Deadlock in the Rwandan Refugee Crisis: Repatriation Virtually at a Standstill

White flag with red logo of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) against sunny blue sky

© Valérie Batselaere/MSF


  1. Summary
  2. A Brief Background to the Crisis
  3. Virtual Standstill on Repatriation and Continued Impunity: Factors Outside Rwanda
  4. Virtual Standstill on Repatriation and Continued Impunity: Factors Inside Rwanda and the International Legal Response
  5. The Moral Dilemma
  6. Conclusions


The repatriation of about two million Rwandan Hutu refugees from countries neighboring Rwanda has come to a virtual standstill. Parts of the Rwandan Government and the Rwandan population consider the refugee camps to be a clear threat to their security. Fear of reprisal killings, mass arbitrary arrests, reports about grossly overcrowded prisons, the lack of an effective judicial system and the control exercised by their leaders over the camps have prevented many refugees and internally displaced people (the displaced) from returning home.

One year after the genocide in Rwanda in which Hutu extremists systematically slaughtered between 500,000 and one million Tutsi and moderate Hutus, there is still no justice for the victims and their families. The killers continue to go unpunished and some of those responsible for the genocide walk freely in the Rwandan refugee camps in Tanzania and Zaire, controlling the camp populations and preparing for renewed attacks.

The former Rwandan Government officials have taken steps to improve the public image of the camps in order to ensure continued humanitarian assistance. However, these changes are cosmetic and in fact little has changed since November 1994, when MSF said that the situation in the camps could not be sustained. On the surface, the climate in the camps has improved. Aid workers are no longer threatened, soldiers are rarely seen, and militia training no longer takes place in public. Many members of the military have left the camps and those who remain wear civilian clothes. However, the same government officials who incited the Hutu population to genocide with extremist propaganda continue to manipulate the refugees by controlling the flow of information and political discourse in the camps. They talk tirelessly about the victimization of the Hutu people.

Criminal trials, national or international, have yet to take place. Despite their pledges, the international community has failed to give adequate support to rebuilding Rwanda's judicial system which continues to be severely hampered by a lack of human and material resources. Countries in which alleged perpetrators of the genocide reside have failed to bring them to justice. The Deputy Prosecutor of the International Tribunal for Rwanda, created in November 1994, has announced that he expected the first indictment to be handed down at the beginning of 1996.

Rwanda lacks the resources either to house its detainees properly or try them effectively. Nevertheless, mass arrests of alleged perpetrators of the genocide continue. Roughly 49,000 people are detained in overcrowded prisons and lock-ups. For example, Gitarama prison, which was designed for 400 prisoners in reasonable conditions, now holds nearly 7,000. The absence of basic sanitary and hygienic conditions has led to alarmingly high mortality rates. The average rate for the first three months of 1995 was 9.6/10,000 per day whereas 2/10,000 per day is already considered a full-scale emergency.

At the end of 1994, the Rwandan Government declared that the camps for the internally displaced in southern Rwanda, believed to harbor Hutu militia, must be closed. By April 1995, an estimated 250,000 out of the original 380,000 displaced remained in the camps. Operation Retour, agreed between the Rwandan Government, UNAMIR and UNREO, failed to convince the vast majority of the displaced to return voluntarily to their home communes.

On 22 April 1995, thousands of displaced in Kibeho were massacred by the RPA during the forced closure of the camp. UNAMIR failed to protect the victims.

The Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi cannot be sustained in the long term. Those suspected of genocide who still reside in the camps and elsewhere should be arrested and tried. The remaining refugees should be free to decide whether to return to Rwanda.

This report looks at factors from both inside and outside Rwanda which have led to the virtual standstill in repatriation. One year after the mass exodus from Rwanda there are still no lasting solutions for the regional refugee crisis. This report also addresses the issue of impunity, as MSF has always maintained that it should be a priority that those responsible for the genocide be brought to justice without delay, and that the refugee camps in which MSF provides humanitarian relief should not be given the de facto status of safe havens for those who committed crimes against humanity. Further this report reflects on the moral dilemma faced by MSF and many other aid agencies working in camps in which killers walk freely and where preparations are made for a military intervention into Rwanda aimed at further massacres of the Tutsi population.

Improvements in humanitarian aid and the comparable calm in the camps belie the fact that those who instigated, prepared, or committed acts of genocide and serious violations of international humanitarian law continue to control the camps and manipulate the population for their own political ends. It is widely reported that they are rearming for a renewed attack. Continued impunity in the refugee camps, in Rwanda and in UN Member States harboring the killers, coupled together with the rearmament of the former Rwandan Armed Forces and militia, will only lead to a further cycle of violence. This cycle must be broken.



A Brief Background to the Crisis

The spring of 1994 marked the most tragic period in the Rwandan history as between 500,000 and one million men, women and children were brutally murdered during a violent campaign of genocide committed by forces loyal to the Rwandan Government.

The Genocide and its Aftermath

On 6 April 1994, President Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Ntaryamira of Burundi were killed when their plane was shot down as they returned to Kigali from talks in Arusha. The Arusha Peace Accords signed in August 1993 between the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and Habyarimana's Hutu regime, provided for a transitional government in Rwanda and eventual legislative elections. The United Nations (UN) Security Council deployed the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) to oversee implementation of the Accords. However, Hutu extremists opposed to the principle of power-sharing and already intending to eliminate political opponents, consistently undermined the Accords. As a result the transitional government was never installed.

The genocide following the plane crash was masterminded by extremist politicians intent on manipulating tensions between Hutus and Tutsi in order to decimate the opposition. Almost immediately after the plane crash, the Presidential Guard erected roadblocks throughout Kigali. During the following days and nights, the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi militia checked the identity cards of all who passed. Tutsi, Hutu moderates, members of opposition parties and human rights activists were brutally slaughtered. Within 72 hours, Rwanda's most prominent opposition figures had been assassinated and a self-proclaimed 'interim government' formed. The latter, comprised of Hutu extremists largely drawn from President Habyarimana's National Republican Movement for Development and Democracy (MRND) and the Hutu-extremist Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR), directed a political campaign aimed at eliminating the Tutsi minority, which had been planned in advance. By June 1994, an estimated 500,000 to one million people had been massacred.

The traditional peacekeeping mandate given to UNAMIR under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, proved useless during the genocide that began on 6 April. The mandate should have been adjusted to the new situation but the UN and its member states not only showed a strong reluctance to assume their responsibilities under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, but after the killing of ten Belgian UNAMIR soldiers the Security Council even reduced the UNAMIR force from 1,700 to 270 troops by its Resolution 912 of 21 April, though thousands of dead bodies lay in the streets and the killing continued.

In Rwanda, extremist politicians used hate propaganda to incite the population to take part in the killing. State-run Radio Rwanda provided a platform for the 'interim government' and urged the elimination of anyone suspected of opposing the regime. Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), backed, among others, by President Habyarimana's widow and her two brothers, encouraged listeners to "fill the half-empty graves".

On 29 April, the world witnessed the largest refugee exodus in history at the time when about 200,000 refugees crossed the border into Tanzania within 48 hours. International attention was then focused on the refugee crisis, rather than on the genocide which was meanwhile continuing in neighboring Rwanda.

In mid-June 1994, after weeks of international inaction when the RPF was on the point of taking over Kigali, France suddenly announced its intention to send 2,500 troops to create a 'safe zone' in the south-west of Rwanda in order to protect civilians. On June 22, 1994, the Security Council adopted Resolution 929 authorizing this Operation Turquoise. The operation was portrayed as a strictly humanitarian mission for a limited period of two months to enable the newly expanded UNAMIR force to carry out its mandate.

Many believed that the French initiative was politically motivated for the French Government had armed and trained the national military. Meanwhile allegations of continued gun-running to the region were reported. The French created camps for the hundreds of thousands of displaced, Hutu militia and military fleeing the RPF advance. Following the withdrawal of French troops in August, UNAMIR and soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) moved in to patrol the camps. Tensions in the region quickly mounted and UN officials began receiving daily reports from the region detailing a disturbing increase in the level of violence both in and outside the camps.

On 4 July 1994, as the RPF took control of Kigali, defeated government officials used radio broadcasts to invoke hysteria about the likely retribution for the crimes committed and incited the population to flee, thus prompting the fastest refugee exodus in recent history. Among the refugee population were many of those responsible for the genocide. In less than a week, more than 700,000 people crossed the border into Zaire, creating a humanitarian disaster on an unprecedented scale. An estimated 20,000 Hutu soldiers and some 50,000 militia joined the movement convincing the population that they would be killed if they remained in Rwanda.

International aid workers were ill-equipped to confront a crisis of such proportions. Cholera and dysentery and dehydration due to lack of water quickly swept through the crowded camps and within one month, an estimated 50,000 refugees died.

MSF Concerns Up to November 1994 Regarding the Rwandan Refugee Camps

In November 1994, MSF published its report Breaking the Cycle. In this report, MSF compiled evidence of its concerns that: the situation in the refugee camps could not be sustained and that for MSF to continue to give humanitarian relief in these circumstances presented a moral dilemma; refugees alleged of having participated in the genocide walk around freely in the camps. MSF reiterated that there was also growing evidence that the refugee camps were becoming training bases for members of the militia and the former Rwandan armed forces and that military training occurred openly.

Consequently, MSF called on the relevant UN bodies and individual member states to take all necessary measures to ensure: that refugees receive adequate protection and do not have to live in fear for their lives, to which end an international police force and human rights monitors should be dispatched to the camps. Further MSF recommended that refugee registration should take place as soon as possible; that the distribution of food should not be controlled by camp leaders and that refugees be guaranteed equal access to humanitarian aid; that the militia and military be separated from the refugees. Moreover all members of the military and militia should be disarmed; all those suspected of genocide who currently walk freely in the camps should be brought to justice, either by states on whose territory these killers reside or by the then newly established International Tribunal.

At that time, many other humanitarian relief agencies, outraged that they were becoming unwilling accomplices to the perpetrators of the genocide, threatened to pull out.

MSF Programs in Rwanda, Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi

MSF worked in Rwanda before, during and after the genocide and also runs programs in the refugee camps in Zaire, Tanzania and Burundi.

Rwanda: In Rwanda, five MSF sections (MSF-Belgium, -France, -Holland, -Spain and -Switzerland) implement extensive health programs throughout the country, with a total of around 1,800 national staff and 100 expatriates. Teams are working in the prefectures of Kigali, Gisenyi, Ruhengeri, Kibuye, Gitarama, Gikongoro, Butare, Cyangugu, Kibungo and Byumba. Both local and displaced populations benefit from these programs. MSF provides aid to hospitals, health centers and dispensaries, and is involved in general and preventive medicine, pediatrics, laboratory work and the supply of drugs. Projects include surgical activities, nutrition programs, mental health programs, programs to integrate unaccompanied minors into the community and support for water supply services. In hospitals in Kigali and Gitarama, MSF also supports referral units for prisoners.

Zaire: In the eastern Zairian province Kivu, MSF works in the Rwandan refugee camps in and around Goma and in the partly Rwandan, partly Burundian refugee camps in Uvira. In Goma, two MSF sections are presently working with 2,100 national staff and 25 expatriates. MSF provides aid to an estimated 300,000 refugees in three field hospitals as well as in many health posts and dispensaries. The MSF activities also include water and sanitation and mental health care. In Uvira, MSF is undertaking medical, including 4 hospitals, and water and sanitation programs for approximately 55,000 refugees.

Tanzania: MSF runs medical programs for 220,230 refugees in the Biharamulo, Karagwe and Ngara districts. MSF has eight health clinics, five field hospitals which are staffed with 41 expatriate staff, 130 local staff and 725 volunteer refugees. MSF also has mental health programs an all four camps for traumatized refugees. The general medical work includes surgical activities, as well as therapeutic feeding.

Burundi: In Burundi MSF has four field hospitals providing medical aid to 100,000 refugees in four refugee camps in Ngozi province. Further MSF runs medical services in Kirundo, Karuzi, Ruygy, and Ngozi province an area which covers about one million Burundians. MSF has irregular access to the Cibitoke province. In the capital Bujumbura, MSF supports several health centers, such as a post for small medical interventions in the Kamenge quartier of the capital. Moreover, MSF has made stand-by arrangements in case of a large-scale eruption of the ongoing violence.



Virtual Standstill on Repatriation and Continued Impunity: Factors Outside Rwanda

In the autumn of 1994, refugees were regularly subjected to violence and sometimes killed publicly because of their wish to return to Rwanda. Such incidents, together with meetings led by camp leaders to urge the refugees not to return effectively acted to hold the population hostage. Intent on disproving allegations that this was the case, the leaders neither openly discouraged nor resorted to physical violence themselves. Their use of speeches inciting ethnic hatred and extremist propaganda was sufficiently successful and, in fact, they could even tell the refugees that they were free to return. This new policy fit perfectly into the designed improved image of the camp leadership.

The Rwandan Refugees in Goma, Zaire

During the first three months of 1995, there was a small, but constant flow of refugees repatriating to Rwanda in convoys organized by UNHCR. However, since April, repatriation has come to a virtual standstill. Intent on disproving allegations that they were holding the population hostage, the Hutu leaders in the camps officially told the refugees that they were free to return. However, repatriation rapidly declined as refugees became more convinced that it was too dangerous to go back to Rwanda, a conviction that was reinforced by the anti-RPA propaganda and hate campaign carried out by camp leaders and the deteriorating situation in Rwanda. Early July, repatriation has started again, amounting to about 50 to 100 refugees per week.

The Improved Public Image of the Camp Leadership

In the immediate aftermath of the cholera and dysentery epidemics, lawlessness prevailed. Assassinations of supposed RPF spies were reported and allegations of open military training were common. Within days of crossing the border, the refugees began to organize themselves according to the same state administrative structures which had existed in Rwanda. In the chaos brought about by the sheer numbers, UNHCR and relief agencies were forced to rely on those who presented themselves as leaders among a disoriented and severely traumatized population. Initially, many who had manipulated the population to commit genocide in Rwanda were recognized in the camps by UNHCR and NGOs as legitimate, or at least desperately needed, representatives of the massive refugee population.

The Power Structures

On 3 November 1994, 16 international NGOs, including MSF, issued a joint press release stating that working conditions in the camps had become unacceptably dangerous and they would be forced to withdraw unless there was immediate action to improve security. The statement declared that refugees wishing to return home were virtually held hostage by the camp leaders. The NGOs demanded that those responsible for inciting violence and disrupting the delivery of humanitarian aid should be separated from the other refugees and that all weapons should be removed from the camps. Furthermore, adequate protection for refugees needed to be guaranteed in order for them to feel free to return home or remain in the camp without fearing for their lives.

Four days later, MSF-France announced its decision to pull out of the camps in Zaire and Tanzania, stating that the continued diversion of humanitarian aid by the same leaders who orchestrated the genocide, the lack of effective international action regarding impunity, the fact that the refugee population was being held hostage, presented a situation contradictory with the principles of humanitarian assistance. Later that month, Care-Canada pulled out of Katale camp following death threats. MSF-Belgium and -Holland decided to continue working in the camps while at the same time continuously and publicly advocating for an end to impunity and improvements in the security situation for the refugees.

After the criticism of the international aid community the self-proclaimed government-in-exile instituted a series of 'reforms' in order to ensure continued humanitarian assistance and to improve the public image of the camps by targeting their 'constituency', advance 'democracy', and promote 'legitimate' leaders to pursue the possibility of political negotiations with the government in Kigali.

The Commission Sociale was formed, comprising 15 principal members, the majority of whom identify themselves as either former government ministers or pro-MRND politicians, to act as an informal link between the self-proclaimed government-in-exile, international bodies, and the refugees in North Kivu. The Commission Sociale played an ill-defined but critical role in carrying out a concerted campaign to revamp the public image of the camps. During the months that followed, elections were held, camp security structures were re-organized, and countless civic organizations were founded.

However, the new strategy of the camp leaders also appeared to be "aimed at causing unrest inside Rwanda to undermine the new government and convince refugees that it was too dangerous to return".

MSF therefore maintains that these changes are cosmetic and that little has in fact changed since November 1994. On the surface, the climate in the camps has improved. Aid workers are no longer threatened, soldiers are rarely seen, and militia training no longer takes place in public. Many members of the military have left the camps and those who remain wear civilian clothes.

Following the failure of UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali's proposal for an international peacekeeping force, the deployment of 1,500 Zairian troops to the camps has improved the security of refugees on UNHCR repatriation convoys an of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in the camps. While the camps now operate smoothly and relative calm prevails, field officials of NGOs and of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) may be lulled into a false sense of complacency.

Refugee registration process was poorly planned and fraught with fraud. MSF-Belgium's efforts to control systematic cheating and intimidation by militia members in Kibumba led to expatriate staff being threatened. Declaring this militia control of the camp unacceptable, MSF-Belgium pulled out of Kibumba on 8 February 1995. In response to the high level of fraud, UNHCR spent two months conducting registration card verification before finally arriving at more or less accurate population figures. In the Tanzanian refugee camp Ngara, UNHCR nullified the registration after wide spread fraud. The registration will be re-done in July/August 1995.

Food Distribution

Commonly referred to as 'camp leaders', the representatives of the refugees were responsible for food distribution to their segment of the population. They exerted blatant control over the camps in the form of routine violence, threats, and massive diversion of food aid.

Food is now distributed directly to families or cellules (groups) in most camps. The level of diversion has decreased and the control of the camp leaders over humanitarian aid has largely diminished. However, the delay in registration resulted in the diversion of thousands of tons of food aid. Much of it was alleged to have been stockpiled for former Rwandan soldiers. Food basket monitors now oversee the equitable distribution of aid. Security incidents no longer surround the distribution of food, except when there is little food to distribute.

In February 1995, the World Food Program (WFP) found itself falling short of funds to feed the three million refugees, returnees, and displaced in the Great Lakes region. Rations were reduced to as little as 503 kcal per day, resulting in daily scenes of chaos, protests and threats at the distribution sites. On 24 March 1995, MSF issued a public statement together with 32 other humanitarian organizations in the region, urging the international community to act swiftly to end the food shortage. The appeal emphasized the fact that the food shortage threatened regional stability. MSF maintains that withholding food would not, as some donor countries apparently believed, encourage repatriation. However, MSF also believes it is very serious that the international community still feeds soldiers and militia who are alleged to have been implicated in the genocide.

Humanitarian aid should not be used to bring about political solutions. A month later, WFP reached 70% of the $385 million needed for 1995. Since then, rations have steadily increased.

Elections and the Search for Legitimate Leaders

In spite of 'democratic reforms' former politicians implicated in the genocide continue to dominate the political life of the camps. The fact that many refugees say they were never told of any elections further calls into question the nature of these 'reforms'.

It is sure that some elections took place in many of the camps in Eastern Zaire in December 1994 and the early months of 1995. The Commission Sociale, eager to promote the appearance of grassroots democracy, said that the refugees called for elections themselves. These provided an opportunity to elect legitimate representatives among the refugee population while at the same time replacing leaders who may not have conformed to the government-in exile's larger political objectives. However, elections were not held in every prefecture and the replacement of camp leaders was very selective. In practice, the elections appear to have been orchestrated by former government officials.

In Katale camp, for example, the former mayor of Greater Kigali, best known for his statement in an interview with the New York Times that the killings in Rwanda did not constitute genocide because some Tutsi had survived, presided over mid-January elections in Ruhengeri prefecture part of the camp. Accompanied by the former mayor of Ruhengeri, he conducted a campaign to influence the refugees which of the two candidates to vote for (sensibilisation de la population) before, during, and after the elections. Later, the two candidates themselves spoke only briefly. Refugees maintained that they were free to vote for the candidate of their choice.

Security Structures

In December 1994, as part of its public image campaign, the Commission Sociale restructured the camps into quartiers (districts), sous-quartiers (sub-districts), cellules (neighborhoods) and nyumba kumi (groups of ten houses), each with their own representative, allegedly duly elected. The goal was twofold: to ensure that the refugees could properly defend themselves against 'RPA infiltrators'; and to assert control over a security situation which threatened continued humanitarian assistance. A dual power structure was imposed so that camp leaders now have responsibility according both to where they currently live in the camps and to their commune of origin in Rwanda. Neighborhood representatives, in charge of security, serve to reinforce the power of the camp president. At the same time they rival the power of the administrative representatives.

This highly centralized security structure is identical to that which was perfected in Rwanda prior to the genocide. According to African Rights, a September 1991 Ministry of Defense memorandum entitled Auto-défense de la population envisaged at least one armed man for every ten households. This 'home guard' project foreshadowed the creation of the militia throughout the country under the control of senior military officials. During the genocide, Interahamwe knew exactly who lived in which house. They were therefore able to carry out the killings literally door by door. The localized command structure in the camps is based on this same model.

A Civil Society

The final step towards improving the public image of the camps and pushing for political negotiations was the creation of a civil society (as opposed to overt military control) and a new political party. The Commission Sociale was instrumental in restructuring the camps and supporting the expansion of the camp leadership. It has now given way to the Société Civile which purports to represent a broad spectrum of society. The Commission Sociale is a member of the Société Civile and now distances itself from the self-proclaimed government-in-exile. The latter is equally ambiguous about its links with former Rwandan Government authorities.

Founded on 14 January 1995, six months after the refugees arrived in Goma, the Société Civile currently boasts 92 affiliated non-profit-making organizations such as: l'Association des journalistes rwandais en exil, le Cercle des intellectuels, l'Association pour la promotion féminine et la réhabilitation de la famille rwandaise, and l'Association des juristes pour les droits de l'homme. Most were founded by members of Rwanda's well-educated elite, the MRND, and of the extremist media that functioned in Rwanda before the genocide. Some receive substantial funding from abroad. The primary goal of the Société Civile is to act as the representative of the refugee population in any negotiations for a political settlement with the government in Kigali.

On 3 April 1995, a group of refugees in Mugunga formed the Rally for Democracy and the Return to Rwanda (RDR), a new political party which also denies any formal link with the self-proclaimed government-in-exile. Like the Société Civile, the leaders of the RDR portray themselves as moderates. Nevertheless, they have emerged from the same ideological background as the extremists, they justify the genocide and paint themselves as victims. They circulate a list of all human rights abuses in Rwanda since October 1990 when the RPF first invaded the country and claim to give a "truthful accounting of the facts" surrounding the death of President Habyarimana; this is followed by a long list of what they consider to be prerequisites for peace. The RDR states that if they fail to attain their political objectives, they will resort to "military action as a final option". On 4 April 1995, 13 senior commanders of the former Rwandan Armed Forces (ex-FAR) issued a public statement pledging their support for the RDR. The Zairian authorities have forbidden the RDR to hold public demonstrations and activities. As a result, the party carries out its activities clandestine.

While some believe that these recent political developments herald the dawning of a new era, the host of new leaders appears to have emerged from the same Hutu extremist ideological position. The expansion of the camp leadership, the creation of the Société Civile and a new 'independent' political party have not broadened the political spectrum. Indeed, they have served to further the monopoly of extremism. In the highly polarized political climate of the camps, there is virtually no room for moderate voices to be heard.

Militarization, Destabilization, and Camp Security in Zaire

Allegations of Military Training and Arms Shipments

Following the mass exodus into Zaire, the ousted Rwandan Government, armed forces and militia have started to regroup and rebuild their military infrastructure.

According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 'persons with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that: he has committed a [...] war crime, or a crime against humanity', may not benefit of the status of refugee. In practice, however, those suspected of having participated in the genocide enjoy protection as refugees and benefit from relief assistance supplied by the international community.

Among the first cosmetic changes instituted to guarantee continued humanitarian aid to the camps was the sudden apparent departure of the military; they are simply no longer to be seen in the camps. Late last year, soldiers were apparently ordered to shed their uniforms and, at the same time, thousands of members of the ex-FAR moved south, out of the camps, towards Bukavu and Burundi.

After a shooting incident in Katale camp on 25 November 1994, in which a Zairian soldier was killed, the local authorities ordered all refugees to move into the officially recognized camps. It has been reported that during the massive population shift which ensued a military movement south took place towards Bukavu. During the early hours of the morning throughout the first week of December, eye-witnesses saw large groups of young men moving south from Mugunga, at the time a notorious military camp. The following week, military vehicles and men in combat boots and fatigues were almost entirely gone. However, senior military commanders continue to reside just down the road from Mugunga in État-Major, an independent military camp. According to UNHCR officials, they have regular contact with ex-FAR officers who have remained behind "to safeguard the camps against RPA infiltrators".

Many NGOs operating in the camps regard the departure of the military as a vast improvement. In point of fact, it is indicative the changes which have taken place are only cosmetic.

While MSF staff since December 1994 have not themselves witnessed increased militarization, training or arms shipments into eastern Zaire, these have been widely reported in the international press. In order not to jeopardize ongoing humanitarian aid, large-scale arms shipments are almost certainly not destined directly for the refugee camps themselves. Militia training does not take place in full view of aid workers.

The rearmament and increased militarization of the former Rwandan Government and the ex-FAR have been thoroughly documented by the Human Rights Watch Arms Project, Amnesty International and by a United Kingdom television program. Amnesty International reports that in early April 1995, Zairian soldiers working at Goma airport in eastern Zaire stated that arms shipments flown in to Goma were intended for the Contingent Zaïrois pour la Sécurité des Camps (CZSC). However, according to the Director of the Civilian Security Liaison Group (the Liaison Group) and CZSC soldiers, the CZSC had not received any arms shipments and the weapons are widely suspected to have been destined for the ex-FAR. The UK television program documents a series of arms flights to Goma for the ex-FAR, usually landing on Tuesday nights around 11:00 pm. One of these deliveries was apparently received by the prime minister of the self-proclaimed government-in-exile, Jean Kambanda, and a former leader of the Interahamwe, Jean-Baptiste Gatete.

According to the Human Rights Watch Arms Project's report, Zaire has not only assisted the ex-FAR in obtaining weapons, but also permits top ex-FAR commanders 'in exile' to reside under the leadership of Major General Augustin Bizimungu in an independent military camp not far from the Mugunga and Lac Vert refugee camps outside Goma. During their mission to the region in March 1995 Human Rights Watch witnessed military training by the ex-FAR and militia in Bilongue camp near Bukavu and observed a building that contained an arsenal of attack weapons in Panzi camp.

Contingent Zaïrois pour la Sécurité des Camps

In November 1994, MSF called for an international police force to impose law and order in the camps and guarantee the protection of refugees. Four months later, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali failed to muster the 5,000 international peace-keepers he requested. Among the 60 countries approached to contribute troops only Bangladesh made an offer. UNHCR subsequently signed a $13 million dollar agreement with the Zairian Government for 1,500 Zairian soldiers to be deployed in the camps under the joint control of the Zairian Government and a team of international civilian observers of the Liaison Group.

On 11 February, the first of 1,000 CZSC troops arrived in Goma. An additional 500 were later deployed in Bukavu. Their mandate is to maintain law and order in the camps, to prevent the intimidation of refugees willing to return and escort convoys of returnees and guarantee the security UN and NGO international staff working in the camps.

The Liaison Group monitors the performance of the CZSC and acts as an intermediary between the CSZC, the staff of UNHCR and NGOs and the refugee leaders. They can also investigate incidents involving breaches of security, and reports of episodes of poor discipline on the part of individual CZSC soldiers.

The CZSC has proved effective at establishing some level of security and protection of the refugees in the camps and guaranteeing the security of repatriation convoys and NGOs. Many reports and complaints from the refugees about the misbehavior of individual troops, especially after dusk, reach the Liaison Group. The Liaison Group and UNHCR have acknowledged that they have to improve their links and communication lines with the Contingent at night time. However, not all of the reports and complaints coming from the refugees can be regarded reliable evidence of misbehavior of the CZSC's troops, as the refugees may view the Contingent as a threat to their power.

The Contingent failed to conduct thorough investigations into some serious security incidents. For example, following the 25 March assassination of a Rwandan guard in a UNHCR tent in Kibumba by unknown assailants, their investigation failed to produce a single suspect. Although the CZSC has arrested some refugees accused of criminal activity, corruption among local Zairian officials renders legal proceedings virtually impossible. Refugees who are arrested are alleged routinely to bribe their way out of prison; few remain in detention for more than 48 hours.

Due the failure of the international community to support the Secretary-General's call for an international peace-keeping force, the CZSC has been deployed to fulfil a policing role in the camps, in order to ensure the protection of the refugees. Given the cosmetic changes and reduction of incidents of intimidation in the camps around Goma, the CZSC was able to fulfil this role. However, the CZSC is not mandated to arrest and detain persons suspected of having been involved in the genocide, nor is it mandated to stop the flow of arms and prevent further militarization. The Contingent does also not have the capability to control the border in order to halt border incursions by the ex-FAR and militia.

Incursions from Kibumba Refugee Camp

The CZSC have stated to MSF in a meeting in March 1995 that nightly incursions into Rwanda take place from Kibumba, located 1.5 km from the border. Furthermore they state that militia training takes place just outside the camp. According to UNHCR and UNAMIR in Gisenyi there has been a marked increase in incursions into Rwanda from the camps since February. These began with cattle rustling, but militia or ex-FAR in the camps are now conducting a concerted campaign of destabilization aimed at individuals. The CZSC's failure to take any action to stop militia activity and cross-border incursions implies their support for illegal activity and further violence in Rwanda.

One of the first signs of a destabilization campaign in Gisenyi, just on the other side of the border from Kibumba, was the assassination of Dr. Anatole, a moderate Hutu and a prominent figure in Gisenyi who had returned from the camps in Zaire although he had been warned that he and his family would be killed by the Interahamwe if he did so. He was shot dead in his home on 23 February. One of his children died in the attack; his wife and another child were severely injured.

In the weeks prior to the anniversary of the genocide, the CZSC repeatedly warned refugee leaders against any paramilitary action. At the 31 March camp leaders' meeting in Kibumba, the Captain of the CZSC stated that they were aware of rumors of a possible attack on Rwanda on 6 April: "We know you are training for military action on the other side on the 6th or the 7th. We are warning you. We know the names and addresses of former soldiers and their commanders in the camp. We routinely close our eyes to the nightly coming and going across the border. We know you go to 'chercher vos pommes de terre' (gather potatoes) on the other side. But be warned, any such movement on 6 or 7 April will have serious consequences." In response to the Captain's warning, the president of the camp said that refugee businessmen were organizing themselves to find means to obtain 'pommes de terre' elsewhere.

On 13 March, a refugee crossed the border from Gisenyi into Munigi, located between Kibumba camp and the town of Goma carrying a gun and covered in blood. He was taken to Mugunga hospital. There he stated that he was the leader of a group of Interahamwe from Kibumba who had crossed the border the night before. Their mission was first, to liberate several Rwandan refugees arrested in Gisenyi for stealing cattle and second, to sabotage undisclosed targets in the region. After allegedly freeing 'their brothers' from Gisenyi prison by force, guards shot the leader twice in the leg. While the others fled into Rwanda the leader escaped back across the border to Zaire.

According to medical staff working in the International Federation of the Red Cross hospital in Kibumba, they regularly treat young men with gunshot wounds.

Continued Vigilante Justice

In Deadlock the Cycle, MSF stated that: "maintaining law and order should under no circumstances be the responsibility of individual refugees selected by the leaders, many of whom are themselves suspected of having been involved in the genocide." Although the refugees say that neighborhood security officials have been elected, they are answerable only to the president of the camp who is the ultimate arbitrator of cases involving alleged RPF spies and other breaches of security. In Kahindo camp, the responsibility of security is taken out of the hands of the camp president if necessary by la commission securité and its boss. However, they have only symbolic power. MSF remains concerned that despite the presence of the CZSC to establish law and order in the camps, refugees continue to take these matters into their own hands.

The recent incidents of violence in the camps have little to do with repatriation. They are linked to a policy of regional destabilization. Just as refugees launch nightly incursions across the border into Rwanda, the refugees themselves are convinced that there has been a parallel increase in RPF infiltration into the camps. The result has been a slight increase in violent attacks against alleged infiltrators, rising paranoia, and stepped-up neighborhood security patrols. Roadblocks, manned by gangs of young men, are erected in Mugunga at night. In all the camps, refugee security patrols impose an eight or nine pm curfew.

According to UNHCR, the first two months of 1995 were extremely quiet. In March there was an increase in so-called Inyenzi incidents (literally Inyenzi means 'cockroaches', during the genocide the word has also been used figuratively to refer to the Tutsi) in which individuals were brutally attacked and possibly killed by mobs.

On 15 March a group of seven to eight refugees from Mugunga camp were escorting a Rwandan refugee accused of being an Inyenzi down the road south of the camp when UNHCR staff and Zairian gendarmes arrived on the scene. Upon seeing the two vehicles, the men violently attacked and strangled the refugee, apparently in an attempt to kill him before the vehicles overtook them.

On another occasion four bodies were found stoned, beaten or tortured to death in the vicinity of Mugunga/Lac Vert camps following the weekend of 18-19 March 1995. The deliberate brutality and signs of vigilante justice in each of the cases would suggest they had been accused of being Inyenzi.

On 20 March a UNHCR Field Officer driving by Lac Vert noticed a large crowd of people watching a man lying on the ground. The mob had accused him of being an Inyenzi and his head had been split open. UNHCR immediately evacuated the victim to Goma hospital.

While threats and brutality are commonly used against anyone suspected of sympathy for the RPF, the camp leaders no longer conduct an ongoing campaign of violence against refugees and NGOs. One recent exception, however, was during the relocation of Kituku camp. While some believed that in smaller camps the leaders would have less power over the refugee population, this proved to be a mistake. The leaders, some of whom have been identified by other refugees as well-known Interahamwe, wielded considerably more power over the small camp population of 15,000 than their counterparts in the larger camps. Intent on protecting their own interests, they refused to relocate and prevented the other refugees from leaving.

MSF was targeted for implementing UNHCR's decision to gradually reduce services leading up to the closure of the camp. On 24 April, amidst increasing tensions, two expatriate staff were evacuated under armed guard following death threats. MSF closed down all health facilities the next morning.

Although the majority of the population appeared eager to move to a new, more spacious camp, the camp leaders briefly succeeded in creating a climate in which it was impossible for UNHCR to conduct an information campaign about the move due to physical intimidation. However, roughly three weeks later, with all services discontinued and the leaders discredited, UNHCR finally closed the camp.

Refugee Leaders Continue to Retain Control Over the Camps in Zaire


The leaders' control over information is, in large part, the key to their control over the population. The former government authorities incited a population to commit genocide through the use of extremist propaganda. Due to continued impunity, these same officials continue to manipulate the refugee population by controlling the flow of information and political discourse in the camps. They talk tirelessly about the victimization of the Hutu people.

A number of extremist publications devoted to fueling ethnic hatred and silencing moderate voices regularly circulate in the camps. They portray the Hutu people as victims and attempt to re-write history. Revisionism and victimization are central to the camp leader's extremist ideology. What Has Not Been Said About the Massacres in Rwanda, published by The International Solidarity for The Rwandan Refugees refers to the Hutu population in exile as "victims of a well-hatched plot, planned long before, [and] that it had killed only because it was attacked." L'Autre face du génocide, published by the Association Justice et Paix pour la Réconciliation au Rwanda in collaboration with the Société Civile, states that no evidence incriminating the self-proclaimed government-in-exile has come to light and that it was the RPF who committed the genocide of the Hutu. "The elimination of the Hutu majority was aimed at decimating the opposition and attaining the numerical balance [they had] sought for so long."

Extremist newspapers such as Amizero, and numerous political tracts, blame every recent assassination in Rwanda on Tutsi and repeat that to return to Rwanda is to go to your grave. One tract, entitled L'Oeil des refugiés lyrically describes how whether you're young or old, if you are Hutu, you're killed, if you go back, its suicide. The songs schoolchildren sometimes sing are, according to refugees, traditional hunting songs - songs about hunting down Tutsi.

As voluntary repatriation resumed in December, MSF repeatedly urged UNHCR to provide factual information on the repatriation process and the current situation in Rwanda in order to counteract extremist propaganda in the camps. UNHCR launched an information campaign, broadcast over Radio Agatashya in early March 1995. It was suspended the following month after one of the program's Rwandan editors was detained for several days in Kigali. UNHCR has not resumed broadcasts.


During the first three months of 1995, there was a small but constant flow of refugees repatriating to Rwanda. From December 1994 to March 1995, 12,775 refugees returned to Rwanda in UNHCR convoys. However, since April 1995, repatriation has come to a virtual standstill due to the deteriorating situation inside Rwanda.

When UNHCR resumed voluntary repatriation in late December, many feared that the leaders and militia would launch a campaign of violence to prevent refugees from returning home. Although officially the camp leaders told the refugees the refugees were free to return and even informed the population when the next convoy was leaving. Intent on disproving allegations that they held the population hostage, camp leaders neither openly discouraged repatriation nor did they resort to physical intimidation. Their use of speeches inciting hatred and propaganda was so complete that they did not need to. Just as with elections, based on what they had been told, their choice for the refugees was clear: they chose to stay. Many refugees maintain that they fled Rwanda convinced that the RPF was going to kill them all. They say nothing will make them believe otherwise unless they go to Rwanda and see for themselves.

Furthermore, while members of the militia were not conducting a concerted campaign of violence in the camps, by February, they were conducting a campaign of destabilization in Rwanda. The Commander-in-Chief of the ex-FAR openly stated at the time that repatriation would change nothing. "Refugees wishing to return to Rwanda would still support us, only on the other side," he said. According to UNHCR and UNAMIR officials, prolonged guerrilla warfare cannot be successful without the support of a local population to shelter militia and assist incursions. Most returnees were women, children, and elderly men returned to Rwanda via convoy. Young men from the camps cross the border at night.

In the period between March and April 1995, the deteriorating security situation, increase in arbitrary arrests and reprisal killings in Rwanda have served to further the cycle of extremism. This climate of fear among the refugees holds them from going back and fits perfectly into the pattern of control the leaders exercise over the refugees. By April, the continuing destabilization in Rwanda led to roughly 500 new refugees arriving every week in the camps in North Kivu. This recent influx has reinforced the refugees' fears of returning home and served to further increase the power of the camp leaders. Repatriation rapidly declined as refugees became more convinced it was too dangerous to return. The influx also helped to fuel further paranoia about infiltration by RPF sympathizers as the refugees regard those who are entering Zaire at this point as potential RPF sympathizers. Amidst the increasing extremism and highly polarized political climate in the camps, each refugee is considered to be either for or against the RPF. According to one returnee in Gisenyi, anyone planning to return to Rwanda via a convoy "does not publicize this" for fear of being seen as RPF sympathizers. Voices of reason remain silent. The control exerted by the camp leaders is not only due to the power of extremism but to the inability of moderate voices to be heard.

On 18 April 1995, RPA started to forcibly close the camps for the internally displaced (displaced) in South Western Rwanda, killing more internally displaced than it was possible to count. In the refugee camps, protests were held against the US Government because it did not immediately suspend aid to Kigali. Although they have remained calm, the massacre has had an enormous political impact on the camps. Camp leaders, previously intent on pushing for negotiations, have taken a more extreme position as a result. Given the current climate both in the camps and in Rwanda, UNHCR feared that any refugee who wanted to return would meet with strong opposition from other refugees. On 21 April, UNHCR suspended repatriation until further notice. Increased insecurity in Rwanda is only one of a myriad of reasons why the vast majority of refugees are afraid to return home.

Parallels in Tanzania

On 29 April 1994, about 200,000 Rwandan refugees crossed the bridge over a corpse-filled Kagera river into Tanzania and most subsequently settled in camps near the small village of Ngara. During the course of 1994 this number gradually increased to 700,000 residing in Tanzania. Other refugee camps were set up in the district of Karagwe. Added to the number of refugees coming from Burundi, about 700,000 people presently live in those camps.

Similar to the current situation in the camps in Zaire, also in Tanzania there have been problems regarding camp security, the control exercised over the refugees by their leaders, continuing impunity in regard to the perpetrators of the genocide and general militarization. However, they are no longer on the same disturbing scale as in the other countries, and therefore do not pose serious problems for the relief organizations any more.

Like other camps in the region, camp leaders exercise strong control over the refugees who are organized in the same administrative structures as those which existed in Rwanda before the genocide. Although elections of some new leaders have taken place which have not been blocked by the camp leadership, serious doubt exists, as in Zaire, about the freedom of the refugee population to make individual choices. MSF believes that the chief members of the refugee leadership are not being seen by the relief workers, since it appears that they are not willing to be involved in discussions with UNHCR and NGOs. Furthermore, MSF believes that the leaders in the camps around Ngara meet and communicate with leaders in the Karagwe district and in Zaire. Individuals were regularly reported crossing into Zaire at the end of last year. Radio sets have been stolen from the relief agencies and rumors circulate that antennae are erected in the camps at night.

It is widely known that the Interahamwe has close ties with the Hutus in Burundi and that segments of these groups regularly cross over the border between Tanzania and Burundi. Although intimidation by the Interahamwe is less prevalent than last year, at the same time there is less need for intimidation, because the leaders have already established a strong control over the refugees. As a result, the number of security incidents has decreased. UNHCR registers only cases of human rights abuses which have been officially reported by the Tanzanian police in charge of maintaining law and order in the camps. But refugees are reluctant to bring human rights abuses to the attention of the police as this may lead to reprisals by the Interahamwe.

There is total impunity in the Tanzanian camps just as in Zaire with leaders accused of involvement in the genocide walking around freely. In its report Deadlock the Cycle MSF reported two such cases of leaders implicated in the genocide, but believes that there are many more.

MSF-France has decided to withdraw from the refugee camps as the context of the genocide presented in their opinion a situation contradictory with the principles of humanitarian assistance. MSF-Spain has left Benaco because of operational reasons but are still present in Kitale camp.

The leaders have become aware that the image they have of ruling by terror does not contribute to the donor community's willingness to continue funding. As in Zaire, funding for the camps in Tanzania is under pressure because some international donors believe that repatriation should be a priority and is the only durable solution to this crisis. These donors believe that if they decrease funds and thus food, the refugees would be 'forced' to return home. Rations are below 2,100 kcal per day. Results of MSF food monitoring illustrate that 51% of the refugees receive less than 1,500 and 69% receive less than 1,630 kcal per day.

As in Zaire, repatriation from Tanzania has come to a virtual standstill. A few months ago, when UNHCR was assisting refugees who wished to repatriate, MSF received signs from the refugees that many of them were willing to go back but feared threats from the Interahamwe.

Another serious concern regarding respect for principles related to the protection and treatment of refugees is that at the end of March 1995, the Tanzanian authorities closed their border with Burundi, preventing thousands of refugees from entering Tanzania, including Rwandan refugees. In the light of the large-scale eruption of 'ethnic cleansing' in Burundi, this has lead to an unacceptable denial of the right of asylum to refugees.

Parallels in Burundi

The assassination of President Ndadaye in October 1993 disrupted the democratization process which culminated in Burundi's first democratic elections in June 1993. After the assassination, Burundi was sucked into a spiral of ethnic violence among Hutu and Tutsi and between 30,000 and 50,000 people were killed in the subsequent clashes during the last two months of 1993.

Tensions rose after the victory of the Hutu dominated FRODEBU party over UPRONA, the ruling mainly Tutsi party. However, as the Burundian army is mainly dominated by the Tutsi ethnic group and does not support the newly-elected Hutu Government this created an unstable political situation. Both Hutu and Tutsi extremists take advantage of the situation and frequently clash with each other.

The political violence since October 1993 has led to massive population displacements in Burundi resulting from the 'ethnic cleansing' policies practiced by both Tutsi and Hutus. As a result, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 people currently find themselves displaced, mainly in Muyinga, Ngozi, Gitega and Kirundo province. Additionally, some 200,000 Hutu refugees also settled in the North of Burundi fleeing from Rwanda in July 1994, after the RPF's victory. It is obvious that the presence of both the refugees and the displaced puts further pressure on the already unstable political situation in Burundi.

Although the health and nutritional situation in the camps had stabilized by November 1994, the question of protection has become more and more difficult to resolve in recent months. With the refugee camps guarded by the Burundian army and armed gangs terrorizing the region, there has been a rapid deterioration in the overall security situation both outside and inside the camps.

In March 1995, the camp of Majuri, located close to the Rwandan border, was attacked by a group armed with guns and grenades resulting in 12 refugees being killed and 20 wounded. On 31 March, 40,000 refugees from the camp of Magara and another 40,000 refugees from Ruvumu, Kibezi and Majuri camps moved in the direction of Tanzania in reaction to rumors of forthcoming attacks. However, Tanzania closed its border forcing the refugees to return to their camps after 10 to 15 days waiting in vain to enter. The first convoy bringing the refugees back to Magara camp was attacked by young men who threw grenades into the truck. As a result ten refugees were injured. Upon their return, the refugees found that most of the camp facilities had been looted. Kibezi hospital had already been looted at the moment of their departure.

After the massacre in Kibeho camp in Rwanda and its subsequent closure, two groups of refugees fled to Burundi. However, it has been reported that some of them were refused entry or were forcibly returned to Rwanda. By May 30, a first group of about 16,000 Rwandans moved to Cibitoke province but were forced to continue into Zaire. A second group of about 800 was transferred to Ngozi from where 550 were forcibly repatriated to Rwanda on 9 May. To avoid being repatriated, one refugee killed himself and another was wounded after jumping from the truck transporting the refugees back to Rwanda.

Although small numbers of refugees do repatriate voluntary to Rwanda, since the Kibeho massacre most of the them remain anxious about returning to Rwanda and fear that they will be arrested.

Living conditions inside the camps have declined due to their isolation. The only food supply consists of the 1,600 kcal per day. This is insufficient and can no longer be supplemented because informal trade with neighboring communities has come to a standstill. As a result, dependence on external aid is growing. At the same time, the security situation is deteriorating for humanitarian staff as well. On 8 May 1995, an expatriate staff member of Catholic Relief Services was killed in Kirundo province.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) recently expressed its fear that the ongoing violence might lead to another genocide. To prevent this the OAU warned Burundi that it considers a military intervention to put an end to the ethnic killings.

As more refugees are still expected to arrive from Rwanda and 'ethnic cleansing' continues, MSF, together with other international NGOs and UN agencies, is concerned that the security situation in the region will further deteriorate. Eventually this might give the Rwandan refugees no other option than to forcefully return to Rwanda or seek refuge elsewhere.



Virtual Standstill on Repatriation and Continued Impunity: Factors Inside Rwanda and the International Legal Response

It is undeniable that the legal structure in Rwanda has largely been destroyed as a result of the genocide, the war and the refugee exodus. With the paralysis of the courts in respect to bringing the perpetrators of the genocide to trial, the continued increase in arrests and tension over property rights, the country is locked into a situation