Sequel to the Genocide
Rwanda is no longer news. At the height of the genocide last spring, we were bombarded daily by pictures and media reports of human suffering, massacres and other atrocities. Before the eyes of the international community, a tragedy unfolded. More than half a million people were slaughtered. The killing was only halted by the new government's military victory over the murderous forces of the erstwhile President Theodore Sindikubwabo. Then the images changed. We were shown refugee camps, starving children, mass graves, and transport planes laden with humanitarian aid. The international community had woken up. The United Nations sent a peace-keeping force (UNAMIR), the United States launched "Operation Sustain Hope". There was much rhetoric as Rwandans died like flies. Then there was silence. Media attention focused on the next theatre of war. But the bloodletting is not over yet.
A government in exile
Theodore Sindikubwabo, President and Jean Kambanda, Prime Minister of the regime responsible for the genocide, have since been named to head a so called government-in-exile. They are joined by former Foreign Minister, Jerome Bicamumpaka and Augustin Bizimungu, Chief of Army staff. The primary task of this "gang of four" is to keep the former Rwandan army primed for attack, and international media reports suggest that the army is regrouping for that purpose. Troops have been observed training at sites near the Katindo and Mugunga camps. Human rights Watch/Africa obtained a detailed inventory of the weaponry held by the former government forces. This includes 6 Helicopters (1 Dauphin, 2 Alloutes and 3 Gazelles), 50 75mm recoilless rifles, 40 SA 7 missiles, 15 mistral AAM missiles, 46 air defence weapons, 255 mortars, 5 105mm howitzers and 56 armoured personnel carriers.
The refugee camps have become the power base of this exiled army, and the political structures that existed in Rwanda before the genocide have been reestablished there. The government in exile uses the twin weapons of propaganda and violence to retain control of the Hutu refugees obliged to follow them into exile. They refuse to allow the refugees to return home, knowing that by keeping them in the camps, they can continue to exert pressure on the international community, and in turn, the new Rwandan government. The presence of the allegedly loyal refugees also makes it more difficult to arrest the members of the government in exile for their crimes.
The government in exile has gone so far as to establish a system to tax those refugees who have hired themselves out to local farmers as casual labourers. They are required to pay to the "authorities" 200 out of every 1,000 Zaires earned.
What is more worrying than the emergence of this parody of governance is the fact that the exiled army has begun making incursions into Rwanda. Last October, a Rwandan Patriotic Front (the new government) patrol was ambushed near the eastern frontier, and General Tousignant, the UNAMIR commander reported a similar raid at Rutagara, a town about 100 metres from the Zairian border.
Aside for the threat of attack from outside, the Rwandan government also has to contend with renewed militia activity in the displaced persons' camps within the country. Many of the displaced are Hutu who fled before the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front)advance and sought refuge in the secure humanitarian zone created by the French as part of "Operation Turquoise". Some of them are killers now hiding in the densely populated camps and, like in the refugee camps outside Rwanda, they are trying to rebuild their power base. The displaced persons' camps are being used as a launching pad for raids to rob local people. Former authority figures are discouraging people from returning home, arguing that all who return will be killed by the RPF. Reports of "disappearances", some false, but others true, have made many displaced persons even more reluctant to return home.
The Rwandan government decided to close the camps, forcibly where necessary, to prevent the continued growth of organised resistance. According to a UN report, Rwandan authorities closed the Rubengera camp in Kibuye without injury or loss of life. But, when last October 15th, RPF soldiers tried to close the Birambo camp, violence erupted. One person was killed and two injured. In a similar incident three days later, 4 people were injured when soldiers closed the Ndaba camp. Everyone was forced to leave without their personal belongings and later that night, RPF soldiers returned to loot the camp and burn down the shelters.
Human Rights Watch/Africa details two other incidents: On October 29th, RPF soldiers closed Rugbano camp which housed 15,000 people. Eliel Mucoye who had been running an orphanage in the camp was taken away. Two days later, he was found beaten to death.
On November 7th, RPF soldiers closed the camps at Musange and burned down the shelters. 7 civilians were killed and 4 wounded. These incidents show that RPF soldiers, initially regarded as conquering heroes, are no angels. During their advance to drive the former government and its army from Rwanda, it is alleged that they (the RPF) committed several massacres of unarmed civilians, often in areas where large numbers of Tutsis were killed in the genocide. Two of the more recent massacres have been documented by Human Rights Watch/Africa . On October 25th, RPF soldiers killed more than 35 people in the Gitaranga sector of Kibuye prefecture. UNAMIR soldiers had left the area a day before the killings and on their return, they found bodies scattered in the fields. The prefect of Kibuye, Lt Col Turagara admitted that RPF troops were responsible, but sought to justify their actions on the basis that one of the soldiers had been killed by local people.
Similarly, on Nov 11th, in a market at Musebeya, in Gikongoro prefecture, RPF soldiers killed 9 people and wounded 13 others. Apparently, those killed were civilians from a displaced persons camp who had allegedly attacked the soldiers with stones.
Witnesses have reported the disappearances of people suspected of playing prominent parts in the genocide. For example, on the night of 26th of October, 17 people were taken from the Kimegeri sector of Gitamara prefecture. They were detained in a house occupied by RPF soldiers and one of them, Leonidas Hategekimana was beaten so brutally that he died the next morning. UNAMIR officers also reported an incident on October 18th in which 4 prisoners being transferred from Gisoru to Kibuye were shot in the head "for trying to escape".
What is significant in the disappearances is that many of the people taken away are prominent individuals. Their communities are thus affected by their loss. A case in point in that of Antoine Sibomana, the former burgomaster of Mbazi commune, in the prefecture of Butare. On September 10, he was arrested by the RPF and imprisoned in Butare. According to Human Rights Watch/Africa, he is still awaiting trial and is suffering from diabetic complications. Sibomana, an anthropology graduate from Laval university in Canada is widely acknowledged to have taken active steps to limit the genocide in Mbazi by protecting many Tutsi.
It must be said that the government has moved swiftly to arrest those RPF soldiers charged with killings and human rights abuses. Those arrested include Major Bigabiro, reputedly responsible for killings in Butare, and Lt Auther Butare accused of killing for vengeance. A military court has been set up to try such offenders.
A judicial system in crisis
Rwandan law requires that detained persons be arraigned before a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest. As the former government fled with most of the funds, equipment and vehicles belonging to the state, This has been virtually impossible. Apart from the fact that many of the judges and prosecutors were killed in the genocide, some of them have been implicated in the killings themselves.
As of last November, there was no civilian police force and law enforcement duties were performed by the RPF. Most soldiers engaged in such duties are unfamiliar with the Rwandan judicial procedure and the sections of the legal code protecting human rights. Again, they are hampered in the investigation of crime by the lack of resources.
The 3 prisons (in Kigali, Butare and Gitarama) are severely overcrowded, with detainees crammed into unhygienic cells without adequate sanitation. Consequently, between 2 and 7 prisoners die each day in Kigali prison, most of them from dysentery.
Although the needs of the Rwandans in refugee camps have been generously met, the new govt needs immediate aid in order to set up effective administrative and judicial infrastructure.
The full report by Human Rights Watch/Africa, entitled Rwanda A New Catastrophe? can be obtained from its London office at 33 Islington High street, N1 9LH