RWANDA: African Rights briefing paper on northwest 1999.1.29

RWANDA: African Rights briefing paper on northwest 1999.1.29

African Rights

January 1999

Briefing Paper on the Northwest Region of Rwanda

In late December, the African Rights' researcher who carried out the research for The Insurgency in the Northwest spent eight days visiting different communes in Gisenyi and Ruhengeri. The visit covered the communes of Rwerere, Kanama and Mutura in Giseny i, and the communes of Nkuli, Kinigi, Cyabingo and Nyamutera in Ruhengeri. He interviewed people living in camps for the displaced, in villages and towns and local government officials. The trip had several objectives:

* To analyse the changes that had taken place since our last visit to the region in September;

* To understand the main priorities of the local population so that we could bring their problems and perspectives to the attention of the relevant national institutions, the diplomatic community and concerned international agencies;

* To put forward suggestions for action so that the needs of local residents can be met;

* To determine the issues which require additional research, on the part of African Rights and other organisations;

* To see what role, if any, African Rights can play in continuing to highlight developments in the northwest.

In eight days, it was not possible to examine all the issues in depth. We hope there will be opportunities to do so in the near future. It was, nevertheless, possible to get an understanding of the general political, economic and social situation and to make some preliminary suggestions.

Security: The Overall Situation

The central issue of concern to all the people that we interviewed was security. Apart from their own safety, security is the key to economic recovery, the resumption of educational activities and the ability of people to lead normal lives of their choice . The security situation has improved dramatically since September throughout the northwest, both in the communes along the main roads and those in the rural hinterland. All the communes we visited had experienced calm since August/September. We did not lea rn of serious instability in the communes neighbouring those we visited. Travel to the region, and within the region, is no longer fraught with apprehension and danger. Though the conditions were extremely difficult, life was beginning to pick up, though progress was not uniform. In Rwerere, for example, all the primary schools have restarted their activities, regrouped in two centres, one at Busasamana in Rwerere and the other in Bazirete in Mutura. A secondary school in Busasamana is due to open its doors this month. In Mutura, children have also returned to schools. The optimism is tempered by the sheer scale of the recent devastation, the pressing humanitarian needs in the camp s for the displaced and worries that the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) could have a spillover effect on the region. There is, nevertheless, the start of a more confident attitude to the present and the future.

The relative tranquillity in the region is due to two main factors: (1) The war in the DRC has forced the insurgents to leave their most important rear-base, the area in North Kivu close to the border with Rwanda, limiting their ability to destabilise the northwest. (2) The collaboration between local officials, the local population and the army, which has enabled the RPA to weaken the insurgents since the spring of 1998, has continued. In particular, the welcome given to the young civilian fighters recru ited by the insurgents-the résistants-has dealt a major blow to the insurgency. The résistants have assisted the army by determining the identity of the insurgents, pinpointing their whereabouts and weapons stocks and revealing their strategies and tactic s. The civilians, on whom the insurgents depended for manpower, intelligence, moral support, food and shelter, have deserted them in huge numbers.

Questions are bound to arise about the loyalty of some of those who have abandoned the insurgents. Some camp residents are said to be working on behalf of the insurgents. In Kinigi, some families whose sons have become infiltrators, stayed in the camps lo ng enough to recover from malnutrition and then rejoined the insurgents. Certain incidents in Kinigi reveal that the insurgents have inside information. When a group of women went to draw water near the camp, the insurgents killed the one Tutsi member of the group. They sent her clothes back with her companions, with the order that the clothes should be handed over to her husband, whose identity was known to them. There were also reports that young men sometimes leave the camp to alert the insurgents abou t impending operations by the army. Aid, which had been distributed in the camp, was discovered in places from where the insurgents had been dislodged. Where the insurgents were still active, for example in certain sectors of Nkuli, they continue to kill peasants. Others are intimidated into lending them a hand.

There were fears in some areas that the insurgents in North Kivu, pushed further into Masisi and Rutchuru, had been re-armed by President Laurent Kabila and might be poised to attack Rwanda again. For example, people in Kanama who had not been disturbed b y the sound of gunfire between August and mid-December, said they heard gunfire in the last week of December. Small groups of insurgents were said to have arrived in the area in recent days. On the night of 23 December, insurgents attacked the population of two sectors in Kanama-Nkuli and Karambo-and killed 9 peasants. Others had their hands amputated. The victims had recently left the camp of Cyondo, located near the commune office, in order to get closer to their fields. This incident has unsettled the residents of Kanama to some extent. It prompted calls for the government to redouble its efforts to mobilise the population in order to prevent renewed fighting. In Cyabingo, local officials said that they had learned, on 26 December, about the arrival of 300 infiltrators in Nyamutera the previous night, who then passed through Gatonde and Cyabingo on their way to Nyakinama where they are said to have spent the night in Kaziba.

It was not possible for us to investigate the reports about the possible imminent arrival of large numbers of ex-FAR and interahamwe armed by Kabila. The thousands of returnees who have arrived in the northwest from Masisi and Rutchuru since the New Year could be a potential source of information.

By far the most common view was that if the right polices were implemented, an eventual return of the insurgents based in North Kivu would not seriously destabilise the northwest. For the most part, local people are no longer prepared to support the insur gents. Their recent experiences of war, the unbearable conditions they endured when they fled with the insurgents to the volcanic forests, and the cruelty of the insurgents towards civilians, are the principal reasons. Without substantial local assistance , they cannot sustain guerrilla warfare. Their only option would be to engage the RPA in a classic war which people in the region believe they could not win. Those we spoke with in a camp in Kinigi did not see the insurgents as a serious threat. They said that infiltrators had attacked the camp on several occasions but to no avail; there were no victims and no damage. In Rwerere, many people argued that if the population, local officials and the army co-operated, and if security measures were implemented in accordance with the wishes of the local population, the insurgents would be defeated, whatever new arms and support they might have gained in Masisi and Rutchuru.

Security and the Inter-Dependence of Communes

Even the most optimistic bourgmestres and civilians said that peace and development in their own communes would depend on the military/political fortunes in neighbouring communes and the ability and determination of the officials in charge of those commun es. The absence of a forceful bourgmestre and a capable civilian administration is detrimental to the security of the population. Their security depends, to a considerable degree, on the ability and willingness of civilian officials to establish a good wo rking relationship with their military counterparts, to mobilise local residents and to facilitate mutual confidence between the army and civilians.

Bourgmestres, assistant bourgmestres and councillors enjoy enormous powers in Rwanda's local government system. The country's recent history proves their tremendous influence over the population. Where the councillor, and in particular the bourgmestre, i s weak or supports the insurgents, the infiltrators can be certain that some sectors of the population will help them, either willingly or by force. The absence of a bourgmestre is also the source of many problems. The commune of Rubavu, where the main to wn of Gisenyi is located, has not had a bourgmestre since the previous bourgmestre was assassinated. Some sectors, such as Burinda, are known to harbour infiltrators, a situation that affects neighbouring communes such as Rwerere. People in Rwerere also c omplained about the situation in the nearby commune of Mutura where the insurgents still have some sway in certain sectors. Because the inhabitants of these sectors use the market of Gasiza in Rwerere, the residents of Rwerere fear that this could allow t he infiltrators to destabilise their commune. The lack of an effective structure in Mutura has already led the local defence force of Rwerere to patrol the security situation in the sectors of Nyaruteme, Kanzenze and Mugongo in Mutura.

It is not only security which is affected. In one commune we learned that vehicles carrying provisions for the displaced had to go back on four occasions, with the supplies, because the bourgmestre had failed to turn up or to make arrangements.

The Creation of "Local Defence Forces"

Local defence forces (LDFs), consisting of ten people per sector, are envisaged as part of the programme of villagisation described below. This team of ten men, made up of people from the area, will have the responsibility of guarding each site. They will include both former résistants and other civilians and will receive military training and weapons. The civilians and local government officials who regard the LDFs as a positive step, pointed out that the effectiveness of the LDFs depended on continued i mprovement in the overall situation. On their own, they could not withstand a major attack. They see it rather as a source of reassurance on a day-to-day basis and as a system they can use to alert the army in case of an emergency. In the event of an assa ult involving gunfire, they say that the soldiers in the vicinity would also hear the shots. Not everyone, however, feels convinced about the LDFs. Some people said they did not want to live far from soldiers' barracks, irrespective of the existence of LDFs.

It is too early to assess the effectiveness of the LDFs. In some communes the members have either not completed their military training or they have not been appointed. But even where they have been trained and have participated in joint operations with t he army, they have not yet received adequate weapons. There are other reasons that discourage some residents. A survivor of the genocide in Kinigi, whose husband was murdered by insurgents in March 1998, explained why she did not have confidence in the LD Fs.

"The local defence of our commune consists, in general, of résistants who have been trained by the authorities. Nevertheless, that does not mean that they have completely converted because five of them have just rejoined the infiltrators."

Only time will tell whether the LDFs can promote security in the northwest. However, they cannot hope to do so unless the local communities are consulted and involved in the choice of the members. In theory, the teams are to be chosen by the people livin g in each sector, but there are fears that some councillors might try to impose candidates. This would defeat the purpose of the LDFs who, given their small number and limited weapons, cannot protect a community unless they enjoy its confidence.

Relations Between the Civilian Population and the RPA & Human Rights Abuses by the RPA

The improved relations between the civilian population and the RPA discussed in The Insurgency in the Northwest continues to be a feature of the communes we visited, and goes a long way to explain the progress in the security situation. Many of the civili ans said that living in the camps had made it possible for civilians and the army to get to know each other. This, according to these civilians, has led to a more honest relationship and facilitated a dialogue about the mistakes of the past and the predic aments each side faced in the context of the insurgency. This is an achievement that needs to be built upon. The prospects for peace and stability in the northwest, which have national and regional implications, depend, to a very great extent, upon the quality of this relationship.

We did not hear about people being kidnapped or disappeared by the army in the camps we visited. The one serious incident we learned about took place on 19 December in sector Karambo, commune Kanama in Gisenyi after clashes between an RPA platoon and insu rgents. The insurgents hid amongst the population in the area. The platoon surrounded the area and called the population out, killing 140 people. At the time of our visit to Kanama, the soldiers in question had been arrested and staff from the Military Pr osecutor's office was in Kanama carrying out investigations. The response of the Military Prosecutor's office helped to defuse tension and is a reminder of the critical importance of the RPA's willingness and ability to act firmly and swiftly to human rig hts abuses committed by soldiers in the northwest. The establishment of strong national structures that can help to prevent human rights abuses, monitor the situation and respond in a timely fashion to reported abuses, and which can help to institutionali se respect for human rights, must be regarded as a priority. The proposed National Human Rights Commission will have to give urgent consideration to the challenges it will face in the northwest.

Conditions in the Camps for the Displaced

All over the northwest, hundreds of thousands of people are living in makeshift camps for the displaced, forced out of their homes by the insurgency. In Rwerere, out of a population of 62,000, about 54,000 are living in camps, according to the bourgmestre. In Ruhengeri, most of the population of the communes of Nyamugari, Cyeru, Nyarutovu, Gatonde and Nyamutera were at the time congregated in camps. Other communes in Ruhengeri, such as Ndusu and Nkuli, have only a small percentage of their population livi ng in camps.

Despite the overcrowding and the economic and social problems in the camps, people said they could not conceive a return to their homes as long as the insurgency, or the threat of it, remained a reality. At the same time, both the camp residents and local officials would like to see the camps disbanded as soon as possible, security permitting, so that the economy can return to normalcy and people can become self-sufficient.

People arrived at the camps at different stages and through different routes. There were clusters of displaced people living near commune offices as early as mid-1997, Tutsis and Hutus targeted by the insurgents as supporters of the government. The majori ty arrived from April 1998 onwards, because of the violence and fears generated by the insurgency, or because of the miserable conditions in the volcanic forests where they lived with the insurgents. Others were persuaded to come by relatives and friends after they themselves had spent time in the camps. Some people, fearful that the insurgents would kill them if they tried to reach the camps by themselves, were brought by soldiers who had been alerted by their relatives and neighbours. The army brought o thers against their will.

Even in the communes where the majority of the population is living in camps, there are people who have made a conscious decision to stay away from the camps. Four teachers from Rwerere interviewed together said they preferred to walk to work in Busasama na, Rwerere and to walk back to their homes in Kanama. They do not see the camps as a guarantee of security. They cited the attack when the displaced of Rwerere were living in a camp in Kanzenze and the attack which occurred after they were moved to Busas amana, both of which took place in the summer of 1998. They feared the insurgents could attack the camps day or night, and that the principal target of the attacks would be educated people in the service of the State like themselves. Because they have som e resources, compared to the peasants driven off their land, they prefer to use their money to buy food of their choice rather than being dependent on aid.

Conditions have improved in the camps with time and the provision of services. Those who had settled in temporary camps in May/June 1997, for example in Kinigi, received minimum assistance. Many people died as a result. There has been an increase in the level of outside assistance since April 1998, when people began arriving in the region in huge numbers. Those in the camps in Rwerere complained the least, saying that food (rice, lentils and corn) reached them, the dispensary and the nutritional centre w orked well, the primary schools had begun their activities and they were awaiting the opening of a secondary school. But elsewhere, the humanitarian needs remain significant. The main problems and needs are:


The main source of food is the World Food Programme. There were complaints in most of the camps about the quantity and quality of food. Male peasants interviewed in Kinigi said hunger forced them to send their wives and children to their hills in search of food, despite the evident danger.

Health Facilities

In Kinigi, there were persistent demands for an increase in the number of nurses, considered extremely inadequate to meet the needs of patients. There were also complaints about inadequate toilets, which are also too shallow, prompting worries about disea se. The small camp in Nkuli does not have a dispensary; people have to make their own arrangements and pay. In Nyamutera people died from disease in very large numbers when the population was initially grouped in one huge camp. The camp was subsequently d ivided into three, which led to a sharp decrease in the mortality rate. In Rwerere, there were requests for a vehicle to transport the seriously ill to Gisenyi hospital in case of an emergency.


There is a severe shortage of tents, known as sheetings, and covered with material that keeps the rainfall out. The request for sheetings was widespread, even in Rwerere where the conditions are perhaps the best. In Nyamutera, Kinigi and Nkuli, the lack o f tents forced many people to share one tent or to construct tents covered merely with straw, with no protection against the rain or the cold.

Diversion of Aid

There have been repeated allegations that some local officials have misappropriated aid; these allegations were aired publicly during the visits of the President and other senior officials to the northwest. As a remedy, some bourgmestres have introduced n ew systems, but residents said it was too early to pass judgement. Some camp residents have suggested that committees representing the displaced should be present when the aid is distributed. It was difficult for us to assess the gravity of the problem an d to investigate the veracity of all the allegations during our short visit. But whatever its nature and scale, the government will need to tackle this issue because there is undoubtedly a problem.

The Programme of Villagisation

The programme of villagisation has given rise to considerable controversy, particularly in the international community. It has been criticised sharply in some quarters, either on economic grounds, as an attempt to impose political control or as a strategy to confiscate land for the benefit of powerful individuals. The government has defended the initiative, saying that it would make more fertile land available for cultivation, would improve people's access to water, electricity and other amenities and would help to guarantee security. African Rights does not have the expertise to judge the agricultural and economic merits of villagisation. To assess its advantages, disadvantages and potential economic impact, organisations with the relevant economic competence should undertake detailed comparative studies. This can only be done in an objective manner if its supporters and critics put extraneous political considerations aside, and the programme is judged principally from the perspective of the local people and its implications for their lives.

>From a security point of view, the residents of the displaced camps we visited, as well as those living outside the camps, spoke unanimously in favour of villagisation. They discussed the advantages and disadvantages, but felt that the security situation in the northwest made the advantages more apparent. Weary of war and a life of being on the move, impoverished by the insurgency and anxious to leave the camps and to rebuild their lives, the overriding priority of local people is the pursuit of peace. Security considerations, more than anything else, determine their views about villagisation, as with so much else in their lives. However, they also made it clear that certain conditions must be met if the programme is to satisfy their needs.

People were first alarmed by rumours that the objective of villagisation was to transfer ownership of the land to the State, and said they felt reassured only after they learned that they would continue to own their own fields. Now, their anxieties lie elsewhere. The principal concerns are:

* The programme should be discussed, planned and implemented in a manner that ensures clarity and uniformity for each commune and for the whole region. People are apprehensive about the security implications if the villages are not established simultaneou sly within the same commune;

* The villages should not be located far from the residents' fields;

* People whose land is to be used should be compensated without further delay.

Daniel Nkurikiyumukiza, a teacher in Kanama, summed up his view of the programme in the following terms.

"Villagisation has its advantages and its drawbacks. It permits easy access to basic infrastructure without having to walk long distances, such as water, electricity, hospitals and markets. Security will be guaranteed. The fact that people will live togeth er without ethnic distinctions will be another advantage. The insurgents will have difficulties infiltrating a site which groups together people with different political aspirations, and this can be a guarantee for the security of persons and of the count ry. If the sites are built near the fields of the residents, and if each person has access to his plot, the villages grouped together will be preferable to those that are dispersed. It is also necessary to reimburse, as soon as possible, the people whose land has been expropriated for the creation of the villages."

Théonèste Hakizimana, an architect who had served with the insurgents in Rwerere and who deserted them in July 1998, gave his opinion.

"We are in favour of the villagisation in the interests of our security. If villagisation did not succeed in Butare or Kibungo, it is because they have not known the exhausting and mortal security situation that we have lived through. When the houses are d ispersed, the insurgents can easily infiltrate a hill and begin their operations. When the army intervenes to retaliate, it cannot distinguish between the infiltrators and peasants. The result is death. Even when someone is against the infiltrators, he ca nnot refuse to house and feed someone who is armed. When the homes are grouped together, the insurgents' relatives will be afraid to shelter infiltrators, knowing that their neighbours can see them. The population will be better protected in case of confr ontations between the army and the insurgents because the fight will be concentrated in one area rather than being spread all over. In addition, there will be local defence forces in each site."

Stanislas Shimiti, a farmer living in a camp in Nyamutera, commented:

"Rwandese culture is not, generally, favourable to villages which are grouped together. But the difficult times that we recently experienced have forced us to choose between this system and the old villages which are dispersed. What is important for us is security; for that reason, the sectors and cellules should be brought closer together."

A Handicap: The Lack of Uniformity and Consistency

One of the most common criticisms of the programme is what appears to be lack of consistency within the same commune. This creates suspicion; people are worried that the neighbours who continue to live in their homes might assist the insurgents, either wi llingly or through intimidation. It is not feasible to create all the villages at the same time even within a single commune. But the plan within each commune should be worked out in consultation with representatives of local people in order to ease their anxieties. In Kinigi, for example, displaced people living near the commune office said they would not consider a move to the villages as long as others who lived nearby were settled in their own homes. Bernadette Mukandutiye and Donatille Nyiramdundu fi rst became displaced in Kinigi in May 1997 when threats from the insurgents forced them to seek sanctuary at the commune office. Bernadette explained their hesitations.

"The villages grouped together are the ideal from the point of view of security for the future.. But it has been poorly practised in our commune because the population of the commune is treated differently. While we, who are in the camp, wait to go to the s ites selected for villagisation, another part of the population has already left for the villages and others are living in their homes. Others continue to live with the insurgents in the volcanic forest. Those living in their homes are better off than we are. Some time ago they used to regard us as their enemies because hunger made us follow the soldiers, when they went on operations, to look for something to eat in their fields. They might, and they sometimes do, alert the insurgents. This is what should be done so that we can live in the villages: bring all those who are still living in their homes here, to the camp, so that we can all leave together for the villages without discrimination. Or else, the authorities should, first of all, move those livin g in their homes to the villages and we will join them. These conditions must be fulfilled before we will want to move."

Donatille agreed with Bernadette, but added that they did not feel it was safe enough to return home either.

"Despite all these problems, we don't want to go home before permanent peace has been established. If we were forced to go home, we would prefer to be killed by the State."

Expropriation of Land for the Creation of Camps and Villages: The Demand for Compensation

The people whose land has been taken to establish the camps for the displaced and for the villagisation programme were promised compensation. But they have not yet been paid. They want to be reimbursed both for the agricultural produce they lost, and more importantly, for the land. They criticise this failure to reimburse them in strong terms, saying it has left them impoverished. Even those who have not been directly affected, including local officials, and who are otherwise in favour of villagisation, m ade numerous references to this issue. Apart from the injustice it involves, they are worried about the broader negative consequences for the entire programme.

In Kinigi, a woman who had been living in a camp since May 1997, was one of those who have been affected.

"Before the massive arrival of displaced people, those of us who had been living here for a long time had grown potatoes and beans here. The seeds we had sown had cost us an arm and a leg. But all these plants were dug up in front of our eyes when the newl y displaced were given permission to construct their tents there. We haven't received anything. The bourgmestre told us: 'The important thing is your security; we will reimburse you for the losses'. But we are still waiting."

We found nothing in the northwest to substantiate the rumour, widespread in Kigali, that the land is being confiscated so that high-ranking military and civilian officials who own cattle can establish farms. These allegations need to be looked at in more depth. But during this visit both local government officials and peasants dismissed the rumours out of hand. The bourgmestre of Rwerere, Ramadhan Barengayabo, commented:

"Personally I could not allow, or tolerate, this. But moreover, the vegetation in our region-almost the entire region of Gisenyi and a significant part of Ruhengeri-is not suitable for cattle. Only the natural forest of Gishwati is favourable to the creati on of farms and it is already occupied. In the remaining areas, it would only be possible to raise perhaps goats."

Théonèste Dukuzumuremyi, the bourgmestre of Cyabingo, echoed Ramadhan's opinion.

"There is no substance to the rumours that we are placing the population in villages so those senior military officers who own cows can take their land. There would be an outcry from the population and we ourselves could not let allow such a serious mistake to be committed."

Justice and the Question of Reconciliation

The government's policy of a general pardon and a welcome for everyone who has left the insurgents, including résistants and partisans, is dictated by the imperative of defeating the insurgents. As noted above, this policy has contributed significantly to breaking the back of the insurgency. Now, the résistants are living side by side with the people they tried to kill only yesterday, whose property they destroyed or stole and whose relatives and friends they have murdered. Justice and reconciliation are burning issues in the northwest. The fact that people are living in close proximity in the camps, and the intimate nature of the violence-between relatives, neighbours and colleagues-add to the complexity. As virtually every interviewee commented, the que stion of reconciliation in the northwest concerns essentially the Hutu community since there are few Tutsis in the region. Some people said they did not have a problem reconciling with the résistants and partisans because they believe they were forced to act under the orders of the ex-FAR and interahamwe. But many others argued forcefully that the government should at least e ncourage the résistants who had killed to acknowledge their crimes. A teacher in Kanama said that his half-brother, a résistant who had killed their two uncles, was living in the camp. He said they "did not greet each other and could never share anything" . "The camps", he added, "are inhabited by people who regard each other as enemies ". Others said they saw people in the camps with the possessions they had stolen from them; when they ask for them back, they are told to "forget what happened". The teache r in Kanama spoke of what he saw as the way forward.

"The demand for forgiveness and the decision to forgive is preferable to justice obtained through the judiciary. Nevertheless, the guilty person must take the initiative to ask for forgiveness and accept to repair the damage he has caused."

The résistants cannot hope to "repair the damage" they have caused given the scale of the destruction in the northwest. But they should be encouraged, as a gesture of goodwill, to hand back property they stole which is still in their possession. As the t eacher cited above noted, it is not the material value which is important, but the fact that the gesture implies recognition of the wrong that was done.

"We can forgive them, as most of them are poorer than us, the victims."

A group of women in Kinigi also stressed the importance of teaching the résistants "to acknowledge that they have done wrong and to approach the victims for pardon". Aaron Kambari, who has been made a widower three times by the insurgents in Nkuli, went further.

"I will only be ready to reconcile myself with the résistants and partisans when they have asked for forgiveness. But I think that the hardcore insurgents, who fought with their guns, should be distanced from the remaining population. Time is necessary for me to reconcile with the latter."

A group of 1959 refugees interviewed in Nkamira, Mutura, said that the government should not try to force the pace because reconciliation cannot be realised overnight. Instead, the government should concentrate on creating the conditions which would give people the confidence to come together and to take the necessary steps towards reconciliation. It should also, they said, battle energetically the lethal propaganda that the insurgents have used to promote their cause in the northwest. They too highlighte d the importance of teaching people to recognise the pain and grief they had inflicted on others, and to seek forgiveness from the individuals they had caused to suffer, not from the State. This, they said, applied as much to the Hutus who had wronged Tut sis, as to the Tutsis who had wreaked vengeance against Hutus in Mutura following the attack against the Congolese refugees in Mudende in August 1997.

In response, some bourgmestres have asked their councillors to call meetings in which the population "seek mutual forgiveness of one another". Given the complicated and sensitive situation which prevails in the northwest, it is not difficult to understand the reluctance of local officials to tread on this minefield. But this approach reduces the problem to one of collective guilt and sidelines individual responsibility. It does nothing to prompt the individuals who have committed serious crimes to look wi thin and to recognise and atone for the sorrow and devastation they have brought about. These issues are, of course, relevant in the larger national context. There are no easy answers, as the experience of the last five years shows, and as highlighted by the history of many other countries. The problem is, above all, a national issue. All sectors of society must play an active role in the search for feasible and durable solutions so as to secure a better future for the people of the northwest, Rwanda and the Great Lakes region.

Some Suggestions for Consideration

To the Government

* Unrealistic promises should be avoided at all costs, however serious the immediate problems that need to be tackled. This applies as much to the content of the promise-construction of houses, the delivery of humanitarian assistance-as to the proposed sc hedule;

* Policies should be, and should appear to be, clear, coherent and consistent. Lack of consistency, for example in the creation of villages, creates suspicion and may well defeat the purpose of the policy;

* In order not to jeopardise the dramatic improvements in security, incompetent bourgmestres and assistant bourgmestres should be replaced with competent officials. Communes which have lacked a bourgmestre for sometime, such as the urban commune of Rubavu in Gisenyi, should have an official appointed as soon as possible;

* The army needs to respond rapidly to reports of human rights abuses by soldiers and to act decisively to punish wrongdoers;

* The allegations concerning the misuse of aid by some local officials needs to be investigated so that the truth can be established, the officials concerned disciplined and a transparent system which has the confidence of the population established;

* Local defence forces should be individuals chosen by the local people themselves and not imposed by civilian or military authorities;

* Visits by high-level government delegations to the region should continue and cover as many communes as possible; they have provided a welcome opportunity to initiate a dialogue about current problems and about the future;

* The proposed government commission on reconciliation should not merely urge people to look to the future, but should study the concrete policies that would facilitate reconciliation and unity.

To the Diplomatic Community

* In order to judge the situation for themselves, diplomats and the staff of international organisations should visit the northwest as much as possible and for as long as possible. This is the only way to ensure that assessments and decisions about the no rthwest are based on a thorough understanding of the reality on the ground and to dispel the rumours that can stand in the way of helping the people of the northwest;

* Humanitarian assistance should be increased in order to alleviate needless suffering;

* International humanitarian organisations should avoid making promises that they cannot fulfil. The huge numbers of visits, many of which have not resulted in concrete help, waste the time of civilian and military authorities. They also create mistrust, giving people the impression that their commune has received far more aid than it has in fact been allocated.


Date: Sat, 30 Jan 1999 20:10:49 +0300 (EAT) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Subject: RWANDA: African Rights briefing paper on northwest 1999.1.29

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar,