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Great Lakes Policy Forum—Meeting Summary—May 4, 2000

May 4, 2000
Council on Foreign Relations

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

This meeting focused on human rights situation in Rwanda and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, with particular focus on the Kivu region of eastern DRC. Presentations were made by Alison DesForges, Human Rights Watch; Steve Smith, Refugee International. Professor William Zartman, Director of African Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, was the discussant and Susan Collins Marks, Executive Vice president, Search for Common Ground facilitated.

Monarchist groups opposed to Rwandan authorities

While Paul Kagame has reached the apex of political power and has consolidated in his own hands the presidency of the country and of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, Rwandan authorities have identified since mid-1999 a new threat to security: "the army of the King." The king or umwami of Rwanda, Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, was overthrown by the Hutu-led revolution which began in 1959 and was driven into exile in 1961. General Kagame has welcomed the return of the king as a private citizen but has threatened to crush any who attempt to restore him to power by force of arms. Unlike previous opposition groups identified solely with Hutu, the monarchists include both Hutu and Tutsi. Many of the Tutsi are are genocide survivors who find that the current government fails to satisfy their demand for justice and assistance. These Tutsi deplore the lack of progress in prosecutions for genocide as well as the prosperity of government officials grown rich from corruption while many survivors, particularly widows and orphans, struggle in abject misery. A growing number of survivors resent the government attempt to justify military operations abroad by the supposed need to protect them from further genocide. Some Tutsi soldiers of the RPA, both survivors of the genocide and those from Burundi and the DRC, say they have no wish to fight the war in DRC. They want that the conflict settled by negotiations, even if this means coming to terms with the insurgents. In the region of the northwest of Rwanda, there is continuing dissent and discontent with the government. This region has a largely Hutu population and was traditionally very anti-monarchist in its orientation. At the beginning of the year, forty people from that region were arrested on charges of being monarchists. The multi-ethnic nature of the monarchist group poses a major challenge to authorities who previously could discredit opposition groups for being composed only of Hutu and for including persons implicated in the genocide. Now both the RPF and the government are themselves increasingly criticized for being dominated by Tutsi.

The excuse of security threat is being used not just to cover heavy militarisation of the country, (the Rwandan government has an army of over 50,000 troops, a national police force, thousands of communal police officers, additional thousands of Local Defense Force members, and citizen patrols that operate during the night in many communities), but also human rights abuses, such as arbitrary detention of people accused of monarchist sentiments, and the forced return of people who choose to leave the country.

Although they continue to talk about multiethnic sharing of power, about nationalism, and about reconciliation, the RPF and the government have progressively excluded all the major Hutu leaders who once participated in power. Since the start of the year, the RPF and its political allies have engineered the replacement of Pierre-Celeste Rwingema as prime minister by Bernard Makuza. Similarly, the RPF, acting with the National Assembly, forced the resignation in March of President Pasteur Bizimungu, the one Hutu who had been included in the inner circle of power since the early days of the RPF. After a brief period of indecision, the Rwandan Supreme Court named General Kagame as interim replacement for Bizimungu.

Call for an international presence in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

The long standing ethnic tensions in the Kivus have been exacerbated by the continuing Rwandan occupation and reported atrocities committed by their troops against Congolese civilian population. There has also been a recent upsurge in violence directed against civilians by Mayi Mayi and Interahamwe militias. Continuing fighting throughout both provinces place six million people at risk. Hate speech and communal violence have increased alarmingly in the provinces of North AND South Kivu, located in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The dramatic increase in violence directed at civilians could not have occurred at a worse moment giving existing humanitarian needs and the inaccessibility of the region to humanitarian organizations. An estimated 150,000 Banyamulenge are now at imminent risk of violent attacks by Mayi Mayi militias. An estimated 450,000 internally displaced people in the Kivus have fled toward the perceived safety of Goma, Butembo, and other city centers seeking shelter from marauding militias. In order to help the situation stabilize, there is a need for the international community to increase its presence. International presence might also help minimize the level of human rights abuses. The United Nations human rights program should increase its presence in Goma, and increase the number of human rights monitors in Goma as well as Bukavu. Moreover, it is essential that the population who is under the impression that MONUC will get rid of the invaders and will bring a tremendous amount of humanitarian assistance, is informed about MONUC's mandate.

Any comments please contact Veronique Aubert

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