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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Tutsis in Rwanda

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Rwanda Facts
Area:    26,340 sq. km.
Capital:    Kigali
Total Population:    5,500,000 (source: unknown, 1995, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

In relative terms, the condition of Tutsis in Rwanda is much better than years ago under Habyarimana's regime. With a Tutsi-dominated government now instituted, some Rwandan Hutus rightfully accuse the government of favoring Tutsis in government employment, admission to professional schooling and recruitment into the army. The RPF also still faces an insurgency from Hutu militias, especially near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In January 2009, however, Rwandan forces captured Laurent Nkunda, rebel leader of the Congrès national pour la defense du people (CNDP) in the DRC, who had been responsible for much violence in the Kivu province in his quest to rid the region of Interahamwe fighters. It is unclear what affect this may have on neighboring violence and to what extent his organization's absence may have on former Rwandan Hutu members of the Interahamwe, whom Rwandan Tutsis continue to perceive as a threat. Yet, the best projection on the future circumstances of Tutsis in Rwanda clearly lies in how well national reconciliation takes hold in the country. There remain tens of thousands of Hutus imprisoned and accused of having taken part in the genocide, almost all of whom await trial. To date, Rwanda has attempted to deal with this judicial backlog, and in 1996, the National Assembly passed the Organic Genocide Law, a portion of which is designed to encourage confessions in exchange for reduced sentences for the vast majority of those involved in the genocide. How these prisoners are treated and reincorporated into society will be critical to Rwanda's future. Although Tutsis will remain at risk for intercommunal conflict as long as fighting rages in neighboring DRC and insecurities and distrust remain high internally, they are unlikely to rebel or protest as long as they maintain their favored status in the government.


Analytic Summary

Tutsis in Rwanda are currently an advantaged minority, holding political and military power. They are widely dispersed within Africa's most densely populated state (GROUPCON = 0), and the majority depends on subsistence agriculture. After the assassination of Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana (a Hutu) in April 1994, a state-run genocidal campaign against Tutsis and moderate Hutus was undertaken by the Rwandan Armed Forces and like-minded Hutu civilians. More than 800,000 perished in the next three months until the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), an exile Tutsi militia based in Uganda, defeated the Hutu regime and ended the killing in July 1994. Approximately 2 million Hutu refugees - many fearing Tutsi retribution - fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire (now the DRC). Since this time, most of the refugees have returned to Rwanda, but clearly reconciling this horrific recent history is the greatest challenge to Rwandan peace and stability.

While the distinction between Hutus and Tutsis has been written about in great length, most agree on an instrumentalist interpretation of Rwandan ethnicity. The ethnic labels started largely as one of class (in pre-colonial times, a Tutsi was a pastoralist, a Hutu was a cultivator), and although each traces back to a distinct historical origin and ethnicity, their language (Kinyarwanda), religion (mostly Christian--Catholic 56.5 percent; Protestant 26 percent, some Muslim), and social customs are similar to each other (LANG = 0; CUSTOM = 0; BELIEF = 0). While group stereotypes depict Tutsis as tall, lighter-skinned, with long necks and narrow noses and Hutus as short, broad featured, with a darker skin tone, in reality, similar lifestyles and intermarriage have promoted genetic resemblance over time (RACE = 1).

As aforementioned, the country's government is currently in the hands of the RPF, under the leadership of Major General Paul Kagame, and the RPF represents the only open Tutsi party (GOJPA06 = 4). However, in 2007, legislation was passed allowing for political party organizational activity at the local level. Tutsis in Rwanda face no economic or political discrimination (ECDIS06= 0; POLDIS06 = 0) at present, and there is no evidence of overt protest or rebellion by Tutsis against Kagame's regime except in 2005 when Tutsis condemned the government's decision to release prisoners charged with participation in the 1994 genocide (PROT98-04, 06= 0; PROT05 = 1; REB98-06 = 0). While the RPF has officially adopted the provisions of the 1993 Arusha peace accord, the July 1994 Declaration by the Rwanda Patriotic Front, and the November 1994 multiparty protocol of understanding as Rwanda's Fundamental Law, in practice it has not followed these agreements completely.

Although the president was to be elected for a five-year term following a transition period (1994-1999), Kagame extended this timeframe until June 2003. In September 2003, elections were held, and Kagame was elected to a seven-year term amid serious irregularities. His RPF party also won a majority of seats in Parliament. Political party activity, suspended for the duration of the transition period, has also been indefinitely discontinued. The Transitional National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale de Transition (a power-sharing body with 70 seats established in December 1994), which preceded the newly elected National Assembly, consisted of un-elected officials (the majority, Hutu), as the distribution of seats was predetermined by the Arusha peace accord. On the positive side, in March 1999, local elections occurred for the first time in 10 years.

A current over-loading of the justice system has pushed Rwanda to adopt a Gacaca Court system. This system started its operations late in 2002 and is intended to speed up the trial process for those accused of participating in the genocide. However, this special court has posed problems for the Tutsi people, for it does not offer protection for those who come forth to testify. Because there is no way to ensure the safety of witnesses, some Tutsis simply will not testify. The insecurity created by this court could serve to help raise tension and distrust amongst the two groups, especially because half of the sentence is to be carried out within the community in order to relieve the burden of surplus people in the prisons. In 2004, two defendants who were to appear before a gacaca court killed genocide survivors (INTERCON04 = 1). The courts were ongoing in 2007 and 2008, scheduled to end by early 2009.

The possibility for a replay of the Tutsi-Hutu war is significant. There are reports of intact Hutu military and militia units in the south-west of Rwanda, inside what was the French-controlled safety zone, as well as in the DRC and other neighboring countries. The exiled Hutu leadership has vocally threatened to resume fighting. Ironically, Hutu militants uphold the long RPF struggle to return as the model they will follow in regaining their country. Unless returning refugees find stable conditions in Rwanda, the militants will undoubtedly seize the day yet again. One factor likely to cause much dispute in the country is the presence of thousands of returning Tutsi emigres. Many of these people left Rwanda as small children or were born outside of the country to refugee parents. They are now occupying residences and in some cases operating businesses owned by Hutus who have fled. If the RPF successfully convinces Hutus to return home, tensions over scarce resources, housing and jobs will ensue. If conflict continues or worsens in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, tension between the Tutsis and Hutus may rise again as kindred groups have been fleeing the DRC to Rwanda.



BBC News. 1/23/2009. "Profile: General Laurent Nkunda.", accessed 1/26/2009.

CIA World Factbook. 2004-2008. "Rwanda."

Fegley, Randall, comp. 1993. Rwanda. Santa Barbara, CA: CLIO Press.

des Forges, Alison. 8/11/1994. "Rwanda: Land of a Thousand Hills." Lecture Washington, DC: Holocaust Museum.

Human Rights Watch. 1/1994. "Arming Rwanda: The Arms Trade and Human Rights Abuses in the Rwandan War."

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Minority Rights Group. 2005. "Rwanda Overview." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples., accessed 1/26/2009.

Morrison, Donald George. 1989. Black Africa: A Comparative Handbook. New York: Paragon House.

Rwanda News Agency. 12/30/2008. "Gacaca courts 'on time' to complete cases.", accessed 1/26/2009.

U. S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Rwanda. 1991, 1993-1994, 1999-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006