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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—December 12, 1997

Speakers: Richard Bogosian, State Department Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi, Justin Forsythe, Oxfam International, David Shorr, Refugees International, and Tony Jackson, International Alert
December 12, 1997
Council on Foreign Relations


[Note: A transcript of this meeting is unavailable. The discussion is summarized below.]

The meeting featured updates and reports by State Department Coordinator for Rwanda and Burundi, Ambassador Richard Bogosian; Justin Forsythe of Oxfam International; David Shorr of Refugees International; and Tony Jackson of International Alert.

Situation Report


  • There are continuing security problems in northwestern Rwanda, including attacks on jails to release accused “genocidaires.”
  • The visit of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, ended with a very negative atmosphere. She made a strong public statement that antagonized the government. Before the statement, there may have been some progress in private talks.


  • Nyerere indicates he may want to hold another meeting. It would be less a negotiation than a dialogue about how to move negotiations along.
  • Trials of those accused in the 1993 events are continuing. They are becoming more serious, involving more senior people. The international community is concerned whether there will be more executions.
  • The Center for Human Rights (U.N.) is providing lawyers for some of the accused. The atmosphere in the court is calm, and the attitude to the justice system is beginning to change. Only 15 percent rather than 50 percent of the accused are without lawyers.
  • UNESCO organized a dialogue in Paris. Next they are planning a meeting of historians.
  • Plans for a national convention are confused. FRODEBU was suspended, then the suspension was annulled. There are differences in the government.

Democratic Republic of Congo (DROC):

  • The U.N. investigative team has been deployed. Some members are in Bukavu. There are health and logistical problems.


  • There are 200,000 refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, and DROC in the Ungara and Kagome regions of Tanzania.
  • New arrivals from Burundi told of killings and scorched earth tactics by the military.
  • The Tanzanian authorities have started rounding up long-term foreign residents. Rwandans are deported; Burundians are given the option of living in camps.
  • The current camps are much more congested with worse conditions than the old ones.

Visit of Secretary Albright to Africa:

  • In Addis Ababa, Secretary Albright promised $10 milllion for reconstruction of DROC. Congressional approval is required.
  • She noted that the United States would monitor aid to be sure it is not misused, e.g., to support genocide.
  • She pledged United States support to raise $30 million for a Great Lakes Justice Initiative to support local legal and judicial systems. This was pushed within the government by officials who have participated in the GLPF and BPF.


Oxfam International supplied copies of a paper on the Great Lakes calling for engagement and international support for reconstruction. Oxfam’s programs shifted from development to humanitarian aid after the genocide. The paper links human rights and humanitarian issues with the need to move to reconstruction and post-conflict strategy, based on grassroots experience.

There are contradictory phenomena in the region:

  • The emergence of like-minded leaders who want to cooperate;
  • There are continuing conflicts and abuses of human rights and limits on humanitarian operations.

Mary Robinson’s visit also raises two issues:

  • Whether it is useful or necessary to make strong public statements;
  • Whether as long as there are serious human rights violations, other projects should be withheld.

In discussion two general positions emerged:

  • One emphasized the importance of engagement. The international community has a “massive credibility deficit” and needs to put good will on the table. For this to work, more coherence is needed among different organizations and among human rights, humanitarian aid, and reconstruction. Debt relief is needed, and debt-relief programs have to be designed for post-conflict situations. Aid must be quicker and more flexible. Human rights can be best advanced if we make up for the credibility deficit by engagement in reconstruction.
  • The other emphasized the need for pressure on human rights. As long as mass killings are taking place, there will be no security, and reconstruction and development cannot take place. If there are no consequences for massive human rights abuses, the culture of impunity will be reinforced.

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