Republic of Rwanda is one of Africa's smallest countries in east-central
However, although it is a small country it is rich in resources and
Yet, for decades it has remained in a densely populated nation of
poverty, victimised by bad government and furious tribal hatreds.
population consists of three main tribes: the majority, 84%, are Hutu, the
Tutsi make up almost 14%, and other groups the remaining 2%.
While the Hutu and Tutsi have similarities and a common history,
they have been rivals for many years.
Before colonisation by Belgium, the Tutsis had economic domination
despite being a minority, and for over 500 years they had remained
politically dominant, oppressing the land-owning Hutu majority.
The ethnic identity of the Rwandese is traditionally determined on
a patrilineal basis, taking sole account of the father's ethnicity.
Thus, in a mixed marriage where the father is Tutsi, the children
will be considered Tutsis regardless of the ethnicity of their mother.
In Rwanda, every individual's ethnic identity is clearly indicated
on his or her identity card.
1959, Tutsi domination was ended when a violent revolt resulted in a
reversal of the roles and the Hutu majority came to power.
Tens of thousands of Tutsis fled Rwanda and entered Uganda as
Since then, conflict has plagued the Republic and ethnic
distinctions remained strong in the mind of the Rwandese people.
It is suggested that this that this was not only fuelled by
feelings of anger and frustration among the Hutu at how they were treated
in the past, but also because of evidence of ethnic propagandists
asserting its importance, and thereby manipulating Hutu feelings of ethnic
Such propaganda succeeded in persuading many people to become
involved in the massacres which arose in 1994.
OF THE PRESIDENT
peace accord to end the conflict, the Arusha Peace Agreement, was signed
on August 14th 1993.
Less than a year later in 1994, the peace process ended with the
sudden death of President Habyarimana on April 6th 1994 when his plane was
shot down as it landed in Kigali.
Within one hour, many roadblocks had been assembled and a violent,
bloody war ignited.
The evidence would suggest that the serious human rights violations
which followed, were part of a pre-planned agenda of the ethnic majority,
massacres which occurred were systematic and particularly horrific.
Tutsis were attacked and killed with machetes, axes, cudgels and
The victims were hunted down even in their final refuge -
orphanages, hospitals, churches.
No one was spared.
Not even babies.
The exact number of killings in 1994 may never be known, but
hundreds of thousands died.
ATROCITIES THAT OCCURRED
massacres which swept over Rwanda in 1990's were not a surprise to the
Conflicts have sporadically occurred in 1912, 1959, throughout the
1960s, 1973 and 1990 - all setting a pattern for the 1994 eruption.
However, that year saw unprecedented violence, severe human rights
violations, systematic, widespread and flagrant breaches of international
humanitarian law and genocide.
& WILLFUL KILLINGS
two days after the death of the President, a campaign of mass murder of
Tutsis was put into action, carried out primarily by the Hutus.
Eyewitness accounts indicate that house to house searches were
conducted in Kigali by the Presidential Guard, Rwandanese Army troops and interahamwe
militia (Hutu extremists).
Tutsi civilians were hunted down and killed.
Churches were surrounded by soldiers who prevented Tutsis from
Within one week, the Presidential Guard and militia had killed an
estimated 20,000 people in Kigali.
Corpses filled the streets of Ngenda, Butare, Kibungo, Kibeho and
systematic and calculated nature of these mass executions becomes evident
from the planned and methodical way in which people were incited to
murder, and the way in which large groups of the same ethnicity were
brutally hunted down and slaughtered.
In addition to race hate propaganda disseminated by the Radio des
Milles Collines, posters and leaflets were distributed which dehumanised
Tutsis as 'snakes', 'cockroaches' and 'animals'.
holocaust that Rwanda suffered is shocking and incongruous with what we
have come to call a civil world.
The following are just a few accounts of the extent to which
executions were carried out :
In the town of Butare, on April 1994 it is reported that 600
persons most of whom were Tutsis, were killed in the commune of Mnugaza.
The perpetrators were from the Hutu militia.
22-23 April, at the Butare University Hospital, 170 patients (wounded and
sick) all Tutsis and 5 members of the medical staff, were kidnapped and
then beaten to death or cut to pieces.
The perpetrators were interahamwe
Another town, Kibuye, also saw the face of death everywhere.
Reportedly 15,000 Tutsis were grouped together at the Stadium of
Gatwaro, and massacred by interhamwe militia on 18th April.
In Gikongoro, 88 students were singled out because of their Tutsi
origin and murdered.
The 13 Rwandese Red Cross volunteers who tried to protect the
children, were also murdered.
enough, a report published by African
Rights indicates that women played a surprisingly active role in some of
of every social category took part in the killings' inflicting cruelty
and death on men, other women and children.
They also report that the extent to which women were involved in
the murders is unprecedented anywhere in the world.
Some women killed with their hands, while others, such as female
councillors in Kigali, led the militia to refugees in their hiding places,
who then abducted them. Many nurses in the Butare's University Hospital
gave the militia and soldiers lists of patients, colleagues and refugees
to be killed.
has been reported that systematic and planned rape was the weapon of war
and genocide used to humiliate and terrorise women and girls, their
families and their communities. In 1994, almost every adolescent girl who
survived the genocide in Rwanda was raped.
Due to the nature of the crime of rape, there are always
difficulties in gathering accurate statistics as to the number of women
who were victims.
Rape is an offence to which women and girls are uniquely
vulnerable, and the effect may not be physically evident but certainly is
psychologically and emotionally damaging.
Secrecy, reticence and shame cover up this tragedy.
Rwanda's population office has estimated war time pregnancies as
between 2,000 to 5,000.
women however, are risking their lives to speak out against their
At the first trial before the ICTR, some women gave evidence
against Jean Paul Akayesu, the former mayor of Taba.
One 38 year old, a Tutsi who lived in Taba told the UN Tribunal
that he was behind many of the atrocities in the district.
Hidden from view, she also testified that at a meeting Akayesu said
is hiding Tutsis must bring them out even a women who is married to a
Tutsi and is pregnant must be found and her pregnancy ended.' Another
woman testified that she suffered multiple rapes at the hands of Hutu
militants led by Akayesu.
He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him.
Genocide Convention of 1948 (adopted 1951) affirms that genocide is a
crime under international law.
Genocide means any of the acts laid out in Article 2 of the
Convention, which are committed with intent to destroy whole or in part, a
national, ethical, racial, or religious group.
These acts include killing members of the group.
The figures which represent the groups of Tutsis killed in the
brutal massacres in 1994 undoubtedly qualify as evidence of genocide :
Cyahinda over 5,800 Tutsis who sought refuge in a church were murdered.
In Kigali thousands of Tutsis sought refuge in the Amahoro stadium,
the Sainte Famillie church and other locations.
Militia entered at night on several occasions, removed hundreds and
The genocidal murders of Tutsis continued under the control of the
Rwandese 'provisional government'.
Estimates put the number murdered between April 6th and July 15th
1994 at half a million.
motivation behind the ferocity of the killings may be attributed to the
long history of violence between Hutu and Tutsi, and the events of 1994
were just another example of ethnic killing, albeit extreme.
However, the evidence is overwhelming in support of the fact that
it was incited far beyond its historical context, by propaganda. Public
authorities have been reported to openly involve themselves in the
perpetration of massacres of Tutsi through explicit orders.
An example of this is when the President of the interim government,
Mr. Sindikubwabo, urged the population to 'get
to work' in a speech at Butare, in the Rwandese sense of the
term by using their machetes and axes.
is evident from these reports that serious violations of human rights and
international humanitarian law have occurred in Rwanda.
Before dealing with the law that is applicable to such
circumstances it is important to consider two issues.
that the law that applies to internal conflict is different to that
applied to international conflict.
that the individual rather than the State should be held responsible
for the human rights violations which took place in Rwanda.
regard to the first issue, the Commission of Experts, in their preliminary
report of 1994, has concluded that the conflict in Rwanda is in fact armed
conflict of a non-international nature.
As a result, the law which applies includes
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949
The norms prohibiting crimes against humanity
The Genocide Convention.
does not mean to say that because the conflict has taken place within the
boarders of Rwanda, that the violence does not affect and concern the
It merely classifies the nature of the conflict for the purposes of
applying appropriate international law.
to the second issue, it is far more a priority to ensure that individual
responsibility is recognised by international law, than state
responsibility in circumstances of war crimes.
It is suggested that an effective way to deter human rights
violations may be to expose individuals responsible to the risk of
international legal sanction in a personal capacity.
This principle that individuals shall be held responsible for
serious violations of human rights (universally recognised by the
international community) is the same principle that guides the operation
of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL FOR RWANDA
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was established on
November 8th, 1994 by Resolution 955 of the Security Council under Chapter
VII of the Charter of the United Nations.
It is located in Rwanda and it creates a binding obligation on all
Member States to cooperate fully with the Tribunal.
purpose behind the Tribunal is to prosecute individuals who fall into one
of two groups or both: they are either those persons responsible for
genocide and other serious violations in international humanitarian law
committed in the territory of Rwanda, and/or those Rwandan citizens who
are responsible for genocide and other such violations committed in the
territory of neighbouring states, between January 1st and December 31st
jurisdiction of the ICTR is laid down in the statute of the Tribunal under
Articles 2-4 giving it the power to try persons committing genocide,
crimes against humanity, violations to Article 3 common to the Geneva
Conventions of 1949, and Additional Protocol II.
In accordance with the principle that individuals shall be held
responsible for serious violations of human rights, the Tribunal also has
jurisdiction over 'natural persons', additionally it has concurrent
jurisdiction with national courts, but it has primacy over the national
courts of all States (Article 8).
structure of the Tribunal is similar to that of the ICTFY, having three
main organs -
the Chambers comprising two trial chambers and the Appeals Chamber
total, there are eleven independent judges no two of whom may be from the
The President is elected by the judges.
Finally the rights of the accused are laid down by Article 20
including the right not to be tried in absentia.
Should the accused be found guilty, penalties are limited to
imprisonment and/or an order to return property.
A sentence shall be served in Rwanda, or any state on a list of
states which have indicated their willingness to accept convicted persons
TRIBUMAL AT WORK
ICTR has been established to ensure that justice prevails over all forms
of human right violations in war time conditions, especially where
national courts are unable or unwilling to bring perpetrators to justice.
It has been described as the 'acid test' for UN member states as to
whether or not a permanent International Criminal Tribunal is feasible.
first trial before the UN Tribunal in Arusha, Tanzania, commenced with
Jean Paul Akayesu in the dock.
He was the former mayor of Taba and stands accused of genocide and
several crimes against humanity, including rape (as mentioned above).
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.
One of the judges hearing testimonies stated that 'Never
before in history has such evidence emerged of sexual violence being used
as a military strategy on such a large scale as in Rwanda.'
the Tribunal Working?
the fact that the Tribunal has lists of alleged perpetrators and has
started hearing trials, the ICTR is not without its problems. A
UN Inspector's report issued early in 1997 described misplacement of
tribunal funds, gross mismanagement and a lack of commitment to the
purpose of the tribunal.
It is experiencing similar problems to the Tribunal for the Former
Yugoslavia, especially in the field of investigation and the failure to
apprehend persons indicted of the crimes.
problems however, do not necessarily mean that the Tribunal is doomed to
It is experiencing some of the 'teething problems' which are
inevitable in any new institution. The similar difficulties experienced by
the Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia indicate flaws which need to be
addressed in tribunals of this nature, and it must be done swiftly.
Additionally these problems must be taken into consideration when
establishing the permanent ICC.
If the international community is trying to make a statement
globally that it does not tolerate behaviour which is an affront to the
basic rights of humanity, then it must strengthen the institution through
which it makes that statement.
It will only become the subject of distrust by citizens who are
victims of atrocities and of ridicule to the perpetrators who will
continue to evade justice.
the turmoil and devastation that swept over Rwanda in 1994, not only was
the physical structure of towns and villages destroyed, but so too was the
judicial system and other institutions.
However, since then the Rwandanese government has commenced the
very difficult process of gathering its pieces and setting the judicial
system and other institutions functioning once again.
Efforts are clearly being made by the Rwandese government to bring
to trial those suspected perpetrators of crimes of genocide and violations
of other international humanitarian law.
The start of trials is a significant step towards justice and
ending the culture of impunity.
However, the circumstances surrounding these trials have caused
deep concern about the level of fairness which exists in the judicial
observations of trials which have already taken place in Rwandese courts,
Amnesty International has observed in its report, that two issues are of
The first relates to the pace of arrests, and the second to the
actual conduct of the trials.
With regard to the first issue, it has been reported that the
manner in which arrests have been carried out in Rwanda is arbitrary.
This has led to almost 100,000 people being held in prisons across
What is more, the consequent overcrowding of prisoners exists in
conditions which amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, Amnesty
It is feared that a significant proportion of these people are in
wave of arbitrary arrests is not entirely surprising, given the hostility
and resentment which many of the surviving Tutsis must be festering.
However, the repercussions can be just as grave and disconcerting
if innocent men are brought to trial, many of whom face the death penalty,
when the real perpetrators and conspirators live in liberty.
This is especially disturbing as Rwandan law recognises the death
penalty, - as may be found in the new law adopted in Rwanda called the
Organic Law on the Organisation of Prosecutions for Offences Constituting
the Crime of Genocide or Crimes Against Humanity Committed since 1st
October 1990 (Organic Law No.8/96).
Article 2 of this law divides defendants into four categories,
category 1 defendants get the death penalty.
regard to the second issue, it appears that the judicial system needs to
Not only is there a shortage of personnel - the number of
practising defence lawyers in Rwanda totalling 16 - but the judges who
hear these trials are inadequately trained, some having received only up
to six months training, others never having any prior legal training at
result is that lawyers are being made to represent defendants with little
or no time for preparation, trials being heard in record time and
defendants being swiftly sent to the gallows.
This type of justice is questionable and disturbing.
is no doubt that the Rwandese government deserves credit for being anxious
to redress the injustice that Rwandese people have suffered and repair the
broken nation by declaring that it will not tolerate violations of human
rights to any extent.
However, it seems that the judicial system needs some strengthening
A further imbalance is evident when the maximum sentencing in the
ICTR is imprisonment while that of the Rwandese national courts is death.
This can mean that the more serious perpetrators and conspirators
(if ever arrested) will be sentenced to jail in the ICYTR, whereas the
100,000 who are being held, perhaps wrongfully, will be executed.
Those in support of capital punishment would argue that the UN
Tribunal should impose the death penalty, but many feel that not even life
imprisonment should be an option.
prepared by Nalini Lalla, LLB