Letter: Means for making overseas aid effective in Rwanda and elsewhere

Click to follow
Sir: The urgency of providing life-saving humanitarian support to the 2 million or so Rwandese now in Zaire should not obscure the fact that the conditions under which they return will determine whether we can hope for any cessation to Rwanda's post-colonial cycle of violence. The mass of refugees now in Zaire consists largely of retreating army units and Hutu civilians. These fled anticipating that the advancing RPF soldiers would seek violent retribution for the genocide.

Elements of this refugee population could choose not to return to Rwanda, but to wage a guerrilla war to recapture state power. If this is to be avoided, the permanent members of the UN Security Council and the new government in Kigali must work to create conditions for the return of the Rwandese seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Action by the international community could assist in reversing the flow of refugees in several ways.

The new government must substantiate its public statements with explicit guarantees to returning Rwandese that they will not be subject to arbitrary arrest and execution, or revenge killings. The UN could underpin such guarantees by dispatching human rights monitors, posted throughout Rwanda and, where possible, attached to RPF combat units.

Fewer than 100 such monitors have been sent to the region, but their task is too overwhelming for such a small contingent. The already sanctioned Unamir force of 4,500 African soldiers must also be deployed to accompany returning refugees, protect human rights monitors, replace the discredited French force and facilitate the delivery of relief supplies. This force is still awaiting the requisite logistical support withheld by Western powers, including Britain, for more than two months.

The new government also needs to establish a transparent judicial process to prosecute those responsible for the genocide. As long as it is unclear how the new government intends to identify and prosecute those responsible, it is unlikely the flow of refugees will be reversed. Not only are signatory states to the Convention on Genocide obligated to ensure that the perpetrators of this violence are prosecuted, but international presence in the judicial process could help to generate confidence among refugees that this process will not degenerate into an instrument of ethnic retribution.

The tasks ahead are arduous, but none of the recommendations made here is Utopian. Western governments, which have been shamefully reluctant to respond to Rwanda's genocide, should have few excuses for not implementing them.

Yours faithfully,




Rwanda-Burundi Action Group

Institute of Development Studies,

University of Sussex

Falmer, East Sussex

25 July