In 1994, Rwanda's population of 7 million was composed of three ethnic groups: Hutu (approximately 85%), Tutsi (14%) and Twa (1%). Between April and July 1994, at least 500,000 Tutsi were killed when a Hutu extremist-led government launched a plan to murder the country's entire Tutsi minority and any others who opposed the government's policies.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum today reacted to the new United Nations report on human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the report outlines the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the DRC between 1993 and 2003 and offers a range of transitional justice options to deal with the legacy of the crimes.
“The scale, scope and detail of the crimes are too serious to be ignored,” said Michael Abramowitz, Director of the Committee on Conscience, the Museum’s genocide prevention program. “This report offers a shocking picture of violence directed against civilians in the Congo by multiple perpetrators over more than a decade. The allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law should be treated with utmost gravity in the interests of truth-telling, combating impunity, and achieving justice for victims.”
The report published today analyses four major periods of violence in the DRC: the waning years of the Mobutu Sese Seko regime (1993 - 1996), the war to overthrow Mobutu (1996-1998), the second war (1998 - 2001), and the period of transition (2001 - 2003). It also documents violence against women and children and the impact of resource exploitation on the conflict.
The report charges that attacks carried out in 1996 and 1997 by the Rwandan army and their rebel allies against Hutu civilians in the DRC may constitute genocide, ultimately deferring judgment on this question to a competent legal tribunal. It also documents crimes allegedly committed by the later-deposed Zairean government of Mobutu Sese Seko, other national militaries and militias, including Ugandan, Burundian, and Congolese rebels. The report provides guidance for the Congolese and international authorities on how to prosecute perpetrators and address victims’ rights.
“Nothing in this report or these charges diminishes the facts of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, where at least 500,000 Rwandan Tutsi were murdered by a Hutu-extremist government in only three months,” said Abramowitz. “If anything, the report underscores the long-lasting, regional consequences of genocide and the importance of prevention efforts.”
In a podcast interview on Voices of Genocide Prevention, Jason Stearns discusses the draft UN report on atrocities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Leaked to the press in August, the report raises the possibility that Rwandan troops and their rebel allies killed tens of thousands of Hutu civilians in the Congo in 1996 and 1997 in what could amount to genocide.
Here, in an extended transcript of the interview, Jason talks about the report’s methodology, the controversy over using the word ‘genocide’, and the history of violence in the region. Listen or read the original interview here. Jason Stearns is the former Chief UN Investigator on the Congo. Learn more about the full UN report here.
Leaked to the press on August 26, a draft report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights — which assesses human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — has drawn international attention for asserting that invading Rwandan troops (APR) and their rebel allies, the AFDL, killed tens of thousands of Hutu, including many civilians, across eastern Zaire (former DRC) in 1996 and 1997. The violence, the report concludes, could be classified as genocide.
Containing descriptions of over 600 violent incidents, the draft report is the result of a UN exercise to map “the most serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed within the territory of the DRC between March 1993 and June 2003.”
“In some cases,” the report states, “violations that initially appeared to be isolated crimes turned out to be an integral part of waves of violence occurring in a given geographical location or within a given timeframe.”
Over five hundred pages long, the draft report is a comprehensive overview of the violence that plagued the DRC from the final days of the Mobutu era through two successive international wars to the residual clashes and rampages of the region’s dispersive rebel groups. But it is the accusation of genocide that has attracted international notice and severe outrage from Rwanda, which has threatened to withdraw its peacekeepers from UN operations. “The UN can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a force serving as peacekeepers and it is the same force you are accusing of genocide,” Rwandan foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo said. Rwanda has over 3,000 troops deployed with the joint UN-AU peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan.
Ultimately deferring to the judgment of a competent court, the draft report states, “… it seems possible to infer a specific intention on the part of certain AFDL/APR commanders to partially destroy the Hutus in the DRC, and therefore to commit a crime of genocide, based on their conduct, words and the damning circumstances of the acts of violence committed by the men under their command.”
Another purpose of the mapping exercise was to review the DRC’s judicial capacities and formulate suggestions that would help the Congolese government deal with the legal, emotional, and economic legacies of the violence. The draft report proposes a mixed international/national judicial court that would apply international law, a new truth-seeking mechanism, and a comprehensive and creative approach to the issues of reparations.
The UN has delayed the publication of the final report until October 1st, in order to give countries more time to comment on it.
Unexplained grenade attacks, increased political repression, an assassination attempt over 1600 miles away, and a successful murder much closer to home have cast dark shadows over the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for August in Rwanda.
On June 19th, in Johannesburg, South Africa, gunmen tried to kill Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, former army chief and onetime ally of President Kagame. In 1994, Nyamwasa and Kagame were commanders in the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which defeated the Hutu perpetrator regime and ended the genocide. Both France and Spain have issued arrest warrants against Nyamwasa for atrocities committed under his command during the RPF advance. Now a critic of the Rwandan president, Nyamwasa fled to South Africa after being interrogated by officials in Kagame’s political party.
In a nation where the freedom of expression is already restricted, the upcoming presidential elections have intensified the government’s efforts to quell any form of criticism or opposition.
A Hutu politician, Victoire Ingabire, who had planned to challenge Kagame in the presidential elections, is facing trial for “genocide denial.” Peter Erlinder, an American and the lead defense counsel for genocide suspects at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was briefly jailed after arriving in Rwanda to help Ingabire’s defense.
And then in the late evening on June 24th, Jean-Leonard Rugambage, a journalist and acting editor for the newspaper Umuvugizi, was shot dead outside his home in Kigali. Umuvugizi, an independent newspaper that has often been critical of the government, had just published an article alleging that the Rwandan government was behind the attempted murder of Nyamwasa in South Africa. The government had also just suspended Umuvugizi, and Rwandan internet providers have blocked online access to the paper’s website.
The government has denied any role in Rugambage’s death but has continued to pressure opposition groups. In recent days, police detained the leader of one opposition party, and members from two different opposition parties were arrested and reportedly beaten. Human Rights Watch explains, “These incidents are occurring the very moment that parties are putting forward candidates for the presidential elections. The government is ensuring that opposition parties are unable to function and are excluded from the political process.”
Joseline was 17 when genocide came to her village Butamwe in central Rwanda in April 1994. As Hutu men and boys — men and boys that Joseline had grown up with — began killing and raping their Tutsi friends and neighbors, Joseline ran into the tall grass around her village. For three days, she hid there until the fields were set ablaze.
Waiting until evening when the smoke masked the moonlight, Joseline fled. And survived.
The only surviving member of her family, Joseline returned to her village after the genocide. In 1999, as a 23 year old mother of two, with only a primary school education, Joseline campaigned in the new government’s first elections and won the position as head of development in her village. Her third child, Christian, was born seven years after the genocide into what his mother hopes is a safer world.
On April 7, we mark the 16th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. We honor the courage and strength of individuals like Joseline, who survived immense tragedy determined to help rebuild their country. And we remember the more than 500,000 who could not — their lives cut short during the 100 days of genocide.
We know that the future can be different for Joseline, her children, and peoples around the world who might be targeted because of who they are. Visitors to the Museum and web site users from as far away as Beijing and Moscow have made personal pledges to help meet the challenge of genocide. How will you take action?
Earlier this month, two grenade attacks occurred nearly simultaneously in Kigali, wounding at least 16 people. Last month, a similar attack involving a trio of explosions killed one person and injured 30. Rwandan authorities blamed the earlier attack on former army chief Lt. Gen. Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, who resigned as Rwanda’s ambassador to India in late February and fled to South Africa in exile. Nyamwasa denies the allegations and accuses the government of branding him as a member of the opposition.
These episodes of violence — and the subsequent trading in accustations — evokes a larger context involving two important developments in Rwanda:
Congolese rebel and former Rwandan ally, Laurent Nkunda, who has been under house arrest in Kigali for 14 months, is expecting to learn on March 26th if the Rwandan Supreme Court will decide to hear his case. And, for only the second time since the 1994 genocide, elections are due in Rwanda at the end of the summer. President Kagame’s record of providing stability and economic growth, coupled with forceful control of the nation’s political environment, has increased expectations that he will secure reelection. The government has been criticized for its intolerance of dissent. Reporters Without Borders ranks Rwanda 157th out of 175 countries in its press freedom index. Eritrea, Somalia, and Equatorial Guinea were the only African countries that received worse rankings.
Last month, Human Rights Watch called attention to the increasing intimidation of opposition parties and their members. HRW writes, “The Rwanda government and the RPF have strongly resisted any political opposition or broader challenge of their policies by civil society. On several occasions, the government has used accusations of participation in the genocide, or ‘genocide ideology’, as a way of targeting and discrediting its critics.”
It is difficult to accurately gauge who is behind the grenade attacks or their intentions, besides causing injury and fear. Nevertheless, the attacks present real threats as the population — still divided in many ways by the legacy of the genocide and war — prepares for a major election.
One of the most wanted suspects in the 1994 genocide was arrested in Uganda this week and extradited to Tanzania to face trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The head of intelligence and military operations at Rwanda’s elite military training school during the genocide, Idelphonse Nizeyimana was indicted by the ICTR in 2000 and charged with crimes against humanity, as well as complicity in genocide and direct and public incitement to commit genocide. The indictment charged that:
From late 1990 until July 1994, military personnel, members of the government, political leaders, civil servants and other personalities conspired among themselves and with others to work out a plan with the intent to exterminate the civilian Tutsi population… In executing the plan, they organized, ordered and participated in the massacres perpetrated against the Tutsi population and moderate Hutus. Idelphonse Nizeyimana elaborated, adhered to and executed this plan.
Nizeyimana was also specifically accused of establishing “secret units of extremist elements” to help carry out the genocide.
Hiding out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since the genocide, Nizeyimana served as a top commander in the FDLR, a rebel army comprised of perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide and responsible for countless atrocities across eastern Congo.
April 7, 2009 marked the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Joined by an international audience, Rwandans across the country gathered to commemorate the deaths of at least 500,000 people over 100 days in 1994. President Paul Kagame spoke about the need to remember, but also of the future he is trying to build for the country: “This is the constand underlying message: that while we must remember the past, history, events, and facts — we must also remember to shape our future.”
Rwanda’s progress over the last fifteen years has been marked by these two poles: the memory of unimaginable violence and the imperative to focus on the future and building a strong, self-sufficient country. The effort to recover from the genocide has included far-reaching justice reforms and innovative legal processes for cases related to the genocide. Resilient surviviors have created networks across the country, and the government has focused on educational reform, strengthening the health system, and security economic advances. These remarkable achievements have transformed the country.
To advance social and economic goals, the Rwandan government has opted to prioritize security and stability over freedom of expression and political organization. After the experience of the genocide, it is a bargain that the population seems ready to embrace for now. While reconciliation is difficult to measure, Rwandans are certainly providing a remarkable example of coexistence in the aftermath of genocide, as survivors, bystanders, and perpetrators find ways to live together and move forward as a country.
With the gacaca courts set to close in December 2008, the Rwandan government is trying to streamline and expedite the process. In March, the government expanded the jurisdiction of the gacaca courts to include cases of alleged rapists and planners of the genocide. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have expressed concerns that the increased pace and caseload of the traditional courts have come at the expense of fairness.
Tasked with trying the most high level genocide cases, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has secured the arrest of over seventy people and concluded twenty convictions and five acquittals. It recently upheld the war crimes and genocide conviction of Father Athanase Seromba, a Roman Catholic priest. When 1,500 parishioners took shelter in his church in the town of Nyange, Father Seromba had the church leveled by bulldozers and ordered gunmen to shoot anyone who tried to flee. There were no survivors.
In July, the Security Council extended the mandate of the ICTR for another year. Originally due to conclude at the end of 2008, the ICTR needs the additional time to clear its trials: six cases involving nineteen people are ongoing; two are scheduled to commence; and four more are preparing for trial. Thirteen war criminals remain at large. In the next year, Tribunal officials especially hope to capture and try: Augustin Bizimana, a former defense minister; Felicien Kabuga, a businessman accused of buying machetes used in the genocide; and two former army officers, Protais Mpiranya and Idelphonse Nizeyimana.
This September, Rwanda will hold its first parliamentary elections since 2003, when women achieved 48% of the seats in the National Assembly, the highest proportion of women legislators in the world. Out of a total eighty seats, the National Assembly reserves twenty-four seats for women, two for youth, and one for the disabled.
Thirteen years after the genocide, Rwanda has done much to rebuild internally, but remains scarred. The legacy of genocide touches almost every sector of Rwandan society: survivors, the government, perpetrators and refugees who returned to Rwanda after 1994. In addition to recurring trauma suffered by many from their experiences, survivors of the genocide face multiple difficulties. Many are impoverished and face complex health problems, such as HIV/AIDS, as a direct result of the violence perpetrated against them during the genocide. Some survivors are threatened with violence, attacked or killed by former perpetrators, and for many in the Tutsi minority a climate of fear persists. Rebuilding their lives alongside individuals responsible for murder and rape is a difficult reality faced by all survivors in Rwanda.
The post-genocide government, which has pursued a policy of unity and reconciliation, has made considerable advances. Among these is gacaca, a form of local justice inspired by tradition, established to handle the hundreds of thousands of those accused of crimes during the genocide. The government has also empowered women through legal reforms and by promoting participation in government, increased economic growth and stability, and adopted a new constitution. But power remains concentrated in the hands of former leaders of the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and freedom of speech is restricted. The first post-genocide elections occurred in August 2003, resulting in a seven-year presidential term for former RPF general Paul Kagame. The government has been accused of human rights abuses against potential political rivals and of misusing the fight against divisionism (rhetoric or action that promotes social separation along ethnic lines) for political reasons.
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
To bring those accused of high-level crimes to justice; the planners, leaders, and organizers of the genocide; the international community established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha, Tanzania. The ICTR oversaw the world’s first conviction of genocide when the judgment was announced for Jean-Paul Akayesu on October 2nd, 1998. Despite this and many other convictions, including a landmark case trying media leaders for their role in inciting genocide, the court has come under fire from the Rwandan government and others for its high cost, slow pace and physical distance from Rwanda. In June 2006, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights urged the ICTR to address war crimes and crimes against humanity alleged to have been committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Army during reprisals following the genocide. This suggestion has been vigorously countered by the government of Rwanda.