Issue 5 - Article 17

Rwanda (June 1996)

June 1, 1996
Humanitarian Practice Network

The first weeks of April were dominated by mourning, in remembrance of those who died during the 1994 genocide and civil war. But the main problems facing the Rwanda Government two years on are those of repatriating nearly 1.8m Rwandans living as refugees in neighbouring countries, and bringing the perpetrators of the genocide to justice.

In an attempt to reassure Hutu refugees outside the country’s borders, the Rwanda Government has promised to bring the killers to justice. However, it is now holding 67,000 people in over-crowded prisons, many in appalling conditions, as tribunals are hampered by a lack of funding and under-qualified staff. Many of the judiciary were killed during the genocide and their replacements are either only recently trained or are undergoing training. Intimidation of prosecutors further aggravates the problem – a prosecutor and his colleague were shot dead in Gisenyi earlier in the year.

Many of the planners and leaders of the genocide are currently in comfortable exile in Kenya and Brussels. Extremist newspapers are openly on sale in Nairobi, and as the international tribunal proceeds painfully slowly, rich exiles renew their Kenyan tourist visas with impunity. Although the Zairian government now allows Rwandan Government officials into the camps to encourage refugees to return home, camp leaders continue to intimidate them into staying – particularly the intellectuals or former government officials – even going as far as killing Hutus inside Rwanda who never fled. Rwandan Government forces attacked Lake Kivu island in November 1995 to attempt to eradicate a hard core of these intimidators. No-one has yet been tried under the international tribunal. Although 10 have been indicted, all are outside the country and only two are actually in custody.

The Zairian contingent continues to operate within the camps, funded by UNHCR. All supplementary and therapeutic feeding programmes ceased in March except in Kibumba camp. NGOs have been instructed to replace all staff with Zairians and any international personnel will be deported. Since the beginning of the year, Zairian authorities have agreed to ‘encourage’ voluntary repatriation by restricting refugees’ search for food, firewood and work, severing all but essential services, and closing bars and shops. Despite these activities, the number of refugees returning actually fell to its lowest level in March this year.

Refugees, if they return, fear being arrested on charges – often fabricated – of participating in the genocide. The Rwandan Government’s sentencing policy has not helped encourage them to return: death for planners and leaders and a minimum of 10 years for others involved, conditional upon naming accomplices.

Within Rwanda, the Government is making considerable efforts to reassure those outside that it is safe to return – instituting a policy of execution of any Rwandan army soldier found shooting civilians. UN observers have estimated that there are over 60 killings per month by Tutsi soldiers. Although the RPF in exile was a very disciplined force, the army has since trebled in size to 50,000 and many of those who have joined recently saw families and friends killed by Hutus. International peace-keeping troops left Rwanda in March and UNAMIR was scheduled to withdraw completely by 19 April 1996 to be replaced by the United Nations Office in Rwanda (UNOR) whose mandate is still under discussion. In December, the Government ordered 38 NGOs, many of them French, to cease their activities. Of the 110 agencies that remain, it is clear that the Government would like to see 60 leave immediately. A primary concern to those agencies asked to leave is what is to become of their equipment – while most would gladly leave their vehicles and other supplies to remaining aid operations, there are fears that they will be appropriated by government officials or simply stolen.

The situation in the West is still unstable and international relief agencies have been restricting movement of staff in particularly high risk areas. Following a shooting incident involving an MSF vehicle in Cyangugu prefecture, in which one person was shot dead and three were injured, and a mine explosion on a much-used road, agencies have stepped up security measures. Fighting in the Masisi region of Zaire has caused a reported 5-8,000 Zairian Tutsis to flee to Rwanda, currently awaiting asylum in Nkamira transit centre.

Between 16-19 March, the Great Lakes Summit meeting took place in Tunis between the Presidents of Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, Tanzania and Uganda, presided by Jimmy Carter. Amongst the most important agreements reached were the following: Zaire to allow Rwandan officials into its camps to persuade the refugees to go home. Tanzania to help weed out those Hutus seen to be intimidating refugees; all outsiders to hand over people indicted by the Rwanda tribunal and a general commitment to seek to reduce conflict in Burundi. The next meeting is scheduled to take place in Atlanta, USA in May.

The UN’s Sharyar Khan reportedly said that what Rwanda needs is a Marshall Plan. However, the International community has so far only made available one quarter of the $638m requested by the Rwandan Government.


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