Rwanda Comments on UN Genocide Mapping Report: I. Historical Context of the Genocide and its aftermath
I. The Report Fails to Explain the Historical Context of the Genocide and its aftermath
4. The Draft Mapping Report addresses only a fraction of a complex history, and ignores publicly available information that seriously undermines its findings. The reader is left with a one-sided account, and provided no context with which to understand who each of these Rwandan actors were, and how they found themselves in the Congolese forests from 1994 to 2003. The historical and political context presented in The Draft Mapping Report deals exclusively with internal Congolese political dynamics.2 The context below provides an entirely different reading of assertions put forward in The Draft Mapping Report.
5. Allegations of genocide are just as serious when leveled in the court of public opinion – as was done when a draft of the Report was “leaked” — as when they are made in a competent court (which The Draft Mapping Reports authors, by their own admission, most certainly were not). The authors exploit this asymmetry, hoping perhaps that the gruesome nature of the charges will divert attention from the superficial nature of their work, and their confusion about the laws of armed conflict. In so doing, they have sacrificed truth and fundamental fairness on the altar of politics, tarnishing the United Nations.
The 1994 Rwandan Genocide
6. The events described in The Draft Mapping Report grew out of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in which one million ethnic Tutsi perished in one hundred days. As the war to stop the genocide progressed, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) pushed the bulk of the genocidal forces — including the Forces Armees Rwandaises (FAR) and the Interahamwe and Impuzamigambi militias — westward. These forces crossed into Zaire in June and July 1994, while other Rwandan refugees and a smaller number of the genocide forces crossed into Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda.
7. A safe zone created by the French military in the Southwest in June 1994, dubbed “Zone Turquoise”, facilitated the flight of 300,000 people west towards the Zairean town of Bukavu in July and August 1994. On 18 July 1994, RPA forces captured the northwestern town of Gisenyi in Rwanda, which was the center of the genocidal provisional government. Its fall prompted over 800,000 Rwandans to cross into Goma, Zaire over a four day period in late July. Crossing into Zaire was a strategic choice by the ex-FAR/Interahamwe to facilitate their reorganization and rearmament easier in a vast, porous and (at that time) a highly dysfunctional country where they had government support. When the genocidal forces responsible retreated to Zaire, they used coercion and force to bring the civilian population along with them.
Mass Participation in the Genocide
8. During the democratization process (1991-1993), opposition parties emerged and almost physically expelled the ruling party from most of the Centre, the South and West of Rwanda. These parts of the country were dominated by the Mouvement Démocratique Républicain (in the Centre, South and West), and to a lesser extent by the Parti Social Démocrate (in the South) and encompassed about 80% of the Tutsi population. From 1991 to 1993, these political parties split into diverging factions, some of whom opposed the genocide. However, even the factions of these parties that participated in the genocide did not have strong militia movements, and any militia they had was concentrated in Kigali. This means that the bulk of the militias being from the ruling party MRND and its allies were concentrated in Kigali and in places where they were still strong (North, partially West and East) while the government army FAR was busy on the battlefield in the Northeast and in Kigali. In the country side, where the majority of the Tutsi population lived, there were no organized militia and few military personnel. Thus, while the security forces often initiated and directed the killings, the bulk of the actual killing was carried out by the general population – mostly by young men. The consequence of this was that besides the ex- FAR and the militias, there was, from the beginning, a category of people who were neither soldiers nor militia but who had been heavily involved in criminal violence.
The Refugee Crisis
9. In early July 1994, there was a massive – and well documented — cholera outbreak in the refugee camps in Zaire, north of Lake Kivu. Over 50,000 people died from cholera and other opportunistic diseases. Those who perished were buried in mass graves located in the same vicinity where the authors of The Draft Mapping Report claim atrocities were committed.3 International media coverage of this humanitarian crisis led to an unprecedented international mobilization with over 200 aid organizations rushing into Goma to establish an emergency relief operation.
The Militarization of the Camps
10. The refugees who arrived in Zaire were well organized. In fact, they transplanted local Rwandan administrative structures into Zaire and kept the same leadership in place: individuals who were responsible for the genocide. Non-Governmental organizations and the UNHCR relied on these individuals to help distribute aid. The genocidal leaders, in turn, inflated the number of refugees to obtain additional aid, and used the surplus to finance the purchase of arms. Meanwhile, soldiers of the ex-FAR and the Interahamwe militia created armed outposts on the outskirts of the refugee camps. The former Rwandan government officials, who controlled the camps, passed out large sums of money to the militia to control the refugees on their behalf. Those who protested this preposterous state of affairs were either beaten into submission or killed. UNHCR officials wrote at the time, “[w]e are in a state of virtual war in the camps.”4 Accused of “feeding the killers”, five major humanitarian organizations left Zaire including Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children and CARE.
11. When the ex-FAR crossed the border into Zaire, they brought with them tons of machine guns, grenades, mortars, and other light weapons.5 They also brought with them their armored cars, field artillery, four operational helicopters, and a light fixed-wing attack aircraft. The ex-FAR forces received arms shipments in the camps, conducted military training exercises, recruited combatants and planned a final victory. These genocidaires“openly declared their intent to return to Rwanda and … kill all Tutsi who prevent us from returning” and to “wage a war that will be long and full of dead people until the minority Tutsi are finished and completely out of the country.”6 In 1995, these militants – from the cover of the UN refugee camps in which they resided – regularly launched raids into Rwanda to destabilize the country by killing survivors of the genocide and local administrative officials.
12. In 1996, cross border attacks and terrorism intensified. Word of a major attack on Rwanda began to circulate in the latter half of 1996. Rwanda continually pleaded with the international community to move the camps away from the border, to disarm the militants, and to separate genuine refugees from the genocidal forces. These pleas fell on deaf ears. Joel Bouetroue, head of the UNHCR office in Goma, declared, “[W]e are headed for surge of violence and destabilization in the Goma region…Conditions are ripe for a disaster.”7
Rwanda’s Intervention in East Zaire
13. In October 1996, a Zairian government official based in Bukavu declared thatthe Banyamulenge – primarily ethnic Tutsi – would be forced to leave the country. The rebel group Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Zaire (AFDL), which included the Banyamulenge militias, began a campaign against the Zairian government. The mass movement of refugees and the accompanying risk of a humanitarian crisis were widely reported in the media. On 15 November 1996, the AFDL and the RPA moved against the ex-FAR and Interahamwe forces in the camps, and in the process, rescued and repatriated 600,000 Rwandan refugees in the course of four days from the Mugunga camp only. This spectacular return of refugees prompted the mass repatriation of Rwandan refugees from Tanzania and Burundi in the following weeks, allowing the bulk of the Rwandan refugee population to return home.8
14. First, any Rwandan involvement in the conflict that engulfed Zaire in 1996 was in self-defense against the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. Those forces used Zaire as a staging ground to re-arm and continue their genocidal agenda against Rwanda (through cross-border attacks) and extend it to Zaire. Second, under terrorist attack and in the face of international inaction, Rwanda had no choice but to intervene in Zaire to neutralize the threat and resolve the refugee problem by rescuing its own citizens and facilitating their return and reintegration. Third, as in similar situations where terrorists groups and insurgents mix with civilians and refugees and do not wear uniforms or otherwise follow the law of armed conflict, the demarcation between illegal combatants and civilians was not always clear. This confusion was a by-product of the manner in which the genocide itself was carried out in 1994 – with the mass participation of the general population – as well as the military mobilization of refugees in the camps in Zaire, at times through coercion. The Draft Mapping Report took no notice of the dynamic situation in which Rwanda and other member states were operating.
2 Of particular interest are Chapters I and II of The Draft Mapping Report.
8 According to Rwanda government figures, in 1994 1,208,000 refugees were repatriated from different countries; 338,825 in 1995; 1,362,273 in 1996; 219,750 in 1997 and 271,895 from 1998 to Mach 2010. MINALOC 2010.