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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Hutus 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

With a Tutsi-dominated government in power, assessing the fate of Rwandan Hutus is tenuous. The RPF has displayed a somewhat mixed record over the last eight years: Kagame's leadership seems genuinely committed to building democratic structures, but the Hutu-Tutsi dichotomy is as strong as ever; and Kagame's reliance on the Rwandan Patriotic Army as his chief means of securing power has brought charges of massacring suspected rebel supporters and targeting suspected rebel areas for destruction, even in ambiguous situations. Bizimungu, leader of the Hutu political party, was arrested and papers from him were confiscated. The ongoing war in the neighboring DRC is also highly destabilizing to Rwanda as refugees from that country flood in.

Yet, the future circumstances of Hutus in Rwanda clearly lie 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. In short, whether or not reconciliation and negotiation can be sustained will ultimately determine the outlook for Hutus in Rwanda.

Significant political restrictions in the form of social exclusion continue to place the group at risk for protest. However, several factors may mitigate the risk of rebellion of Hutus: living under a democratic regime and recent efforts of reform in the 2003 constitution, Violence will continue to be a risk for Hutus in Rwanda so long as conflict continues in the Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, bordering Rwanada.


Analytic Summary

Hutus in Rwanda are currently a disadvantaged majority, with the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front holding all political and military power. Hutus are widely dispersed within Africa's most densely populated state (GROUPCON = 0), and the majority of them depend on subsistence agriculture. The Hutus originally came to the area around 1000 CE, where they farmed the land. They were politically organized into clans with the head, abahinza, being the king of each clan. In the 15th century the Tutsis, who are thought to have originated from Ethiopia, came to modern day Rwanda where they installed a monarchy to reign over the Hutu and indigenous Twa.

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, many of the refugees have returned to Rwanda, but some Hutus still migrate back and forth, while others have been subject to forced internal resettlement Forced internal resettlement as part of a "villagization" effort was no longer enforced as of 2001, although it remained a government policy.

The distinction between Hutus and Tutsis has been debated greatly; however, 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. Consequently, rather than using physical features alone to identify Tutsis during the genocide, ethnic identification was largely based upon identity cards, which the government required to display the ethnicity of each citizen.

Since June 1994, and the RPF takeover under the leadership of Major General Paul Kagame, Hutus have been largely excluded from the political sphere (POLDIS06 = 3), and are relatively less well-off economically than Rwandan Tutsis (ECDIS06 = 2). There are currently restrictions placed on Hutu political organizing and the police/military recruitment of Hutus, although part of the reconciliation program in principle includes full military integration. While the Transitional National Assembly (a power-sharing body with 70 seats established in December 1994) included Hutu parties (e.g., Republican Democratic Movement, Liberal Party, Social Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Party), it has little legislative power and its officials are not elected, as the distribution of seats was predetermined by the Arusha peace accord. In this sense, conventional parties are not allowed in Rwanda.

To further deal with the inundation of prisoners awaiting trial and the slow process of bringing each to trial, Gacaca Courts were introduced in 2001 as a pilot program, but started operating in late 2002 with hopes of terminating all outstanding cases by 2007. Authorities estimated that by the completion of the trial process, nearly half of all adult Hutus would face some charge of participation. Furthermore, these courts offer little protection for the witnesses and are set up in the communities in which the crime is alleged to have taken place. A judge, elected by the community, is charged with determining the sentence, half of which will be served within the community outside of the prisons. There were also reports throughout the proceedings of convictions despite a lack of evidence.

In 2003, Presidential and Parliamentary elections were held in Rwanda with Kagame winning a seven year term. Although elections went off with little violence, the elections process was controversial.

In 2003, a new constitution which prohibited the identification of ethnic groups in an attempt to reintegrate society was written and approved by referendum in 2004.

Militant Hutu groups continued large-scale guerrilla warfare against the RPA from the late 1990s through 2001 (REB99 = 7; REB00 = 6; REB01 = 5; REB02-06 = 0), with fighting taking place mainly in the northwest of Rwanda. These groups were loosely organized and consist of expatriate Rwandan Hutus as well as those from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Interahamwe rebels). These Hutu militias targeted not only government forces, but also Tutsi civilians and those deemed sympathetic to the RPF. However, no rebellion has been reported since 2002.

Hutus are represented in large part, by militant organizations, many of which fled Rwanda for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) following the genocide: Interahamwe, ex-Farces armées du Rwanda (ex-FAR), Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (FDLR). Their presence in the DRC has led to tension between Rwanda and the DRC as the Hutu militants are suspected of being behind a number of rapes and violence in the Kivu Province of eastern DRC. In March 2005, FDLR announced that it would give up violence and disarm its combatants, leading to hopes of improved relations between Rwanda and the DRC.



Adekunle, Julius O. 2007. Culture and Customs of Rwanda. Greenwood Press: London

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."

Human Rights Watch. 2006. "Human Rights Overview: Rwanda.", accessed 1/4/2008.

Human Rights Watch. 3/29/2004. "Rwanda: Lessons Learned."

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

McNairn, Rosemarie. 2004. "Building Capacity to Resolve Conflict in Communities: Oxfam Experience in Rwanda." Gender and Development. 12:3. 83-93.

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

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

U. S. Department of State. 8/23/2003. "Paul Kagame New President of Rwanda.", accessed 4/1/2008.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006