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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Rwanda: Recent Documents, 2

Rwanda: Recent Documents, 2
Date distributed (ymd): 970824
Document reposted by APIC

This posting contain (1) excerpts on Rwanda from the latest issue of Impunity-Info, published by International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, and (2) excerpts from a July 1997 report by Physicians for Human Rights on Eastern Congo and Western Rwanda.

More detailed and more frequent updates on the Great Lakes region from a variety of sources can be obtained on the Web at

(Excerpts from V. 2, n. 1, July 1997)

Published four times per year by the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD), 63, rue de Bresoles, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2Y 1V7 Tel. (514) 283-6073; Fax: (514) 283-3792; e-mail:; Web:

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to Include Charges of Rape

The presentation of an amicus brief to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to bring charges of rape and other crimes of sexual violence in the trial of Jean-Paul Akayesu has proven to be a significant achievement in efforts towards accountability and prosecution for gender-based violence and for the overall protection of the human rights of women. As a direct result of the amicus brief filed by a group of women's and human rights NGOs in May 1997, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda amended the indictment against Jean-Paul Akayesu a few weeks later. Where before the indictment did not consider at all the evidence of crimes of sexual violence, the amended indictment now includes charges of rape and inhumane treatment. More importantly, this amendment recognizes rape as a crime against humanity and as a war crime which brings to the forefront gender-based crimes particularly in war and conflict situations. ...

The amicus brief, prepared by Joanna Birenbaum and Lisa Wyndel of the Toronto-based Working Group on Engendering the Rwanda Tribunal; Rhonda Copelon of the International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic of the City University of New York; and Jennifer Green of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, recalled factual testimony presented to the trial and probative evidence available to the Tribunal through human rights investigative reports on the prevalence, purposes and effects of rape and other sexual violence in the Rwandan Commune of Taba under the authority of then Mayor Jean-Paul Akayesu. The brief called on the Prosecutor to consider amending the indictment accordingly, as well as improving the quality of the investigations to include proper attention to crimes committed against women. ...

The brief is available in French or English at the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. Contact Stephanie Rousseau.

A Coalition on Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situation

An NGO Coalition on Women's Human Rights in Conflict Situations has been formed and is presently housed within the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. ... If you are interested in receiving the [Coalitions's] newsletter or joining this Coalition, write or phone Stephanie Rousseau at the International Centre (e-mail:

Trials Continue Before Arusha Tribunal

The trial of Georges Rutaganda is proceeding before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, while that of Jean-Paul Akayesu, which began in January 1997, has been postponed until October following a claim by the defense lawyer who said he had problems finding witnesses prepared to testify on behalf of his client. ... A Swiss court has ordered the transfer of another genocide suspect, Alfred Musema, to the Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania. Musema is accused of having brought armed groups to the Bisesero area, in western Rwanda, and ordered them to attack Tutsis. The indictment claims that Musema personally attacked and killed some of the Tutsi victims, who had worked at the Gisovu tea plantation. ...

Rwandan Domestic Prosecutions Continue, Despite Criticisms

The president of the UN Security Council said the body is worried about the deteriorating prison conditions and inadequate judicial system in Rwanda, following a briefing by assistant secretary-general for political affairs, Ibrahima Fall, in May 1997. "Members of the council expressed concern over the continuing deterioration of prison conditions, lack of proper legal protection and the poor judicial system and called upon the Rwandan government to improve the situation in this regard," said Park Soo Gil. He also said that Security Council members had stressed the importance of the Rwandan government's co-operation with the international tribunal.

The statement followed a report from the UN Centre for Human Rights, in Geneva, criticizing the progress of genocide trials in Rwanda. The Centre said it was concerned about the security of lawyers, prosecutors, judges and witnesses in the trials, which began in late-December 1996. In six months of activity, the Rwandan courts have not managed to try even 100 of the accused. Approximately 90,000 are said to be in detention awaiting trial. ...

Of those already tried, a handful have been acquitted, but most have been sentenced to death. Executions have not yet taken place, although the Minister of Justice recently published regulations governing capital sentences, a necessary step before they can take place. Rwanda's vice-president and defence minister, Paul Kagame, has admitted that the justice system is far from perfect. But "trials are better than no trials," he said, and "criticisms will serve to make us work harder and better the justice system."


A Report by Physicians for Human Rights, 100 Boylston St., #702, Boston, MA 02116. Tel: 617-695-0041; fax: 617-695-0307; e-mail: For more information contact Richard Sollom at PHR's Boston office (617-695-0041) or Holly Burkhalter at PHR's DC office (202-547-9881).

(Note: the following consists of excerpts from a much longer report, available on the Web at
gopher:// The full report includes additonal material on Eastern Congo as well as Rwanda.)

PHR has been deeply concerned about atrocities in this region since the onset of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. In that year, PHR called for an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for leading the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis and moderate Hutus by Rwandan army (ex-FAR), Interahamwe militia, and Hutu civilians. Subsequently, PHR assisted the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda by exhuming the mass grave at Kibuye where more than 450 bodies from a single grave produced evidence of the brutal killing of unarmed men, women, and children. PHR recognizes the threat to stability and security in the region posed by the international community's failure to disarm and bring to justice those responsible for the 1994 genocide who remained in and retained control of the refugee camps in Eastern Zaire/Congo during the past two years. ...


  1. Pervasive insecurity and widespread atrocities and human rights abuses currently characterize the entire region of Eastern Congo and Western Rwanda.

Although civil war has officially ended in former Zaire/Congo, the region remains destabilized. Widespread insecurity and fear pervade Eastern Congo as well as Western Rwanda, where there is currently an unreported civil war taking place. All local citizens, refugee and displaced populations, and international staff are affected and constrained by these conditions. Atrocities and human rights abuses of many kinds are ongoing throughout the region. ...

In Western Rwanda, a clandestine war (which has intensified over the past two months) between the Rwandan government and organized Interahamwe and ex-FAR (former Rwandan Armed Forces) has rendered the countryside off limits for civilian travel and subjected the local (predominantly Hutu) population to risks of direct attack and killing by the Rwandan military. The Rwandan government perceives threat from many directions. Military roadblocks are frequent; the sense of surveillance is omnipresent. Local citizens, staff from international organizations, and visitors move about in Kigali, its environs, and the western region with a continual awareness that they are being observed and subject to peremptory questioning or arrest.

According to the ICRC Information Officer in Kigali, during the last three months at least 2,000-3000 civilians have been killed as a result of the fighting in Western Rwanda. The entire area of northwestern Rwanda is considered completely unstable; travel for expatriate staff is considered very unsafe, as such personnel appear to be directly targeted. Estimates of numbers being killed are inexact, based on both information from trusted local people who dare to furnish information to the ICRC and whatever hospital-based data the ICRC can acquire. ...

In Western Rwanda, the civil war has created such insecurity in the areas of Ruhengeri and Gisenyi that the UN has drastically curtailed access to the region. At least nine UN and NGO staff people, both local and expatriate, have been killed in Western Rwanda in the last six months. No one from the international press has traveled to this area in the recent past, although reports of the war have been broadcast on local radio. Information regarding the conduct of the war, the fate of local villagers, the numbers and kinds of casualties has thus been difficult to obtain. PHR received reports that military casualties are considerable in the area. The PHR team traversed this region by UNDP convoy, escorted by three trucks of armed Rwandan military -- one day after another convoy had been ambushed, allegedly by Interahamwe. The atmosphere was tense, radio communication taut, and the pace as rapid as the switchbacks would tolerate.

The local population (predominantly Hutu), and especially recent returnees from Congo, live in fear of arbitrary arrest as collaborators in the 1994 genocide and incarceration in one of the 18 prisons or 150-200 cachots (detention facilities) in the country. Soldiers and other armed personnel are present in all towns, along the roads, and in all official buildings and places of population activity, such as markets and crossroads. ...

5. A state of civil war characterizes the situation in Western Rwanda, and the United States should condemn ongoing human rights abuses by Rwandan military and disclose the U.S. security relationship with Rwanda.

Due to the presence of both Rwandan government forces and insurgent forces in the region, the war between these two opposing sides is ongoing and has spilled over into Rwanda on a more dramatic scale since the repatriation of the Rwandan refugees from Congo. Since the beginning of 1997, the civil war in Western Rwanda has dramatically escalated, leading to a larger number of casualties on both sides of the conflict and to a greater death toll among civilians. As in Eastern Congo, both sides are indiscriminately attacking and abusing civilian populations in their bid for military advantage. The international community has yet to recognize this state of affairs. Nor has it proposed remedies, despite the involvement in and victimization of both Rwandan and Congolese citizens by both sides of the conflict in the region.

PHR is concerned that in addition to failing to recognize publicly a civil war in Western Rwanda, the U.S. government has failed to disclose fully its role in supporting the Rwandan government in its conduct of the war. Based on interviews with U.S. officials and military personnel, as well as first-hand observations and public information (both prior to and during the recent mission to the region), PHR is aware that U.S. Army Special Forces have been training Rwandan military in Rwanda since at least early 1996. The number of these U.S. military personnel has varied in witness accounts from 12 to more than 100 present in Rwanda at any given time. According to the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, U.S. security assistance to Rwanda has included reconciliation group training, de-mining, civic affairs, small-scale non-lethal military assistance, and U.S. Special Forces training. PHR is particularly concerned that this U.S. military training has included counter-insurgency operations and cross-border surgical strikes.

6. The international community should desist from repatriating Rwandan refugees from Congo into Western Rwanda because of an ongoing civil war there.

The international community and the UNHCR have focused attention on the human rights abuses in Eastern Congo. Less attention has been directed to the difficult issue of repatriating refugees to the adverse situation now existing within Western Rwanda. These refugees are now returning to a wholly insecure environment, where in many instances, they become immediate targets for retribution from the Rwandan government forces. This process with these potentially deadly consequences contravenes the cornerstone of international refugee law, the principle of non-refoulement. ...

The return of several hundred thousand Rwandan refugees since November 1996 has resulted in a number of security and custodial problems for the Rwandan government. In particular, the existence of 150 to 200 prison and detention facilities throughout the country, holding an estimated 120,000 to 140,000 people (not only recent returnees, but also large numbers arrested soon after the 1994 events) accused of participation in genocide, poses a major burden on the government, the local communities, and the decimate Rwandan judicial system. In interviews with senior staff in the international organizations responsible for overseeing the welfare and due process issues of these detainees, and in interviews with a Rwandan official with overall jurisdiction for the detention centers in Ntongwe Commune in Gitarama, the PHR team learned that few of these hundreds of thousands of people, overwhelmingly men, have formal dossiers prepared against them and that many of them have been in holding facilities, designed only for the most temporary stays, for periods ranging from six months to over one year. PHR received reports that up to one-quarter of all recent Rwandan returnees from Congo have been detained, often on unsubstantiated grounds of having participated in the 1994 genocide. ...

8. The international community should provide urgent assistance to help rebuild the economy and infrastructure of Rwanda.

In Rwanda, the genocide and war have taken a serious toll on the economy and infrastructure. The PHR team noted in particular a number of health care issues that have arisen as a result of the impoverishment of the population, the decimation of its professional class, and the collapse of its immunization program. Malnutrition is considered to be the major underlying problem haunting the general population, particularly children. Health care facilities are grossly understaffed and supplies are inadequate. Diarrheal disease, upper respiratory infections, malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS are the major illnesses and, according to international as well as local officials, appear to be increasing in incidence. ... Finally, the psychological burdens of coping with the terrible recent past and the losses it has created are mentioned by all observers as perhaps the most pressing and least understood of all problems affecting every sector of the population.

An immediate consequence of the austere circumstances is that international aid to the returning refugees, whether via the transit camps, in the villages, or in the prisons and detention facilities, is viewed with rancor by national and local officials. Without an increase in reciprocal aid to the non-refugee population, communal antipathies will continue to be aggravated by this perceived inequality.


The United States is an important ally of the Government of Rwanda, providing the government with extensive economic support, security assistance, and strong diplomatic support. Regrettably, human rights in Rwanda and in Congo, where the Rwandan Army has committed serious abuses, have taken a back seat as the U.S. has moved to establish close relations with governments in both countries.

The U.S. Embassy in Rwanda strongly backs the Kagame government, openly downplays human rights concerns and minimizes reports of human rights abuses, and is perceived by international humanitarian agencies as distinctly unsympathetic. An American official in the U.S. Embassy told PHR that he supported the Rwandans' thwarting of a United Nations mission to investigate atrocities in Congo, and he defied PHR to produce evidence of serious violations of human rights in Rwanda or Congo.

Whereas U.S. officials have condemned human rights abuses in Congo and have conditioned aid to the new Congolese government on improvements in human rights, no such linkage has been made to U.S. aid to Rwanda. This disparity is troubling, given the clear evidence that PHR has found of Rwandan involvement in gross violations of human rights of unarmed Rwandan refugees in Congo and of Congolese themselves, either those suspected of aiding the refugees, or Congolese Hutu who were singled out because of their ethnicity. ..

The U.S. Government is providing military assistance in the form of aid and training to Rwanda. ... U.S. officials have characterized part of this training program as a human rights program aimed at "professionalizing" the Rwandan forces. If that is the case, then the evidence -- both in Rwanda and in Congo -- is that it has been a failure. Abuses against civilians have been rampant in both countries. Serious questions need to be asked about whether the United States is therefore implicated in these atrocities.

PHR is not opposed in principle to human rights training and aid to foreign military forces. But it is not a substitute for a command decision on the part of the local military authorities that abuses against civilians will not be tolerated, and that commanders and the men under their command who engage in them will be prosecuted and punished. Not only have the Rwandan authorities not prohibited and punished those responsible for such abuses in Rwanda over the past two years, they have exported the abuses to neighboring Congo in the military campaign to pursue the Interahamwe and ex-FAR.

Under such circumstances all U.S. security assistance to Rwanda should be conditioned until such time as all Rwandan forces implicated in abuses are removed from Congo, human rights abuses against non-combatants in Congo cease, and their perpetrators disciplined. And the establishment of a military aid program for Congo should be postponed until such time as President Kabila exercises appropriate control over the forces under his command, and has ordered foreign troops from Congolese soil.

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. 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.

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