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Breaking the Cycle: Calls for Action in the Rwandese Refugee Camps in Tanzania and Zaire
November 10, 1994
The situation in the camps for Rwandese refugees in Tanzania and Zaire cannot be sustained. Humanitarian relief organizations may well be forced to halt their humanitarian relief activities. The security situation in the camps is deteriorating. Refugees do not enjoy adequate protection and live in fear for their lives with killings and disappearances becoming regular events. Refugees are being threatened and killed for wishing to return to Rwanda by the militia. Humanitarian relief operations are being interfered with and the militia is ruling a reign of terror. Living and working conditions of refugees and aid workers in the camps are becoming more and more unacceptable.
Those responsible for the genocide and other grave breaches of humanitarian law of Rwanda's minority Tutsi ethnic group and moderate Hutus go unpunished and walk around freely in the refugee camps in Tanzania and Zaire enjoying the facilities of international relief operations. In this respect an important first step has been taken by the United Nations (UN) Security Council which decided that an international tribunal will be set up to try these criminals.
Refugees regularly get subjected to violence by members of the militia and sometimes get killed publicly because of their wish to return to Rwanda. Refugees wanting to return home are being considered collaborators with the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). Community leaders hold meetings urging people not to return. The former Rwandese authorities having called upon the Hutu population to follow them into exile, now hold the refugees hostage in the camps. Aid workers have also become targets of violence and have repeatedly received threats against their lives. As a result they had to withdraw from the camps temporarily.
The distribution of humanitarian relief is being controlled and aid is often diverted by community leaders many of whom themselves are suspected of having been involved in the genocide. Refugees do not have equal access to humanitarian aid. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has found it impossible to do a census of the refugees in Goma and to set up independent refugee groups to assist with food distribution. They have found that such groups are also threatened.
There is growing evidence of the refugee camps becoming training bases for members of the militia and the former Rwandese armed forces (FAR). Weapons have been found and military training occurs openly. Rumors circulate widely that preparations are being made for a military offensive in the near future.
The UN Secretary General has called for the immediate deployment of an international police force to establish order in the camps and urged UN member states to support a proposal to this effect which in due course will be put to the Security Council.
Aid workers are becoming increasingly outraged that they are becoming unwilling accomplices to the perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling on the relevant bodies of the UN and its individual member states to take all measures needed to ensure that those suspected of having been involved in the genocide in Rwanda are brought to justice; that refugees get adequate protection and do not have to live in fear of their lives; that they get equal access to humanitarian relief goods; that the militia and military are separated from the refugees into different camps; and that adequate measures are taken to improve the security situation of refugees and of relief workers.
This report documents and analyses the situation in the Rwandese refugee camps and reports about human rights violations in relation to problems of security, distribution, repatriation and miniaturization.
The report illustrates the problems in the camps and provides background to the position of MSF. If no immediate measures are taken to establish order and security in the camps and to bring the perpetrators of the genocide to justice, MSF may be forced to halt its humanitarian relief operations.
Since the beginning of the refugee crisis, the refugees rights' are being flouted daily. The situation has recently become more tense and the diversion of aid by the former leaders of Rwanda systematic and more organized. The MSF teams in the field, as well as those of other organizations, are becoming increasingly outraged not only about the deterioration of the security in the camps and human rights abuses by the alleged perpetrators of a genocide, but also about the absence of clear international action.
Events Leading Up to the Refugee Crisis
April 1994 marked the beginning of a human tragedy in Rwanda in which probably more than 500.000 people, most of them members of the minority Tutsi ethnic group and moderate Hutus were massacred throughout Rwanda. On 6 April an attack was carried out on a presidential aircraft in which President Juvénal Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprien Ntyamina of Burundi were killed.
The killings have been systematic and were clearly instigated and accepted at the highest level of the former government. Most of the killings were carried out by members of the extremist Hutu parties and circles close to the president especially by the militia of the Mouvement Républicain National pour la Développement et la Democracie (MRND), the interahamwe ("those who attack together") and the Coalition pour la Défense de la République (CDR), the impuzamugambi ("they with a single purpose").
The killings were planned, systematic and horrifying in nature. Since the beginning of the war in 1990 the authorities had prepared their supporters through propaganda inciting Hutu to kill all members of the Tutsi ethnic group and the militia had received intensive military training. Roadblocks were set up within hours after the attack on the presidential aircraft and every Tutsi or moderate Hutu passing them was killed. Unarmed defenseless people including whole families were being exterminated in appalling manners. MSF staff present in Rwanda at the time witnessed piles of bodies everywhere and attempted to give medical aid to numerous victims of violence. For example, on 15 April in Kibeho in South West Rwanda MSF staff witnessed how at least a hundred unarmed villagers were killed. The Hutu mobs were launching in on the Tutsi civilians with home made weapons and soldiers were firing into the crowds with machine guns. The sick, the old and the mothers, small children and babies were not spared. People were screaming and trying to escape.
Soon it became clear to the international community that the massacres could be qualified as genocide which was also confirmed by the United Nations (UN) Secretary General in May when he addressed the Special Session of the Human Rights Commission on Rwanda.
In areas controlled by the RPF there have also been reports of hundreds of deliberate executions and disappearances both before the victory of the RPF as well as after. However these killings are not at all on the same scale as the massacres of Tutsi and moderate Hutu.
The conflict in Rwanda has led to an unprecedented flow of internally displaced persons and refugees. More than two million people are reported to have left their homes out of fear for the hostilities between the forces of the former Rwandese government and those of the RPF and out of fear for the massacres and/or reprisals. Tanzania is giving shelter to 255,000 refugees in Benaco camp, 98,000 in Lumasi and 30.000 in Musuhura. Zaire harbors around 600,000 refugees in the areas around Goma in Kahindo, Katale, Kibumba, Kituku and Mugunga camps. An estimated 140,000 refugees reside around Bukavu in Chimanga, Hongo, Kaléhe, Kashusha, Kamianola camps. Most refugees are Hutu.
The influx of refugees around Goma started on 14 July. Within a few days aid agencies unexpectedly faced hundreds of thousands of people who had crossed the border and settled around Goma. The consequences were disastrous. Famine and thirst were followed by a cholera epidemic in which more than 20.000 refugees died in the first days. This epidemic was followed by an outbreak of dysentery.
The UN is giving assistance to the refugees through several of its agencies including United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), UNHCR, the World Food Program (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO). More than 50 non governmental humanitarian organizations (NGOs), including MSF, are also providing humanitarian relief to the refugees in all these areas.
The Power Structures in the Camps
The former Rwandese authorities have control on almost all aspects of camps life. It appears that there is close co-ordination between the former Rwandese government, the military, the civilian authorities and the militia. The same structures of authority which prevailed in Rwanda continue to exist in the camps and the militia continues to be active.
The Administrative Authorities
The former government, the prefects and burgomasters have strong power over the refugees. Although the exact nature of the structures between the former government, leaders, the militia and the former Rwandese army is difficult to establish, certain mutual links continue to exist and are based on the politico-administrative structure which previously existed in Rwanda. A meeting of the former government, the former Rwandese army and most likely the representatives of the militia was held in Bukavu at the beginning of October. Here it was decided to seize power over the camps.
The former government is the only body able to represent the refugees as a whole. In Goma MSF received reports of visits to the camps of two well-known former government officials: the old Minister of Defense and former prefect of Buymba, and the chief of staff of the former Rwandese army. Similarly, the former prime minister visited Katale and Kibumba camps in October. He was greeted with much enthusiasm in Kibumba where he spoke to a crowd of several hundred people. His speech inflamed the spirits of the listeners and when asking the crowd if they wanted a peaceful or a violent return to Rwanda, he was greeted with an overwhelming cry for war.
The administration in the camps is organized in prefectures, communes, secteurs and cellules. Each of these levels is headed by a leader. They are headed by the former Rwandese government, the former Rwandese army and the former members of parliament in close collaboration with the prefects and burgomasters.
In Bukavu a security committee was established by the leaders, which is headed by the so-called chef de securité. This person is in direct contact with those responsible for police, intelligence and law and order. Six judges are also reported to be part of this committee.
The former government officials have been able to reinforce their position. The distribution of relief items is arranged through the leaders from the top down, which allows them to determine the beneficiaries. MSF has received reports that the leaders' lists often are not fair nor reliable and are composed of names to serve their political ends. There are reliable reports that the names of certain refugees do not appear on these lists and that consequently they do not receive humanitarian relief at times of distribution.
The militia can be identified as armed young men in their late teens or early twenties wearing a sports outfit and/or military garments. Often acting upon the authority of the leaders, they employ a policy of terror among the refugees.
On 30 September a serious incident occurred in Katale camp during which the militia killed a Rwandese boyscout. Another 29 are reported to have disappeared. The boyscouts were delegated to regulate the traffic and the distribution of relief goods. UNHCR, not having the assistance of an independent body to maintain law and order, was forced to rely upon their order control activities. The boyscouts were seen as an obstacle by the leaders to extend their power.
The Former Rwandese Army
The FAR is present in the camps in Zaire, Mugunga near Goma and Chimanga near Bukavu and in the Tanzanian camps. They live with their families among the refugees. A military structure continues to exist and stocks of arms and training activities have been reported. The market in Mugunga camp is extremely well-supplied and bags of relief goods are openly being traded.
The refugees live together with their relatives and neighbors of their communes in Rwanda. The social structures of the refugees have proven to be effective in that those living near their communes are usually well supplied with humanitarian relief goods. In August, it appeared that the mortality rate in Kibumba camp, which is organized along communal lines, was lower than in Katale camp, where many refugees have been separated from their communes and/or their families. In the sectors where the refugees live together, they have firm social control over each other and easily identify foreigners. In many cases outsiders are being labeled as 'RPF infiltrators'. Guards are selected by the refugees to protect them against stealing and looting.
The Presence of International Aid Agencies
The international community is present in the Rwandese refugee camps only through humanitarian activities. UNHCR took up its traditional role as the co-ordinator of the relief efforts for the refugees. Food was brought in by WFP relatively quickly. For the implementation of the programs UNHCR relied heavily on large specialized NGOs. Several military or civilian contingents of national forces were deployed in Goma for heavy logistics such as the transport of water and delivering medical services.
Although the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) does not extend to the camps, UNAMIR distributed leaflets to the refugees in August by helicopter. These leaflets stated that Rwanda was not only a safe country to return, but also that the refugees were willing to return. This appeared to be an uncoordinated UNAMIR action. They had not consulted UNHCR nor had they asked the Zairian authorities permission to fly over their territory. The refugees' leaders immediately reacted by stating that this was RPF propaganda.
The Authorities in Control of Law and Order
The governments of Tanzania and Zaire kept their borders open despite all difficulties posed by an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees. On their territory they have jurisdiction over the refugees including the duty to maintain law and order in the camps.
Tanzania decided already in June that it would send 300 police men as a security force to the camps in the Kagera district. It took more than four months of pressure from aid agencies for a force of 226 men finally to be deployed. Financial mismanagement and bureaucracy on behalf of the Tanzanian authorities seem to have been the cause of their delayed employment.
The Zairian army is organized in an overlapping network of military and paramilitary forces, each of which is led by one of Mobutu's close allies. Due to irregular payment of salaries, most of these forces are a continuous source of unrest. In the region around Goma there are, among the regular troops, special forces such as the division speciale presidentielle (dsp) which are paid incentives by UNHCR, a special unit deployed after the refugees' influx in the region and the SARM (Service et Action de Renseignements Militaire).
The Zairian and Tanzanian national authorities work together with the UNHCR and they in turn work directly with the leaders attempting to maintain a minimum level of security. During weekly meetings UNHCR representatives encourage co-operation with the national authorities and demand that the leaders themselves become more responsible in restraining the trends towards popular justice and summary executions. After an incident between Zairian military and refugees in Katale camp, UNHCR officials gave megaphones to the camp leaders in order to establish control of the crowd. Without the support of the international community, the UNHCR has in effect little choice but to collaborate with the leaders.
In Benaco a 350 men Rwandese security force was selected upon advise of the leaders and employed by the UNHCR without interviewing them on their previous activities. They assist in the distribution of relief goods, concentrate on the most crowded points such and the UNHCR registration center and patrol the roads. Thus the UNHCR boosted the leaders' power. Although UNHCR now admits now it was a mistake, it cannot be reversed.
While MSF does not have crime statistics, it believes security incidents occur regularly because of the frequency with which the Organization receives these reports. Refugees are being threatened, attacked and killed for being 'RPF spies' or for wanting to return to Rwanda. Such popular justice takes the form of summary executions, public stoning and physical violence and is often being carried out by the militia.
Security and intelligence systems run by Hutu leaders have become even more efficient since early September. Security and intelligence are geared primarily towards identifying infiltration of the RPF and controlling tightly the refugees. Anyone suspected of being an 'agent' of the RPF is likely to be subject to summary justice.
On 9 June in Benaco camp MSF staff witnessed a violent crowd chasing a man who was accused of stealing, with sticks, hoses and broken bottles and killed him. A leader mentioned that the man was a RPF spy and stated: "this is what should happen to all RPF people."
In Goma similar events were reported on 25 August when an alleged RPF spy was followed into a medical facility of Medicos del Mundo (MDM) in Mugunga camp. The medical personnel could do nothing but handing over the man to the crowd and paying the Rwandese military for their 'services'. One international medical agency reported fresh bodies in Mugunga camp every morning during September.
In Kituku camp four men, who were not inhabitants of the camp, were seen at the water reservoir on 25 October. The refugees suspected them of being RPF infiltrators trying to poison the water. One of the four was caught and subsequently stoned to death by the refugees.
Four armed persons were detained by the refugees in Katale camp on 30 October. The rumor was that the men had come from Kigali and entered the camp to kill some personnel of the international agencies in order to force them to pull out.
In Kibumba camp five men were killed said to be Tutsis on 1 November. One of them trying to seek refuge into a MSF feeding center was followed and beaten to death. MSF staff were prevented from intervening.
Reprisals Against Refugees Willing to Return to Rwanda
While in the early days of the crisis entire communities were forced to follow their leaders, the leaders' terror campaign is now aimed at keeping the refugee population in the camps for their own political ends. MSF has witnessed several meetings in which the refugees were discouraged to return. In Benaco a wall newspaper "Shishoza" ("be aware") incited the refugees not to return. Refugees have been influenced by such propaganda. Effectively, they have become hostages of their own leaders. Refugees will refer immediately to their leaders if being asked when they will return to Rwanda. Anyone who questions the leaders' authority is seen as an agent of the RPF and is subjected to summary justice.
On 22 August, 19 refugees were killed in Benaco camp because they were returning or suspected of returning to Rwanda.
In Goma UNHCR stopped encouraging voluntary repatriation after an incident which occurred on 23 August. A group of 200 to 300 people who were waiting to be transported along the road of Kibumba to return to Rwanda was attacked by the militia. As a result, several refugees got wounded.
Apart from intimidation and violence employed by the leaders against refugees wishing to return to Rwanda, repatriation is also seriously hampered due to reports of reprisals by the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA). The contents of an UNHCR internal report which apparently reports about the bodies of thousands of people suspected of having been killed by the RPA became known publicly in October. In October Amnesty International published a report about killings and abductions by the RPA. Reports of abuses by the RPA have been used as political propaganda by the leaders who do not want the refugees to return. The delay in sending UN human rights monitors to Rwanda can also be considered as a complicating factor in creating a safe climate in Rwanda to which refugees are willing to return.
Threats to Staff of International Relief Agencies
On 2 October the security for some local personnel of the relief agencies seriously deteriorated in the camps around Ngara as one local staff was killed and three others reportedly disappeared.
On 29 August a MSF car was stopped and the radio and personal belongings of the two expatriates were stolen. On the same day a Canadian television crew was robbed of their equipment.
On 2 September the Zairian authorities announced, following a cabinet meeting in Kinshasa, that the refugees should have left Zaire before the end of the month. The refugees believed that the aid agencies would terminate their activities over the weekend. Crowds started to demand their relief supplies.
On 30 September the relief agencies had to suspend their activities in Katale because of the fighting between the boyscouts and the militia. CARE Canada, responsible for carrying out the food distribution in the camp, was told that names of their expatriate staff were on a so-called 'hit list' of the militia. Their staff also received death threats. Consequently, the Organization decided to pull out.
Incidents Involving National Authorities
Those involved in controlling law and order in the camps are often seen to be harassing and provoking the refugees.
On 4 August one Zairian soldier was killed in Katale by refugees with machetes when the soldiers tried to confiscate a car belonging to the refugees.
During August and September, there were reports of men wearing masks who have been involved in robberies. They were alleged to be members of the Zairian army.
On 19 October Zairian military tried to steal a car belonging to a refugee in Katale. After the refugees disarmed the soldier, a Zairian colonel with 15-20 soldiers entered the camp and started beating the owner of the car. A riot between the soldiers and the refugees then erupted. Finally, UNHCR brought the unrest under control in co-operation with the leaders and the Zairian authorities.
Ordinary criminal acts also occur regularly in the camps.
On 29 September a man known for his criminal activities and mental illness, who spent several years in prison in Rwanda, headed a gang of 20 men armed with machetes in Kibumba camp. On the crowded points around the distribution center and medical facilities they threatened relief workers and stole several items of the equipment of the relief agencies.
Misuse of Humanitarian Relief Goods
The diversion aid can be noticed in the camps in many forms.
Mostly young men are selling food contained in WFP sacks or UNHCR plastic sheeting on rapidly expanding markets.
On 6 October MSF witnessed two men in FAR uniforms beating three women an a boy returning from a distribution site in Kibumba. The uniformed men beat the four victims with short sticks until they collapsed. Once the four had fallen on the ground, the uniformed men began kicking them. The men left with the rations of the four victims as the MSF employee stood by, unable to intervene.
In general the amount of aid arriving in the camps around Goma does not correspond with the actual number of refugees present. This is illustrated by the situation in Katale where the food is being distributed for approximately 220,000 refugees whereas MSF believes that the real number of refugees does not exceed around 120,000. The reasons behind the fact that the surplus cannot be located any more after distribution are that several strong prefectures are able to collect food several times a week and that some prefectures receive more than others. For Katale camp it can be concluded that in spite of sufficient food supply approximately 24% of the refugees receive less than the minimum 2000 kcal per person per day.
One way to control whether the amount of food coming into the camps corresponds with the needs of the given number of refugees is to know the exact amount of refugees present in the camp. While a census of the refugee population has been done in Benako camp, this has not yet been done in the camps around Bukavu and Goma. Problems of security attached to doing such a census is one of the causes for the delay in carrying one out.
Evidence collected by various observers reveal open military training activities and stocks of arms in the camps. From this it can be concluded that the former Rwandese forces are preparing for a military offensive in the near future.
Press reports reveal that hundreds of FAR military performed training activities in a military training site just outside Kahindo. Several journalists reported that near Mugunga camp military training is in full swing and several jeeps, other military vehicles and arms were in stock. Another press report of a journalist noted the location of joint Zairian/Rwandese military camps on a map of Virunga National Park.
On 1 November, 110 uniformed FAR members were holding a rally on the main road into Katale.
Local sources reported children as young as 15 years being forcibly recruited for military training.
Other reports mentioned that military from Goma visited Bukavu and Benaco camp in Tanzania and vice versa. Early October one refugee mentioned that he came to Benaco camp because of the military training he could get there.
Impunity of the Perpetrators of Genocide
Those suspected of having been involved in the killings, still enjoy total impunity for their crimes. Although legally these persons should be excluded from the protection provided by the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, in practice they are being protected as refugees. Consequently, these people continue to live freely in the camps and receive and control humanitarian relief goods. Many of them have been positively identified by refugees as killers.
In Benaco camp the burgomaster of Rusumo has been accused by many witnesses of involvement in massacres. He can be seen regularly at the distribution sites in Benaco camp.
Journalists visited the town of which he was the burgomaster, Nyarubuye, one of the many places where a massacre took place. There they spoke to Tutsi survivors of the massacre who alleged that the Hutu burgomaster was one of those who organized the killing and had ordered villagers to kill their Tutsi neighbors. When confronted with these allegations in Benaco refugee camp, however, he denied them and accused the survivors of being liars. This testimony was filmed and then shown to the persons who had accused him. These survivors then confirmed that this was indeed the man they had pointed out before.
In Benaco camp also lived a Hutu leader who was the former Chief of Cabinet to the Minister for Family Affairs. He has been widely accused as having been involved in the genocide. On the night of 15 June 1994, the Hutu leader was invited by UNHCR to discuss him leaving the camp. Within minutes a violent crowd of several thousand people, armed with machetes and sticks, surrounded the tent in which the discussions were held. They demanded that he could stay in the camp. The crowd dispersed only after the Tanzanian police shot in the air. Aid workers who had been trapped in the tent were then able to get away. As a result of this incident all foreign staff of the aid agencies was temporarily evacuated. The Hutu leader, however, was able to stay.
Regarding bringing those responsible for the massacres to justice an important positive step has been taken by the Security Council which decided that an international tribunal will be set up to try those suspected of having committed genocide and other grave breaches of humanitarian law. No other legal steps have been taken to bring those responsible to justice, although they are known publicly and the UNs own experts have received lists of individuals involved in the planning and execution of the genocide.
The absence of an adequate legal systems can be seen as the main reason for this situation. Tanzania and Zaire are already insufficiently equipped to control law and order and they do not have the capacity to bring those responsible for the genocide to justice.
Rwanda's legal system is virtually non-existent at the moment. The former administrative authorities were mainly dominated by the Hutu ethnic groups which have fled to the neighboring countries. Only a few judges and lawyers remain in Rwanda.
Combating impunity in Rwanda is also pressing because of the reports on human rights violations by the RPA forces, which are now in control in Rwanda and due to the absence of a legal system cannot be held accountable for their crimes. Impunity as a consequence of the genocide and other violations of humanitarian law in Rwanda thus becomes one of the main causes of new violations.
Conclusion: The Moral Dilemma for the Aid Agencies
Relief workers are becoming increasingly outraged about being unwilling accomplices to alleged perpetrators of genocide in Rwanda. To work in refugee camps where killers walk around freely, are often in control of the distribution of relief items and where preparations are being made for an new attack, poses a great moral dilemma for relief workers. Combined with the fact that the security situation is worsening every day MSF is forced to consider the question to what extend its humanitarian relief activities are sustainable.
At the same time MSF has a strong moral commitment to the most vulnerable populations among the refugees and its first aim is to prevent those from further suffering.
MSF therefore believes that the international community should act immediately and take a number of important measures. The Organization therefore recommends the following:
Refugees must be protected from violence and threats of violence and have unimpeded access to humanitarian aid
Those responsible for the genocide and grave breaches of humanitarian law should be brought to justice.