. The location at Gitagata in southern Rwanda made it difficult for families, most of whom lived in the northwest, to visit the children and so hampered efforts at reintegrating the children. But for most of the children, the camp represented a considerable improvement over other places they had lived since 1994. A Rwandan journalist who observed the children at Gitagata singing, dancing, and playing the drums remarked that they looked "like flowers that had been watered."58 In mid-December 2001, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) began to reunite some of the children with their families.59
To a limited extent, Rwandan government forces have continued to recruit children for military or paramilitary service. A new law on child protection, which entered into force in 2002, prohibits military service for children under eighteen.60 But this law does not refer to service in the Local Defense Force, a government-organized civilian militia group. Human Rights Watch has documented several instances of recruitment of minors for the Local Defense Force since the program was established in 1998.61
Because all Rwandan citizens must obtain government-issued identity cards at the age of sixteen, authorities can easily check the age of adolescents at the time of recruitment into the army or Local Defense Force. Any young person without such a card must be presumed to be younger than sixteen years old. Authorities ordinarily collect identity cards when young people are recruited and thus have no excuse for not knowing whether those selected are under age. When communal62 officials in Kigali Rural collected identity cards of young recruits in July 2000, at least two of the group were minors. Yet the authorities told them all to be prepared to join the army or the Local Defense Force in the near future.63
A local official in Nyarubuye commune who was responsible for recruitment explained that anyone over the age of fourteen could be part of the Local Defense Force in his sector, even though he knew the law set eighteen as the minimum age. Only people like himself, who had important responsibilities and a family to support, he said, could be exempt from their duty to serve their country. He pointed at a teenager standing nearby who, he said, was a member.64
Some local authorities, young members of the Local Defense Force, and other witnesses described the recruitment process: local authorities drew up lists of eligible young men after receiving instructions about how many recruits were needed, either from civilian authorities or from the military; they called the youths to a meeting and then immediately sent them away for training, sometimes without even allowing them to notify their families. The youths and their families rarely had a chance to object. 65 In other cases, soldiers reportedly arrived in communities and forcibly rounded up youths.
In a limited number of areas, primarily in Kigali Rural, Ruhengeri, and Gisenyi, soldiers have occasionally conducted forcible roundups of youths for military or paramilitary service. An elderly woman saw RPA soldiers arrive in trucks to round up youths near her Kigali Rural home in November 2000. Shortly thereafter, she saw teenage boys and young men who had managed to escape capture running away. Her neighbors confirmed that large Tata-brand trucks had left full of youths on October 31, November 5, and November 7, 2000, just hours before Human Rights Watch researchers arrived. She also recalled a similar incident in June 2000. That time, she heard the trucks drive up in the middle of the night and then heard screams. The next morning she saw mothers lamenting that their sons had been taken away.66 Witnesses or family members reported similar recruitment drives in at least ten communes of Kigali Rural, Gisenyi, and Ruhengeri in June and November 2000. Residents of Kigali, Kigali Rural, Ruhengeri, and Gisenyi who saw trucks drive by full of youths during those months told Human Rights Watch researchers that some of those in the trucks looked younger than fifteen years old.
Children do not appear to have been deliberately targeted for military service but soldiers and local officials who carried out the roundups did little to ensure that recruits were at least eighteen years of age. One young man who had been recruited in November 2000 estimated that two thousand young recruits, most of whom were at least eighteen, were assembled at Muhoza Camp in Ruhengeri, awaiting assignment in Congo. Before arriving at Muhoza, his group had transited through the Cyabingo commune office. There, he said, a major in the RPA looked over the group to find anyone who seemed very young. He sent home fifteen would-be recruits who looked very young. The major did not, however, check identity cards to verify the ages of the others who also looked young.67
In November 2001, the Rwandan government recruited an estimated thirty people per sector to join the Local Defense Force as tensions heightened with former ally Uganda. Residents of Gisenyi told Human Rights Watch researchers in December 2001 that they believed one boy who had been recruited in this drive was just fourteen years old. Recruitment of minors for military service reportedly increased around the same time in Congo, where Rwanda was accused by a senior U.N. official of recruiting adolescents in Isiro (Orientale Province), Fizi (South Kivu Province), and Kalemie (Katanga Province) in late 2001.68
Members of the Local Defense Force typically are trained for three months before receiving uniforms, access to weapons, and assignments in their home regions. They receive no compensation for their service and continue to live at home. After six months or more of experience, some are recruited for the regular army, making it necessary for local authorities to seek replacements among an already diminished pool of young men left in the community. A Ruhengeri boy, born in 1983, volunteered to join the Local Defense Force in 1998. In late 2000, at age seventeen, he was recruited to join the RPA.69 Three members of the Local Defense Force from one sector of Ruhengeri, aged fifteen to seventeen, were sent to Congo in 2000. Within months all three had been killed.70 A nurse who treated RPA soldiers as young as fifteen who had been injured in combat, including a sixteen year-old who had lost both his legs, lamented, "ababyeyi babyarira ubusa," or "their parents give birth for nothing."71
11 Leila Gupta, UNICEF Trauma Recovery Programme, Exposure to War-Related Violence Among Rwandan Children and Adolescents: A Brief Report on the National Baseline Trauma Survey, (UNICEF Rwanda, February 1996), p. 6. The three thousand children were randomly selected from thirty communes in all eleven of Rwanda's prefectures. Half the children interviewed lived in family settings, and the other half lived in centers for unaccompanied children. Because the research was conducted in 1995 while many Hutu children were still displaced or in exile, Tutsi children might have been over-represented.
13 Human Rights Watch interview with Straton Nsanzabaganwa, director of social planning and protection of vulnerable groups in the Ministry of Local Administration and Social Affairs, Kigali, October 3, 2001.
22 Célestin Rwankubito, Burugumesitiri wa Komini Ndora, "Inama y'Abaturage ba Komini Ndora yo kuwa 7 Kamena 1994" enclosed in Célestin Rwankubito, Burugumesitiri wa Komini Ndora, to Bwana Perefe wa Perefegitura, no. 132/04.04/2, June 16, 1994 (Butare prefecture).
30 Human Rights Watch interview, Butare, July 25, 1995. For a detailed analysis of sexual violence during the genocide, see Human Rights Watch/Africa, Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath, (New York: Human Rights Watch,1996).
35 Human Rights Watch/Africa press releases, April - May 1995; "Refugee Children in the Rwanda-Burundi Emergency, UNHCR Regional Support Unit for Refugee Children, Information Notes, Kigali, January 1996.
42 Save the Children Federation - USA in collaboration with Haguruka, Kanyarwanda, and LIPRODHOR, Children, Genocide, and Justice: The Rwandan Perspectives on Culpability and Punishment for the Children Accused of Crimes Associated with Genocide, (Kigali, 1995) p. 9.
50 The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs published monthly bulletins in 1995-1996 providing updated information on the kadogo and other children's rights issues, entitled Children: The Future of Rwanda.
59 "Rwanda: Children formally (sic) working with militias reunited with families," Rwanda News Agency, BBC Monitoring, December 18, 2001; "Rwanda: ICRC reunites third batch of war-affected Children," U.N. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), December 21, 2001.