Human Rights Watch World Report 2003: Africa: Rwanda
HUMAN RIGHTS DEVELOPMENTS
Under growing international pressure over the presence of its troops in the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda signed a peace treaty with
the DRC and withdrew most of its soldiers, leaving unresolved the question of
accountability for the crimes they committed there.
In April, authorities arrested former President Pasteur Bizimungu and former
Minister Charles Ntakirutinka on charges of attacking state security, fostering
ethnic division, and engaging in banned political activities. Nine months
previously the two had formed a new political party, PDR-Ubuyanja, which
the government had declared illegal despite there being no applicable law. In
2001, authorities confiscated notes and recordings from journalists who
interviewed Bizimungu and on one occasion obliged diplomats to leave his
house. They seized all copies of a memoir that Bizimungu tried to publish in
late 2001. Street mobs attacked both Bizimungu and Ntakirutinka with
impunity. In December 2001 unknown assailants assassinated another PDR-
Ubuyanja founder, Gratien Munyarubuga, at midday in the capital, Kigali.
Authorities detained another supporter, Catherine Mujawamariya, at the end
of 2001 for a month and arrested twenty-four other suspected PDR-Ubuyanja
members in April and May 2002, including the treasurer of the Rwandan
League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR) as
well as a Rwandan employee of the United States embassy. Some were freed
within two months but others were held for longer periods.
Before Bizimungu's arrest authorities restricted his movements, refusing even to
allow him to attend church services. In a highly publicized speech delivered
before an international audience shortly before the arrest, President Paul
Kagame warned that no one would be able to protect Bizimungu and other
dissidents if the government lost patience with them. The courts denied
Bizimungu's and Ntakirutinka's requests for provisional release, and as of
November they remained in prison.
In January the government arrested the secretary-general of the Democratic
Republican Movement (MDR), Pierre Gakwandi, accusing him of inciting
ethnic division and defaming the government.
Parliamentarian Jean Mbanda, arrested in 2000 immediately after he had
published criticism of the government, remained jailed without trial on charges
In March local officials were elected at the cell level (Rwanda's lowest local
administrative unit) but political parties were prohibited from campaigning.
Parties had been similarly limited in district council elections in 2001 and
seemed likely to face similar restrictions under the new constitution. In
November, a government commission issued a draft constitution that, if
approved, would only allow parties to operate at the national and provincial
levels, not the local level.
In February a criminal law took effect that punishes any speech or action
considered to promote discrimination or sectarianism. Courts can dissolve
political parties or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) found guilty of
sectarianism, and can annul election results if a candidate employed
discrimination or sectarianism.
A law promising press freedom took effect in July, but not before the
government had effectively closed down three journals and harassed another.
In late December 2001, the police detained the editor of Le Partisan for three
days for publishing articles criticizing the government. After his release, the
editor fled the country and the journal collapsed. In January police arrested
Laurien Ntezimana and Didace Muremangingo of Ubuntu, and charged them
with attacking the security of the state for publishing the word "ubuyanja," a
term meaning "renewal" also found in the name of Bizimungu's party.
Provisionally released in February, they were ordered not to leave Butare
town without permission, while a provincial administrator banned publication
and distribution of Ubuntu. The government expelled the Ugandan-born editor
of the New Times on immigration charges in May shortly after he had
published an editorial calling for Bizimungu's release. In January, the
government minister responsible for the press accused the journal Umuseso
of publishing divisive propaganda and compared it to newspapers that incited
genocide in 1994. In May, police questioned Umuseso's editor after he poked
fun at a presidential speech, and in July they held three Umuseso journalists for
two weeks after they stopped to observe police conduct during a dispute.
The new press law permits heavy sentences against journalists, publishers, or
even street vendors of publications found guilty of broadly defined infractions
like endangering law and order, defaming authorities or undermining army
morale. In a welcome move, the law permits the licensing of private radio
and television stations. But it also creates a national press council operating
under presidential authority to accredit or ban publications and to close
down radio or television stations.
The government required all local and international NGOs to register under
terms of a law passed in 2001. Although the law grants the authorities broad
powers to interfere in such organizations, they appeared to have granted
registration to most applicants, including those critical of the government, with
the exception of the Modest and Innocent Association (AMI), a small
organization that provided reconciliation training to educational and religious
institutions and that published Ubuntu. The Butare provincial administrator
banned all activities by AMI and warned members they could resume their
work only if they disassociated themselves from Ubuntu's editors, Ntezimana,
a respected lay theologian and past recipient of the Pax Christi Award, and
Muremangingo, a young genocide survivor.
Gacaca was launched in twelve pilot jurisdictions in June, and was to be
expanded later to some eleven thousand jurisdictions to try more than one
hundred thousand detainees accused of genocide, many of whom
had been languishing in overcrowded and inhumane prisons and communal
lock-ups since 1994-95. In October 2001, approximately 250,000 "persons
of integrity" were elected as judges and then received only six days of training.
In some cases, the trainers themselves were poorly informed and differed, for
example, on such important questions as the difference between intentional and
Gacaca courts at the cell level include nineteen judges who establish lists of
victims and accused persons and place the accused in one of four categories
depending on the gravity of the crime. They will hear cases involving crimes
Courts at the sector level will judge those accused of assault and unintentional
homicide while those at the district level will judge persons accused of
intentional homicide. The regular courts retain jurisdiction over the more than
two thousand persons accused of being high-level leaders, notorious killers,
and rapists, who could face the death penalty. As of September 2002,
prosecutors had registered approximately twenty thousand confessions from
detainees who might benefit from reduced sentences and from the chance to
convert half of the prison time into community service should their confessions
be accepted. Numerous detainees, having been in prison for years, might thus
be eligible for release or community service immediately should they confess.
Although the President signed an order authorizing community service in
February, the government had not organized its implementation or financing at
this writing, nor had it prepared the survivor community for the return of
confessed killers to communities.
Gacaca raised several human rights concerns. The accused, for example, have
no right to legal counsel. Given the poor training of judges, defendants accused
of similar crimes may be classed in different categories, resulting in sentencing
disparities. The impartiality of judges was raised in several communities and in
several cases those accused of having themselves participated in the genocide
resigned. In addition, sentences for rape will violate the principle of non-
retroactivity because the gacaca law imposes long prison terms or even the
death penalty while earlier penal law imposes only terms of five to ten years.
There is no protection for witnesses and detainees, who testify publicly, thus
making it difficult for Tutsi--a small minority in most communities--to accuse
The law establishing gacaca courts authorized them to hear charges of war
crimes and crimes against humanity. President Kagame and other government
officials stated repeatedly, however, that these courts may not hear
accusations of such crimes by RDF soldiers, which must be taken to regular
courts, a position that continued to be questioned by people in several
communities. There were problems obtaining the required quorum of one
hundred adults at some of the gacaca sessions and local authorities threatened
fines or other sanctions against absentees or used the Local Defense Forces, a
government paramilitary force, to compel attendance.
The regular judicial system functioned poorly, in part because of lack of
resources, and in part because of interference from the executive branch. In
March, six Supreme Court judges were obliged to resign because of
alleged corruption. During the first half of 2002, the regular courts tried only
757 persons for genocide (from 1997 to June 2002, the courts tried 7,211
persons, resulting in 1,386 acquittals and 689 death sentences, though no
executions have occurred since 1998). The acquittal rate increased from 22
percent in 2001 to almost 27 percent in the first half of 2002, while the
proportion of cases ending in death sentences fell sharply from 8.4 percent in
2001 to 3.8 percent in the same period. In July prosecutors began the latest in
a series of efforts to resolve the problem of detainees whose cases had never
been adequately investigated, presenting 750 detainees who had insufficient
case files (of some seven thousand) before local communities to collect witness
As a result, eighty were provisionally released for lack of credible evidence.
In June the Ministry of Local Affairs and local authorities directed police and
members of the Local Defense Forces to round up hundreds of street children
in Kigali. They detained them in overcrowded centers that lacked sufficient
water, food, sanitation and supervisory staff. A member of the Local Defense
Forces reportedly shot a child who tried to escape from a detention center.
The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reacted slowly and with
insufficient force when the Rwandan authorities rounded up street children and
detained them in miserable conditions.
In September Rwanda withdrew most of its troops from the DRC, as called
for in a July 30 peace treaty with the Kinshasa government. In the months
before, Rwandan troops had made war against the Banyamulenge, a
Congolese people of Rwandan origin, whose protection had once been
advanced as a justification for Rwandan military intervention, and had fought
numerous other engagements in support of its local allies the Congolese Rally
for Democracy (RCD). Rwandan troops reportedly supported RCD soldiers
in putting down a mutiny at Kisangani where more than a hundred civilians
were killed. In the first nine months of 2002, as in earlier years, Rwandan
soldiers were accused of many war crimes, including killing and rape. Military
authorities claimed that such crimes were punished and that several RDF
soldiers had been arrested, but no convictions had been announced at
Having in previous years encouraged Congolese of Rwandan origin to flee to
Rwanda, beginning in August Rwandan authorities cooperated with the RCD
in forcibly repatriating more than nine thousand such persons who had been
refugees in Rwanda since 1996. Possibly the intent behind this decision was to
help expand the potential base of supporters for the RCD. Rwandan officials
forced refugees to destroy their shelters and closed schools for the thousands
of children in camps inside Rwanda. Those sent back to the DRC suffered
lack of food, water, and medical care, in part because RCD authorities
refused to allow humanitarian organizations access to them.
DEFENDING HUMAN RIGHTS
the country's most independent human rights organization, operated with little
of the official harassment which had troubled its work in previous years
(notwithstanding the arrest of its treasurer--see above). It was registered by
authorities and began publishing a new monthly journal on human rights.
Supporting documentation missing from its registration application led to the
League of Human Rights in the Great Lakes Region (LDGL) being attacked
by a government minister for noncompliance with the legal registration
requirement, and to security agents visiting its offices. In an exchange of letters
published in Umuseso, a member of the government human rights commission
accused the LDGL secretary-general of the serious charge of minimizing the
In a report covering 2001, the National Human Rights Commission tackled the
politically sensitive issues of land rights and illegal detention but said little
about political arrests. One member of the commission privately sought to
excuse the arrest of Ntezimana and Muremangingo in connection with the
THE ROLE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
International Justice The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)
experienced its most troubled year to date. Shortly after Prosecutor Carla Del
Ponte announced her intention to indict RDF soldiers for war crimes
committed in 1994, a part of the mandate established for the ICTR, Rwandan
genocide survivor organizations in January called on prosecution witnesses to
boycott the ICTR for a number of reasons, including alleged mistreatment of
witnesses. In June the government imposed new travel restrictions on
prosecution witnesses that disrupted three trials, and refused to provide access
to documents needed by the prosecution. In July Del Ponte informed the
U.N. Security Council about these obstructions. The U.N. delayed approval
of the Tribunal's U.S.$192 million biennial budget for three months because
the Tribunal lacked a clear strategy for finishing trials by 2008. Under United
States (U.S.) pressure, the U.N. in August approved hiring temporary judges
to ease the backlog of cases, but those judges will not start until 2003. Even
with temporary judges, the prosecutor's initial plan of issuing 136 new
indictments threatened to overwhelm a tribunal that already had more than fifty
suspects in custody and that had issued only eight judgments between January
1997 and October 2002. In October, the Prosecutor scaled back her plan to
26 new indictments. The Tribunal amended its rules to allow the transfer
of suspects to national courts for trial subject to the agreement of the arresting
states. It seemed unlikely that many arresting states would consent to
transfer to Rwanda, however, as long as Rwanda retained the death penalty.
After the U.S. announced $5 million in rewards for information leading to the
arrest of ten prominent suspects, the ICTR was able to arrest former chief of
staff General Augustin Bizimungu, former prefect of Kigali Colonel Tharcisse
Renzaho and the former mayor of Murambi, Jean-Baptiste Gatete.
Despite the estimated thousands of rapes committed during the 1994
genocide, as of this writing the ICTR had convicted only two defendants of
crimes of sexual violence, one of whom had his sentence reversed on
appeal. Crimes of sexual violence were included in nineteen outstanding
E.U. representatives met with the Rwandan foreign minister in February to
express concern over restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of
association, and again in April after the arrest of Pasteur Bizimungu. In
September, E.U. representatives protested a plan to impose a 40 percent tax
on the salaries of expatriates working for international NGOs, seeing this as a
possible impediment to their work. The E.U. gave Rwanda, one of twenty-
eight countries targeted for its European Initiative for Democracy and Human
Rights, U.S.$155 million in assistance, and gave an additional $4 million to
local and international NGOs and $1.28 million to the National Human Rights
Commission for monitoring gacaca. It gave $475,000 towards rebuilding the
Rwandan Supreme Court to make it possible for the ICTR to hold trials in
The United Kingdom continued strong political and financial support to the
Rwandan government, providing approximately $50 million, two-thirds in
budgetary support and the remaining third in technical assistance. It made
modest efforts to support civil society and press freedom and to support
independent research on gacaca. In October 2001, the Dutch government
sought to make Rwanda a preferred aid recipient, but in the face of stiff
domestic and parliamentary opposition, it compromised by granting Rwanda
this special status but with restrictions: no sector-wide budget support and the
obligation to meet certain benchmarks on human rights and democratization.
The Netherlands disbursed $19 million in aid, which included budget support
and technical assistance to two provinces in furtherance of decentralization as
well as significant political and financial support to local human rights
organizations and the press.
Belgium was the single largest donor to gacaca, giving $4.75 million to the
government and NGOs, out of a total assistance package of $17 million.
Belgium also coordinated diplomatic and donor responses to gacaca.
The U.S. administration put serious diplomatic and financial pressure on the
Rwandan government to withdraw from the DRC, an effort that culminated in
President George W. Bush meeting with President Kagame in September. In
the face of the crisis between the Rwandan government and the ICTR, the
U.S. pressured Rwanda to permit witnesses to travel so that trials could
resume, but it failed to give strong backing to investigations of alleged RDF
crimes. At the International Monetary Fund meeting in June, the U.S. refused
to approve funding for Rwandan's Poverty Reduction Growth Facility, in part
to indicate strong disapproval of Rwandan human rights abuses in the DRC.
The U.S. State Department human rights report criticized Rwanda's poor
record in 2001, prompting a sharp rejoinder from the Rwandan government.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) gave $32 million in