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Rwanda/Burundi: Recent Documents, 1
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Rwanda/Burundi: Recent Documents, 1
Date Distributed (ymd): 960404
RWANDA/ BURUNDI: URGENT STEPS NEEDED TO RESOLVE REFUGEE CRISIS
20 FEBRUARY 1996
GENEVA: A mass return of refugees to Rwanda and Burundi could
lead to further large-scale human rights abuses, Amnesty
International warned at a press conference in Geneva today.
A mass return, especially if forced, could lead to a
significant increase in arbitrary arrests, detention without
trial, disappearances' and extrajudicial executions,' Amnesty
More than 200,000 Burundi refugees and about 1.7 million
Rwandese are still in camps in Zaire and Tanzania; other
Rwandese are in camps in Burundi.
According to recent reports, the Zairian authorities are
planning the progressive closure of refugee camps. These
refugees should not be forced to return unless their safety is
guaranteed, the human rights organization said in a report
The governments of the Great Lakes region and the
international community should act now to solve this refugee
crisis,' Amnesty International said. All the signs of a
further human rights catastrophe are present in the region.'
Measures by Zaire to step up repatriation are creating intense
pressure on refugees to return. Under these conditions, there
are no guarantees that the resulting return would be truly
voluntary in all cases.
The tragic reality is that these refugees often have nowhere
to go,' Amnesty International said. Six months after the
forcible return of around 15,000 Rwandese and Burundi refugees
from Zaire, very little has been done to seek a long-term
solution to the crisis.'
Amnesty International stressed that respect for human rights
is the key to any resolution of the refugee crisis. The
organization called on all states to respect their
international obligations to protect refugees from human
Amnesty International recognizes that the refugee crisis has
led to a difficult situation for the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian
organizations. However, the priorities of these organizations
and the host countries should be the voluntary nature of any
return and the human rights situation in the country of
Amnesty International is appealing to the governments of Zaire
and Tanzania to keep their borders open to those fleeing from
human rights violations, and called on the international
community to make available adequate human and material
resources to enable host countries to shoulder the burden.
In its report, 'Rwanda and Burundi - the return home; rumours
and reality', Amnesty International highlights the three main
factors which are preventing most refugees from returning
voluntarily: the absence of security, the absence of justice,
and manipulation of information about the real situation in
the two countries.
The human rights situation remains critical, especially in
Burundi, where refugees are caught in the middle of the
violence,' the organization said. Survival has become a
question of luck.'
In Burundi, increasing violence continues to cause thousands
to flee, while Rwandese refugees in the country are threatened
by Burundi government security forces and armed groups.
Since October 1993, more than 100,000 people have been killed
in Burundi by security forces or armed opposition groups, at
a rate of around 1,500 each month during 1995. Violence has
become a daily phenomenon in the capital Bujumbura and in the
rest of the country.
The country has become divided along ethnic lines and fear
prevents people from one ethnic group or political affiliation
from transgressing into areas dominated by the other. The
justice system is paralysed and the government is unable to
control the security forces, who continue to carry out
massacres with impunity.
In Rwanda, approximately 66,000 people held in connection with
the genocide are detained in grossly overcrowded prisons
without charge or trial. Around 2,300 have died since 1994 as
a direct result of inhumane conditions and detention and
ill-treatment have become a substitute for justice, the
Members of the former Rwandese government army and militia
known as interahamwe still control refugee camps, using
intimidation and propaganda to discourage refugees from
Amnesty international believes that an essential pre-condition
for a voluntary return must be the establishment of a fair
system of justice, at the national and international levels.
The organization is calling for the deployment of a sufficient
number of independent and competent human rights observers in
Rwanda and Burundi as an important contribution to the
creation of a climate of security for returnees.
The mass movement of populations linked to widespread human
rights abuses is not a new phenomenon in the Great Lakes
region, but it has reached unprecedented proportions since the
genocide in Rwanda in 1994, which claimed as many as one
million lives. In its aftermath, two million Rwandese fled
their country for Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi.
As a result of the massive human rights abuses in Burundi
since 1993, around 200,000 Burundi refugees are still living
outside their country. Around the same number are internally
displaced within Burundi. Thousands of people continue to seek
refuge in neighbouring Zaire and Tanzania.
Sometimes, the only place these refugees feel safe is in a
refugee camp. Amnesty International delegates spoke to a
plumber from Bubanza (who cannot be named for security
reasons) in northwestern Burundi, who fled to Zaire in May
1995 after his village was attacked by militia. In August
1995, he was among those forcibly returned to Burundi by the
Zairian army. One month after his return, he still preferred
to remain in the relative security of the transit camp set up
at the border. He could not return to his village as his house
had been destroyed, but he was prepared to go anywhere he
could live in peace. He felt abandoned on all sides; unable to
go home, forcibly returned from Zaire, and unable to go to
Tanzania because the border had been closed since March 1995.
On 17 January 1996, 15,000 Rwandese refugees fled the camp of
Mugano in northeastern Burundi and entered Tanzania, following
clashes between the Burundi security forces and armed groups.
Several refugees who crossed the border reportedly had gunshot
wounds. On 20 and 21 January, a further 16,000 also tried to
flee Burundi. They were initially turned back at the Tanzanian
border. Some were eventually let in; others began making their
way back to Rwanda; others remain in Burundi.
In Rwanda, Amnesty International delegates interviewed
returnees who had not been specifically targeted by the
authorities. However, there are still no reliable mechanisms
to ensure that human rights are protected in the event of a
mass return. Despite statements by the Rwandese authorities
that refugees are welcome to return, very few refugees who
fled in 1994 have chosen to do so.
Rwanda remains the scene of serious human rights violations,
even though these are not on the scale of those committed
during the genocide of 1994. The massacres by the Rwandese
Patriotic Army at Kibeho in April 1995 and Kanama in September
1995 claimed several hundreds, if not thousands, of civilian
lives. Extrajudicial executions and disappearances' continue.
On 27 July 1995, Placide Koloni, former administrator of
Ruhango, and several members of his family were assassinated.
He had just been released from Gitarama prison on the
recommendation of a screening committee which found that there
was insufficient evidence against him. Disputes over property
and personal vendettas are also common.
Armed groups from the refugee camps in Zaire, Tanzania and
Burundi have killed unarmed civilians during cross border
attacks, in villages close to the border. Some of these
incursions appear aimed at eliminating witnesses of massacres
during 1994 for fear that they might denounce those
Amnesty International welcomes the efforts to set up the
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, but said that the
international community should intensify initiatives to bring
to justice individuals suspected of war crimes, crimes against
humanity and genocide.
For more information on Amnesty International, visit Amnesty's
International Secretariat Web site at:
or send an e-mail message for an automatic reply to
Other recent documents:
(1) Refugees International (e-mail email@example.com) publishes
periodic brief reports entitled Rwandan Repatriation. The
series is available on-line at
The URL of the most recent report is:
(2) A two-day summit in Tunis, organized by the Carter Center
and including the presidents of Zaire, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda
and Tanzania, and former presidents Jimmy Carter (U.S.),
Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and Amadou Toure (Mali), was held
from March 16-18. The summit issued the Tunis Declaration on
the Great Lakes Region. The declaration is available on-line
at the Africa News web site in the atlarge directory:
It is also available by e-mail from the UN Department of
Humanitarian Affairs Integrated Regional Information Network
Nairobi. Send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org,
containing the text:
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary
objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States
around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by
concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant
information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and
individuals. APIC is affiliated with the Washington Office on
Africa (WOA), a not-for-profit church, trade union and civil
rights group supported organization that works with Congress
on Africa-related legislation.