Friends of evil (Chapter 3): Refugees in captivity

Posted: August 28, 2013 in Book
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In a December 1994 report, the French NGO called Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières or MSF) reported about a meeting between the Rwandan government in exile, the FAR, and the Interahamwe which was held in Bukavu at the beginning of October 1994.[1] The decision taken at the meeting was to seize power over the camps and make the government in exile the sole representative of all refugees.

The MSF report shows how the refugees were regularly “subjected to violence by members of the militia and sometimes get killed publicly because of their wish to return to Rwanda.” According to this report, the refugees wanting to return home were “considered collaborators with the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF)”[2]

This NGO had reports of visits to the camps by the former Minister of Defence,[3] the Chief of staff of the former Rwandese army,[4]  and the Prime Minister, Jean Kambanda who visited the Camps of Katale and Kibumba.  Kambanda, MSF reported, “was greeted with much enthusiasm in Kibumba where he spoke to a crowd of several hundred people. His speech inflamed the spirits of the listeners and when asking the crowd if they wanted a peaceful or a violent return to Rwanda, he was greeted with an overwhelming cry for war.”[5]

The situation in the camps was described as ‘unacceptably dangerous’ by 16 international NGOs, in their joint press release of 3 November 1994. In another MSF report  of July 1995,  MSF says the refugees, had been convinced by their leaders that it was too dangerous to go back to Rwanda, a conviction that was reinforced by the anti-RPA propaganda and hate campaign carried out by camp leaders.[6]

According to MSF, “refugees wishing to return home were virtually held hostage by the camp leaders,” and “adequate protection for refugees needed to be guaranteed in order for them to feel free to return home or remain in the camp without fearing for their lives.” This situation led to the withdrawal of several NGOs from the camps, both in Zaire and Tanzania.

MSF-France, which was among those NGOs that decided to leave the camps, came to the conclusion that their continued presence in those camps was “contradictory with the principles of humanitarian assistance,” given that there was a constant diversion of humanitarian aid by the same leaders who had orchestrated the genocide, a lack of effective international action regarding impunity, and a refugee population held hostage. Another NGO, Care-Canada checked out of Katale camp following death threats.[7]

MSF reporting shows that the genocidaires in the camps sought to mask their control methods, by creating a new political organisation (the RDR) and replacing overt military control of the camps with a “civil society” control mechanism.[8]

Thus the “social commission” (Commission Sociale) which had been created by the government in exile and the FAR, during the process of restructuring the camps’ leadership, gave way to a broader Civil Society organ called “Société Civile”, which was also given the mandate “to act as the representative of the refugee population in any negotiations for a political settlement with the government in Kigali.”[9]

By mid- January 1995, the Société Civile had, according to MSF, “92 affiliated non-profit-making organizations such as: l’Association des journalistes rwandais en exil, le Cercle des intellectuels, l’Association pour la promotion féminine et la réhabilitation de la famille rwandaise, and l’Association des juristes pour les droits de l’homme….Most were founded by members of Rwanda’s well-educated elite, the MRND, and of the extremist media that functioned in Rwanda before the genocide. Some receive substantial funding from abroad.”[10]

The MSF assessment, which was perceptive, was that the Société Civile, and the leadership of the RDR had the same ideological background as the extremists; they justify the genocide and paint themselves as victims. They circulate a list of all human rights abuses in Rwanda since October 1990 when the RPF first invaded the country and claim to give a “truthful accounting of the facts” surrounding the death of President Habyarimana; followed by a long list of what they consider to be prerequisites for peace. The RDR states that if they fail to attain their political objectives, they will resort to “military action as a final option”.[11]

MSF saw no reason to be optimistic about the new leadership in the camps (the RDR and Société Civile), since they “emerged from the same Hutu extremist ideological position.” MSF understood that the new leadership structures served to further the monopoly of extremism, with no room for moderate voices to be heard:

“The leaders’ control over information is, in large part, the key to their control over the population. The former government authorities incited a population to commit genocide through the use of extremist propaganda. Due to continued impunity, these same officials continue to manipulate the refugee population by controlling the flow of information and political discourse in the camps. They talk tirelessly about the victimization of the Hutu people. A number of extremist publications devoted to fuelling ethnic hatred and silencing moderate voices regularly circulate in the camps. They portray the Hutu people as victims and attempt to re-write history. Revisionism and victimization are central to the camp leader’s extremist ideology.” [12]

One example of such revisionism provided by MSF, is a report that was published by an NGO called The International Solidarity for The Rwandan Refugees (SOLIDAIRE-ASBL) with the title “What Has Not Been Said About the Massacres in Rwanda,” which referred to the Hutu population in exile as “victims of a well-hatched plot, planned long before”, [who] had “killed only because it was attacked.”

MSF sites another publication “L’Autre face du genocide”, published by an NGO called Peace and Justice Association for Reconciliation in Rwanda (Association Justice et Paix pour la Réconciliation au Rwanda) in collaboration with the Société Civile, which contends that “no evidence” incriminating the self-proclaimed government-in-exile had come to light, and that it was the RPF who had committed a genocide of the Hutu. This NGO claimed: “The elimination of the Hutu majority was aimed at decimating the opposition and attaining the numerical balance [they had] sought for so long.”

MSF noted that extremist publications like Amizero, and numerous political tracts, blamed every assassination in Rwanda on Tutsi “and repeat that to return to Rwanda is to go to your grave.” In another tract, “L’Oeil des refugiés,” all Hutus are warned against going back to Rwanda, referring to this as “suicide.” The songs schoolchildren sometimes sing are, according to refugees, traditional hunting songs – songs about hunting down Tutsi.[13] Some force was behind all this.

Friendly advice

On a closer look, the reorganisation and attempted rehabilitation of genocidaires through the creation of a new politico-military organisation called the RDR, was not an initiative of Rwandans alone. The government of France and the IDC played a vital role in the process.

After his visit to France, around September 1994, Jerôme Bicamumpaka, then Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation in the genocidal “government,” gave very interesting information in this regard.[14] Bicamumpaka says he was not received in Egypt, among the countries he had earmarked to visit, but did have an “informal” meeting with “a French official” in Paris. In his mission report, he reveals the presence of “an important personality of the (CDI)…from Brussels” who had come to have talks with him in Paris.

According to Bicamumpaka, the image of the interim government among the French and the émigré Rwandans he had met “was so much tarnished that few people would accept to receive any envoy of this government.”[15] He notes that: “This image is tarnished mainly because of the massacres that many put on the shoulders of the government”, and because this government “does allegedly have nobody from the Tutsi ethnic group” and because “our government did not fulfil its promise that it would put a stop to the massacres by April.”[16]

Bicamumpaka was advised by his French interlocutors that “realpolitik dictates” their government should “keep a low profile”. He was told that the two factors compelled this attitude: First, certain personalities “do not hesitate to assert that our government is non-existent since the military victory of RPF”, and to ignore this would amount to “lack of realpolitik”.

The second factor was the fact that the “government in exile” had failed to get recognition by Zaire. Bicamumpaka wrote in his report: “This government can claim to exist only if at least the Zairean authorities had accepted to officially grant it asylum, and this asylum was not even unofficially granted.”[17] As a result, he said, talking of the “refugee Rwandan Government in Zaire” was likely to even anger Zairean politicians.

Bicamumpaka reported that his French interlocutor recommended to their genocidaire government, that information and evidence should be collected from every commune and every prefecture to prove the atrocities committed by RPF: “the genocide committed by RPF since October 1990 and since April 6, 1994”, “the responsibility of the Nigerian General, Mr Opaleye and GOMN/NMOG (Neutral Military Observer Group) as well as General Dallaire and MINUAR in the genocide”, “the names of RPF officers who commanded “death squads” and the areas where these massacres were committed.”[18]

Bicamumpaka reported that this exercise of compiling the crimes allegedly committed by the RPF should be completed by November 1994— the date when the final report of the United Nations Commission would be deposited, and should also be submitted by the “government in exile” to an impartial international tribunal. (The ICTR was not yet in place).

Bicamumpaka also reported that as far as the French were concerned, the RPF-led Government was “illegal since it is a government that was put in place by the Ugandan Army; the majority of whom do not speak Kinyarwanda or French; a government which rules a country deserted by the majority of its population; in short, a government by an occupation army.”[19]

Bicamumpaka’s interlocutors suggested to him that the issue should be submitted to the leaders of Francophone countries, who were scheduled to meet November 7- 9, in Biarritz, so that they too would condemn the government put in place by RPF. In short the plan was to mobilise the “La Francophonie” to take a common stand against recognition of the government in Kigali.

Another advice, given to Bicamumpaka by his French and IDC interlocutors, was on the “type of organization that should be put in place for the defence of the cause of the Rwandan people”. He reported that it was necessary “to the extent possible, to be active on the international scene through unprecedented media actions”: e.g. by increasing “well thought out” statements which are part of a “coherent and responsible strategy and not aggressive statements which would lead to polemics”.[20]

The French added advice on the necessity of getting closer to the population in the camps, and organizing them “so as to instil discipline among the population as well as among the FAR…For them, discipline is the basis of everything else… Without that, our credibility would be lost forever.”[21]

The genocidaires were also counselled by Bicamumpaka’s French interlocutor(s) to work for the unity among refugees and for “a Collective self-evaluation during which errors would be identified without complacency, for subsequent correction.”[22] On the diplomatic front they told that “alliances must be forged with Presidents Mobutu, Moi, with Sudanese authorities, President Mwinyi and with opponents of President Museveni of Uganda.”[23]

Bicamumpaka reports that the idea of “the possibility of establishing a new political structure which is more functional and operational” was “greatly appreciated by [our] French partners”, who insisted on the prompt implementation of this project.

These partners of genocidaires also gave advice on the personalities who would lead this structure: “However, the personalities to be put at the head of this new structure should be…persons with international experience, particularly in the field of communication, with real competence and should not be compromised in the massacres of the civilian population (…) It is necessary to form a solid, well knit team, possessing experience in international mechanisms.” [24]

The communication campaign was supposed to target Western countries and selected African countries (like Zaire). [25]

The public support of France for the “cause of the refugees,” Bicamumpaka reported, “was impossible” in the immediate future because the world was “still under the shock of the massacres,” France was “being accused by the international community of bearing some responsibility in the Rwandan genocide,” and “the elections period in France excludes any support”.

Bicamumpaka added that he was told that it would be impossible for France to provide direct support unless the “government in exile” found a “friendly” African country through which this support could be channelled to them—“Hence the importance of President Mobutu in our strategy”[26].

Regarding the “re-conquest of power through armed force”, Bicamumpaka reported that the French advice was “to be very careful because in the immediate we would have the whole world against us. This action would therefore be doomed to failure”. In the French opinion, what was more important for the government was “to be alive and be recognized by the international community as being genuinely representative of the Rwandan people.”[27]

The solution to the Rwandan conflict was to be found in the Arusha Accords— which carried basic principles of power sharing. In Bicamumpaka’s opinion, though, “the world knows that the RPF Government is antidemocratic and that Anglo-Saxons are solidly settling in Rwanda, France can do nothing more for us for the time being.”[28]

In his report, Bicamumpaka requested to meet as soon as possible with the Government and FAR general staff, to discuss these problems and develop appropriate strategies. “The objective of this would be to save and serve the Rwandan people. Government’s priority must be to gain back credibility through the demonstration of its sense of responsibility, especially with regard to the Rwandan refugees.”[29]

It is fundamental, at this juncture, to remember what French Defence Minister Francois Leotard said when he addressed the potential for further military conflict in Rwanda, on Radio France Internationale, on July 25, 1994.  Here, Leotard said that if the government in Kigali failed to show its impartiality and its will to solve Rwandan civilian issues peacefully, the beginning of a fresh military confrontation was imminent “because these forces, which represent – or feel that they represent – an ethnic majority, that of the Hutus, 85 – 90 per cent of the population, will unfortunately resume their military harassment techniques against the new authorities, just like the RPF did from Uganda in the past.”

[1] Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) Breaking the Circle: Activities in and Around Rwanda, December 1994


[3] This must be Jean Bizimana

[4] Major General Augustin Bizimungu


[6] MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERE (MSF) DEADLOCK IN THE RWANDAN REFUGEE CRISIS :Virtual Standstill on Repatriation July 1995 (p. 7) fn 13, quoting Reig Miller, ‘Rwandan Refugees’, Associated Press, 7 July 1995

[7] Ibid, p.8 MSF-Belgium and -Holland decided to continue working in the camps while at the same time continuously and publicly advocating for an end to impunity and improvements in the security situation for the refugees

[8] Ibid, p.11

[9] Ibid, p.11

[10] Ibid, p.11

[11] Ibid, p.12 the report refers to Reuters story. Buchizya Mseteka, ‘Rwandan refugee party pushes for talks with Kigali’, Reuters, 19 April 1995 (fn 26)

[12] Ibid, p.18

[13] Ibid, p.18

[14] Rapport de Mission en France, Goma, 4 October 1994. (Author’s archives) The whole of this Section is based on this report

[15] Ibidem, p.2.

[16] Ibidem, p.2.

[17] Ibidem, p.2.

[18] Ibidem, p.3.

[19] Ibidem, p.4.

[20] Ibid. p. 4

[21] Ibid. p. 4

[22] Ibid. p. 4

[23] Ibid. p. 4

[24] Idem

[25] Idem

[26] Ibid. p.6

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid. p.7

[29] Ibid, p.9