Before 1994, Rwanda was the most densely populated country in continental Africa. Between April and August 1994, that statistic shifted radically, as Rwanda lost 20 percent to 40 percent of its population to slaughter or exile.
Within a matter of weeks this past spring, the name "Rwanda" became synonymous with carnage and violence on a massive scale. Images of executions and massacres flooded the media, shocking the international community. An organized campaign of violence was carried out, during which the Tutsi were referred to as "cockroaches" and "the enemy," and Rwandan radio broadcasters exhorted every Hutu to kill Tutsi, complaining that "graves are still only half full." In less than four months, between 500,000 and a million people were killed. Before 1994, Rwanda was the most densely populated country in continental Africa. Between April and August 1994, that statistic shifted radically, as Rwanda lost 20 percent to 40 percent of its population to slaughter or exile.
As one participant in the Institute conference stated, "Genocide has worked in Rwanda." Precise figures are difficult to obtain. Over the past thirty years, however, the cycle of violence and counter-violence in Rwanda and neighboring Burundi has resulted in the killing of between 300,000 and 600,000 people--and that was before the carnage in 1994. Elites maneuvering for power have, for decades, been able to manipulate ethnic rivalries for political ends without any fear of being called to account for their actions. Rejection of this culture of impunity will be crucial to ending the cycle of violence and achieving authentic national reconciliation. To this end, the Rwandan government and the international community must provide a clear and public demonstration that those who organize or engage in such genocidal activity will be held accountable.
The United Nations Security Council has taken the first important step toward the goal of accountability by establishing the "International Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Genocide and Other Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law Committed in the Territory of Rwanda and Rwandan citizens responsible for genocide and other such violations committed in the territory of neighboring States, between 1 January 1994 and 31 December 1994." The approach adopted by the Security Council largely affirms the conclusions reached at the Institute's conference, at which a variety of options and approaches for establishing an international tribunal were analyzed and debated by senior officials and policymakers from Rwanda, the United States, and the UN, and by several academic experts. This report discusses the choices made by the UN Security Council on key features of the International Tribunal for Rwanda and recommends several further steps to be taken.
The population of Rwanda is composed primarily of two ethnic groups, the Hutu (85 percent) and the Tutsi (14 percent). In 1959, Rwanda's Hutu majority rebelled against their former Tutsi overlords. By 1960, the Hutu-dominated party, Parmehutu, had gained political control of Rwanda, which it retained after the country achieved independence in 1962. Ethnic violence erupted in December 1963, with the killing of more than 20,000 Tutsi and the exodus of 100,000. Tutsi refugees tried unsuccessfully to invade Rwanda from neighboring countries a number of times. After each failed invasion, the Tutsi in Rwanda faced severe reprisals; one attack in late 1963 for instance, resulted in the killing of 10,000 Tutsi. After a few years of relative calm, tensions between Hutu and Tutsi again escalated in the early 1970s. In 1973, Juvenal Habyarimana seized power in a coup d'etat, citing the need to establish order, and continued as president for the next twenty-one years.
Over the next two decades, although President Habyarimana claimed to have instituted a program to ease ethnic tensions and create a balance between the two ethnic groups, most observers saw the initiative as perpetuating discrimination against the Tutsi. Worsening economic conditions in the late 1980s also increased opposition to Habyarimana. Responding to both international and domestic pressures, Habyarimana had recently announced a new program of political reform when the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from bases in Uganda on October 1, 1990. The government responded by arresting and imprisoning 8,000-10,000 people around the country, primarily Tutsi and suspected opponents of Habyarimana, and holding many of them without charge for several months. The conflict continued through 1991 and 1992, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of an estimated 100,000 persons.
Early in 1992, political organizations affiliated with President Habyarimana formed two militias--the Interahamwe ("Those Who Attack Together") and the Impuzamugambi ("Those Who Have the Same Goal"). Trained and supplied by the Rwandan army, the militias were involved in the killing of more than 2,000 civilians, mostly Tutsi. They would play a central role in the atrocities that commanded the world's attention in 1994.
During late 1992 and 1993, the Rwandan government and the RPF negotiated a series of agreements in Arusha, Tanzania, culminating in the signing of a comprehensive accord in August 1993 that provided for a programmed demobilization, the creation of an integrated army, a new transitional government with a prime minister acceptable to both sides, and multiparty general elections with the full participation of the RPF. Hutu extremists, including many close to Habyarimana, were vehemently opposed to the accords and the consequent reduction of their own power.
Unfortunately, the tentative peace resulting from the Arusha Accords was short-lived. Massive ethnic massacres in Burundi in October 1993 fueled tensions in Rwanda. Political assassinations and a reign of terror by the militias increased. On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira crashed near Kigali airport, killing both men and igniting an explosion of violence and brutality.
Hutu extremists immediately accused the RPF of assassinating President Habyarimana. Almost instantly, Hutu soldiers, the presidential guard, and the militias began to hunt down and kill Tutsi civilians. Sufficient evidence exists to confirm that the slaughter that ensued was not chaotic, uncontrolled violence, but rather a planned and organized campaign of genocide. Hutus suspected of opposing extremist policies were also targeted for slaughter, in cluding moderate members of Habyarimana's cabinet who were searched out and killed within hours of the plane crash.
In many countries that have suffered a campaign of massive violations of human rights, the violence has been perpetrated mainly by military and political organizations associated with the regime, leaving the rest of society to go about its business with relatively clean hands. In striking contrast, the Rwandan atrocities were characterized by the deliberate attempt to force public participation on as broad a basis as possible, co-opting everyone into the carnage against Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The militias were tightly organized throughout the country, inciting civilians to participate in the massacres. Many Hutu were forced to choose between killing or being killed. If Tutsi deaths were not of sufficient number in a region, experienced killers were brought in from other areas to intensify the massacres.
Fighting between the Rwandan army and the RPF resumed on April 7, the day after the plane crash. On July 18, 1994, with the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government in flight, the RPF declared victory and established a new government of national unity. After three months of fighting, between 500,000 and a million Tutsi had been exterminated. Up to two million refugees, overwhelmingly Hutu and constituting 25 to 30 percent of the pre-April population of Rwanda, are estimated to have fled the country for refugee camps in Zaire and Tanzania. The capital city, Kigali, was left in ruin. Of the 350,000 inhabitants before the war, only 40,000 to 50,000 remained. There was no running water, no electricity, no government infrastructure, and nearly every building was damaged.
On July 1, 1994, the UN Security Council called for the appointment of a Commission of Experts to investigate and make recommendations concerning "grave violations of international humanitarian law" and "evidence of possible acts of genocide" in Rwanda. On September 29, 1994, the Commission of Experts submitted a preliminary report to the Security Council in which it recommended the establishment of an international tribunal to prosecute war crimes and genocide committed in the country since April 6 of this year. Rather than awaiting the commission's final report and recommendations, the Security Council voted on November 8 to create the tribunal. In accordance with its mandate, the Commission of Experts submitted its final report at the end of November.
In the absence of a formal judicial process, it has been difficult to contain a surge of counter-violence and revenge killings of returning refugees suspected of participation in the April-July massacres, as RPF soldiers and civilians dispense a more brutal form of "justice." These violent incidents of collective vengeance not only threaten the international assistance that the new government desperately needs to rebuild the country, but also impede the return of the refugees and risk plunging Rwanda into a new round of widespread violence. The prompt beginning of a visible prosecution process is required to demonstrate that people need not take the law into their hands.