Zaire: U.S. NGO Statements, 11/11/96

Zaire: U.S. NGO Statements, 11/11/96

Zaire: U.S. NGO Statements

Date Distributed (ymd): 961111

Contains (1) Statement by US Relief Agencies; (2) Statement by

Human Rights Watch/Africa.

US Relief Agencies Call for US Action on Zaire

November 8, 1996

Eighteen prominent US relief agencies today issued a statement calling on the US government to take immediate action before tens of thousands of people die in eastern Zaire. Here is the full text of the statement and the agencies that support it. All agencies are members of InterAction, a coalition of U.S. relief and refugee-assistance agencies.

Alarmed by the probability that tens of thousands of refugees in eastern Zaire will die within days unless urgent action is undertaken, the undersigned agencies call on the United States Government to take the following immediate steps:

1. Establish at an airfield in the region a logistics facility which can assist with the arrival and onward transport of personnel and supplies needed to meet the immediate needs of starving and sick refugees.

2. Agree without further delay to work with African and European governments to field an international military force capable of providing sufficient security to permit refugees to be assisted in Zaire pending their repatriation to Rwanda or eventual resettlement. The military force also would insure that combatants do not receive aid intended exclusively for the civilian population.

3. Exercise leadership within the United Nations Security Council to see that the Council makes clear to the governments of the region that any interference with humanitarian relief operations will alienate them from their friends in the international community.

This crisis in the Great Lakes region has erupted due to the failure for over two years of the international community to muster the political will necessary to address the underlying causes of instability in the region. As the most powerful and influential member of the international community, the United States government must commit itself to playing a leadership role in the resolution of this crisis, as it takes immediate steps to limit loss of life.


Africare; Church World Service; Doctors of the World; Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres; Food for the Hungry International; International Aid; International Rescue Committee; International Medical Corps; Lutheran World Relief; Map International; Operation USA; Mercy Corps International; Refugees International; Save the Children; United Methodist Committee on Relief; World Concern Development Organization; World Relief; World Vision

More information on these organizations, and current information on their programs relating to the Great Lakes Region, is available on the Interaction Web Site ( For more information contact: Colleen Ryan or Jim Bishop, InterAction, 1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 801, Washington, DC 20036. Phone: 202-667-8227, ext. 132; e-mail: or


Human Rights Watch/Africa, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104; TEL: 212/972-8400; FAX: 212/972-0905; E-mail:; 1522 K Street, N.W., Washington D.C. 20005 TEL: 202/371-6592; FAX: 202/371-0124; E-mail:

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Listserv address: To subscribe to the list for HRW/Africa

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For More Information: Alison DesForges (716) 881-2758; Janet Fleischman (202) 371-6592 x114; Peter Takirambudde (212) 972-8400 x248

Human Rights Watch/Africa Calls for Protection of Refugees in Eastern Zaire

(New York, November 7, 1996)--Human Rights Watch/Africa today called upon the international community to guarantee protection to the refugees in eastern Zaire. The human rights organization stated that to coerce them to return to unsafe situations in their home countries amounts to refoulement, which is a clear violation of international refugee law. "The international community cannot solve the humanitarian crisis in eastern Zaire by sacrificing the basic rights of refugees to avoid being forcibly returned to countries where they have cause to fear persecution," according to Peter Takirambudde, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch/Africa. "At the same time, those persons suspected of involvement in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as well as those now engaged in armed attacks against Rwanda and Burundi must be excluded from the protection afforded to legitimate refugees."

Donor governments, the UNHCR, and some aid organizations hope that the current desperate conditions in Zaire will drive most refugees to return, thus ending the problem of the refugee camps. The camps have been a source of insecurity because the former Rwandan army and militia have used them as bases from which to launch armed incursions into Rwanda. Those responsible for the genocide continue to control the camps, spurring hopes for a return to Rwanda by force and using terror and intimidation to discourage voluntary repatriation. One of the strategies currently being proposed by the United States and the UNHCR is to provide food and medical services within the refugees' home countries so as to attract the refugees back. While repatriation is an appropriate option for some of the refugees, it must be a voluntary process. Although migrants can be forcibly returned to their home countries, international law prohibits forcibly returning genuine refugees. Many of those who fled Rwanda and Burundi have legitimate grounds to fear persecution, given the nonfunctioning judicial systems and continuing military attacks on civilians, as described below. Given this, and in the absence of screening procedures to determine which of the migrants formally qualify as refugees, the presumption must be that all are refugees -- that is, that no forcible return is permitted.

Positive steps by Rwanda and Burundi to improve respect for human rights and ensure that the killing of civilians stops and that those responsible for past and present killings of civilians are investigated, tried with full respect for due process, and punished would certainly persuade more refugees to return voluntarily. Assurances that the international community would provide long-term monitoring of their situations should they return would also increase the likelihood of substantial numbers of people returning of their own volition.

Those suspected of genocide and crimes against humanity, like those involved in military activity against the governments of the home countries, have no right to the status of refugee and should be excluded from such status. Despite the difficulties in identifying the killers, mechanisms must be put in place to screen out those suspected of genocide from genuine refugees.

There are thousands of legitimate refugees in Zaire and many of them fear returning to Rwanda or Burundi because of insecurity: assassinations, disappearances, and attacks by military or militia on civilians. Those slaughtered by the Burundian army and militia affiliated with it number in the thousands this year, while some 600 civilians have been killed this year by Rwandan soldiers. In general, military authorities in Rwanda and Burundi refuse to acknowledge abuses on the part of their soldiers, often falsely asserting that the civilians were in fact infiltrators or their accomplices or that they were accidentally slain in an exchange of fire with infiltrators. In a rare and welcome departure from this policy, in late October a military officer in Burundi admitted that soldiers in the southern province of Bururi had massacred some fifty civilians and said that soldiers responsible would be punished.

Refugees also fear arbitrary arrest to be followed by an apparently limitless period of detention without trial -- as is the case in Rwanda, where 83,000 languish in inhumane conditions -- or by trial under conditions that fail to meet international standards of justice, as was recently the case in Burundi, where eighty-nine persons were sentenced to death and thirty-nine to life imprisonment without having had access to defense counsel. Initially lacking both the money and the personnel needed to begin trials, the Rwandan government is now adequately supplied with the necessary resources to start proceedings. A law adopted on September 1 divides perpetrators of genocide into different categories and assigns punishments for each. The government is conducting an information campaign to inform prisoners of the details of the law and to give them opportunities to confess, in return for which some may receive reduced sentences. This procedure should finish by the end of the year and the Rwandan government should be ready to begin trials by early January at the latest. Implementing the genocide law in a manner that ensures trials or release for all detainees within a reasonable time is essential to avoid creating legitimate fears of arbitrary detention among refugees.

In order to guard against arbitrary detention based on false or unsupported allegations of complicity in the genocide, the Rwandan government should establish prompt judicial review of all detentions. In addition, to assure that those detained face trial within the near future, the government should announce the date when the trials of those accused of genocide will begin, and provide concrete information about the proceedings and provisions being made for defense counsel. To address the refugees' fears of attacks by the Rwandan military once they return to their home communes, the government must acknowledge and condemn killings by the military and begin investigation and prosecution of those responsible. Since the military courts are functioning, these trials should begin immediately.

Many Rwandan refugees also fear that they will have no home or no fields to plant if they return; they fear that if they find their property occupied and attempt to regain it, they may be imprisoned on false charges of genocide. Soon after the establishment of the current government, it set up property commissions to resolve conflicts between returned refugees and squatters who had occupied their property, but such commissions have been unable to resolve most such disputes. The Rwandan government should increase the resources and authority of such commissions so that they are able to guarantee the rights of the returned refugees.

To help ensure the security of those who return, the international community must commit itself to engage in long-term monitoring of refugees in their home communes. The most appropriate mechanism available to conduct such monitoring would be the United Nations Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda, which has a mandate "to monitor the ongoing human rights situation, and through their presence help redress existing problems and prevent possible human rights violations from occurring." Deploying the additional human rights officers needed to monitor the return of the refugees will require significant new resources, but this cost is far less than what would be needed to provide continuing assistance for people too fearful of persecution to return home.

Those legitimate refugees who choose to remain in Zaire, however, must not be deprived of the essentials of life in order to force them to repatriate; to engage in a program of selective feeding and offer them food only if they return to Rwanda would be the equivalent of refoulement, a practice prohibited by international refugee law. The international community did nothing to stop Burundi from forcibly returning some 80,000 refugees to Rwanda in July and August. Those refugees have been generally well-received in Rwanda, but their relatively trouble-free return does not excuse the practice or make it acceptable as a model for the current situation. Nor does it eliminate grounds for fear among the refugees now in Zaire. In the absence of the establishment of the rule of law through a denunciation of arbitrary killing, the investigation and prosecution of those responsible, and the creation of a mechanism to avoid arbitrary detention, there is nothing to prevent the Rwandan authorities from persecuting returning refugees.

In delivering assistance to those who decide to stay in Zaire, the UNHCR and aid organizations must exclude those suspected of genocide or crimes against humanity and those involved in military activity against their home governments. Despite the inherent difficulties in identifying the killers and conducting effective screening, the international community should seize the opportunity provided by the movement of large numbers of the refugees and the possibility that international troops might be deployed in the region to attempt to separate the killers from the general refugee population. Those indicted by international or national courts, and those who held command responsibility in either the civilian or military structures of the former Rwandan government or in the militia should not receive aid and they must not be able to take control again of refugee camps. At a minimum, arms should not be permitted in any camp where humanitarian aid is going to be provided. If new camps are established, they should be located a sufficient distance away from the international borders to prevent them posing a threat to neighboring countries.

The international community has thus far failed in its obligation to bring to justice persons charged with genocide. It was slow in providing the needed resources for the International Tribunal for Rwanda to begin its work. It has allowed Cameroon to delay for months in delivering Col. Theonest Bagosora, the most important leader indicted, to the custody of the Tribunal in Arusha. It has done nothing about establishing an international tribunal to investigate and try cases of genocide and crimes against humanity in Burundi, although the United Nations Commission of Inquiry found that acts of genocide had been committed there. The international community, including neighboring states, must be reminded of the importance of cooperating with the Tribunal.

If the UNHCR, donor governments, and aid organizations determine that an armed force is necessary to permit delivery of humanitarian assistance, such a force must include the protection of human rights in its mandate. At the very least, any such force must have the authority to locate and detain persons suspected of leading the genocide in order to deliver them to the International Tribunal or national courts. The lesson of UNPROFOR in Bosnia clearly demonstrates the futility of an international force with a mandate only to feed people but not to protect them from violence. Thus, if a force is deployed, it should be mandated and adequately equipped to protect and promote human rights within its zone, including protecting the civilians from attack.

The international community has not taken seriously its efforts to control the flow of arms to this region. Although the UN established a commission to investigate allegations that arms were being delivered to the forces of the former Rwandan government in violation of a UN arms embargo, it has done nothing to act on the findings of the commission. In fact, the Security Council is currently deciding whether or not to release the commission's report, which deals with arms transfers as well as issues directly relating to the genocide and the current crisis.

The presence of former Rwandan soldiers and militia in eastern Zaire has exacerbated pre-existing hostility against Zairians ethnically related to the Tutsi of Rwanda and Burundi. Former Rwandan soldiers and militia reportedly joined in attacks on Zairian Tutsi in North Kivu six months ago as well as in more recent attacks on the Banyamulenge of South Kivu. The actions of the Zairian parliament in declaring that Tutsi should be removed from government employment, the statement of the Deputy Governor of South Kivu that all Tutsi must leave within one week or face attack, and the participation of Zairian military in attacks on Tutsi or their failure to stop such violence by civilians have created fears that the government will permit or itself engage in large-scale killings of Tutsi. Bands of civilians, sometimes with official support, have already driven Tutsi from their homes and pillaged their property in Kinshasa as well as in eastern Zaire. Zairian political leaders and interest groups maintain that the people attacked are transplanted Rwandans, although they were born in Zaire and some of them descend from families that have lived there for centuries. The government of Zaire must recognize the right to nationality and must cease denationalizing Banyamulenge and other people ethnically related to Tutsi who qualify for Zairian citizenship. The government of Zaire is responsible for the safety of all civilians within its borders, regardless of their citizenship, and must take measures to ensure that military and civilian authorities provide such protection.


To the Security Council, UNHCR, international donor countries and international aid agencies:

1. Guarantee the right of legitimate refugees to protection from forcible repatriation and ensure that humanitarian supplies are provided in Zaire for those legitimate refugees who decide not to return to their home countries.

2. Institute screening procedures in Zaire to exclude from refugee status those suspected of genocide or crimes against humanity and armed combatants. At a minimum, prohibit arms from any camp where humanitarian assistance is being provided.

3. Publish immediately the UN Commission of Inquiry's report on arms flows, and undertake to act on its conclusions.

4. Put pressure on the governments of Rwanda and Burundi to ensure that returning refugees are protected from killing, arbitrary arrest, and harassment. Work with these governments to see that immediate steps are taken to encourage voluntary repatriation.

5. Pressure the government of Rwanda to begin trials of those accused of genocide by the first of the year.

6. Pressure the government of Burundi to institute immediate reforms of its judicial system to comply with international standards of due process and fairness.

7. Pressure the governments of Rwanda and Burundi to bring to trial those soldiers responsible for serious human rights abuses.

8. Ensure that if camps are re-opened, that they be situated a reasonable distance from the Rwandan and Burundian borders.

To the Zairian government:

1. The government of Zaire should officially restore the citizenship of the Banyamulenge and other persons said to be "Tutsi" who qualified for citizenship prior to the 1981 law.

2. Zairian civilian and military authorities from the highest levels down must acknowledge and condemn all attacks against civilians. Zairian soldiers and civilians responsible for attacks and looting throughout Zaire, as well as all those responsible for attacks against Tutsi throughout the country, should be investigated and brought to justice.

3. The government should institute reforms of the judicial system to comply with international standards of due process and fairness.

To the United Nations:

1. Publish immediately the UN Commission of Inquiry's report on arms flows, and undertake to act on its conclusions.

2. Provide additional human and material resources for the UN Human Rights Field Operations in Rwanda and Burundi, so they are able to conduct long-term monitoring of the situation of returning refugees.

3. Create an ad hoc tribunal to try genocide and crimes against humanity in Burundi, since it is highly unlikely that domestic courts would conduct fair trails for those individuals on both sides who have been responsible for gross human rights abuses. Because the continuing conflict in Burundi results in large part from mutual fear between the majority Hutu and the minority Tutsi, prosecutions are especially important as a way to eradicate impunity and end the cycles of violence that have plagued Burundi for so many years.

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in 1978 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East and among the signatories of the Helsinki accords. Its Africa division was established in 1988 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally recognized human rights in sub-Saharan Africa.


Message-Id: <> From: Date: Mon, 11 Nov 1996 23:04:18 -0500 Subject: Zaire: U.S. NGO Statements

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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