Rwanda: Wolves lie down with the lambs: Killers are on the loose among the refugee camps in Zaire. The chances of bringing them to justice are slim

TO THE casual observer they are just desperate, confused and frightened refugees. The hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians, soldiers and militiamen milling around the Zairean town of Bukavu appear relatively harmless.

Yet here and there amid the din and the smoke and the squalor of the big and little camps scattered throughout Bukavu, a hardened glare will fix on you from a crowd or a tent or over a cooking fire. It is the kind of look that reminds you of all those who have murdered and are still murdering in Rwanda.

Wolves are among the lambs in Bukavu. Killers are on the loose in refugee camps throughout the region. Zairean soldiers and border police are trying to collect all the weapons and machetes they can from the estimated 2,000 Rwandans crossing into Bukavu every daylight hour. But many weapons are still visible on the streets in the hands of the most dangerous people.

There are already reports from the terrible, sprawling refugee camp further north in Goma that people suspected of being Tutsis or members of the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) are being grabbed by crowds and hacked to pieces to roars of approval. James Fennell, the emergency co-ordinator for Care International, watched an enthusiastic crowd of refugees bludgeon three men to death in Goma on Wednesday. When the blood-lust was sated, the crowd dispersed, leaving the twisted, broken corpses in the dirt.

The possibility of similar outrages in Bukavu are very real. Hundreds of soldiers, some wearing the uniforms and paraphernalia of the dreaded Rwandan Presidential Guard, roam the town, keeping a watchful eye on the crowds. Scores of expressionless young men in dark glasses and black berets mix with them. They are the rank and file of the Interhamwe, Rwanda's militia killing-machine. 'Of course there are Interhamwe here. They are people from all walks of life. The innocents are here with the guilty. All are suffering. All are angry,' said Mathis Cyamukungu, a former physics professor from Butari University.

'It is very worrying,' said one relief worker in Bukavu who did not want to be named. 'How do you treat these people? And how do you separate the innocent from the killers? How many of the sheep are really wolves in disguise? Most importantly, how can we treat all of them even-handedly?'

The extent to which Rwanda has been riven by the events of the last few months is truly shocking. An estimated 500,000 people, mainly ethnic Tutsis, have been killed by Hutu militias in the politically orchestrated campaign of slaughter. Millions of others have been displaced in their efforts to escape the genocide or the fighting between the RPF and the former Rwandan government army.

But it has been the scale of the organised murder of innocents more than the actual fighting between the armies that has marked the Rwandan conflict as one of the century's most horrible wars.

The reports and television pictures of the carnage in the first weeks of April shocked the world and led to calls by human rights groups for war crimes trials and justice. In the past two weeks, however, as more than a million Rwandans have poured across their borders into eastern Zaire, grabbing headlines and overwhelming relief agencies, talk of bringing the guilty to book has faded. The desperate needs of the living have drowned out the cry for justice for the dead. Yet the two issues are inexorably intertwined.

'This is just not a refugee problem,' said Shelly Pitterman, the chief delegate for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in neighbouring Burundi, where some 200,000 Rwandans have fled in the past three months. 'This is a refugee, political and human rights problem.'

So far the international community has only been treating the refugee part of the crisis and ignoring the other aspects that have contributed to the current disastrous situation. That, according to Mr Fennell, is a very worrying trend. 'An international response which regards all of the refugees as equally guilty and equally innocent is not sufficient,' he said. 'Until those who committed the crimes are brought to book, we are papering over what has happened in Rwanda.'

Mr Fennell compares the even-handed approach in Rwanda to 'feeding the camp guards of Auschwitz alongside the camps' survivors'. His views are shared by many aid officials on the ground in Zaire and Rwanda. But most relief organisations insist that not only is it virtually impossible for them to separate the innocent from the guilty, it is not their mandate to do so.

'United Nations or the French forces who are here should be doing this, not us,' said one senior British aid worker.

The question of how relief groups should approach the problem is made more complicated by internal aid agency politics. Many fund-raising officials in Washington, London and Paris whose business is to find money for their organisations and win kudos for their efforts, are reluctant to focus on the human rights aspects of the Rwandan refugee crisis for fear that it will discourage international donors from filling their coffers with food and cash. Instead they focus on the 'humanitarian neutrality' of their mission.

The likelihood of bringing the killers to justice is remote. The scale of complicity in the massacres has been so great that it may be impossible to arrest the guilty without further ripping Rwanda's social fabric.

Father Rigobert Minani, a Jesuit priest in Bukavu who heads the Zairean human rights group which documented the massacres in south-west Rwanda, actually saw many of the kilings himself. 'Everyone in Bukavu saw the killings. The border is not far. People went there and saw it. We watched it happen. We saw young girls chased to the river and killed,' Fr Minani said.

Today he recognises many of the perpetrators of the violence he witnessed walking around Bukavu - some even in the Jesuit school where he works - looking for help from aid agencies.

Current wisdom has it that many of the Hutus who fled to Zaire did so to escape justice or because they were afraid that they would be killed by the mainly Tutsi RPF in retaliation for the massacres. But most of the Hutus who have left Rwanda in the past few months are innocent peasant farmers who have been indoctrinated by years of propaganda that taught them to fear the Tutsis and the RPF in particular.

It is the same propaganda, still organised by the extremist Hutu government living in exile in Bukavu, which makes it so difficult for the refugees to come to terms with what happened in Rwanda. The result is a collective denial in which Hutus see the massacred Tutsis merely as victims of a war in which Hutus were also killed.

'They accept that people kill one another. But they don't accept that they were massacres,' says Fr Minani. 'They accept that people were fighting one another and that some people died. They don't accept that the government pushed people to kill Tutsis. They don't accept that it was obviously planned. And they don't understand that they were not protecting themselves by killing others.'

Leading article, page 18

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas