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The Rwandan Refugee Crisis: Before the Genocide

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 464

Posted March 31, 2014

Edited by Kristin Scalzo

For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

RELATED POSTS

The Rwandan Crisis Seen Through the Eyes of France
Part One: The Leadup to the Genocide.
March 20, 2014

Warnings of Catastrophe
French, US, UN, and Belgian Documents Foreshadow the Genocide in Rwanda 1994.
March 6, 2014

The Rwanda Sitreps
Daily Pleas to New York Detail How International Failure Left Peacekeepers Ill-Equipped to Respond to Rising Violence in January 1994
February 3, 2014

The Rwanda "Genocide Fax": What We Know Now
New Documentation Paints Complex Picture of Informant and his Warnings
January 9, 2014

The U.S. and the Genocide in Rwanda 1994: The Assassination of the Presidents and the Beginning of the "Apocalypse"
April 7, 2004

The U.S. and the Genocide in Rwanda 1994: Information, Intelligence and the U.S. Response
March 24, 2004

The U.S. and the Genocide in Rwanda 1994: Evidence of Inaction
August 20, 2001

Lessons Learned from U.S. Humanitarian Interventions Abroad
May 9, 2000

 

IN THE NEWS

Britain ignored genocide threat in Rwanda
By Oscar Williams, The Independent, March 9, 2014

The Shroud Over Rwanda's Nightmare
By Michael Dobbs, The New York Times, January 9, 2014

"The Rwandan Genocide," Letter to the Editor, The New York Times
By Rafael Medoff
January 10, 2014

"The Rwandan Genocide," Letter to the Editor, The New York Times
 By Linda Melvern, Gregory Stanton, et al.
January 15, 2014 (published January 21, 2014)

 


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Burundian refugees in Rwanda following assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye, October 1993. Credit: B. Press/UNHCR

Washington, DC, March 31, 2014 – During the months leading up to the genocide in Rwanda, United Nations officials and western diplomats became increasingly concerned by the threat to political stability posed by millions of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Great Lakes region. Attempts by the international community to address the refugee crisis became enmeshed in political in-fighting inside the country.

Documents posted today by the National Security Archive and the Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum show that the refugee crisis was compounded by a lack of reliable intelligence and a shortage of military personnel and international monitors. An ambitious refugee resettlement program negotiated as part of the Arusha accords by the Hutu-led government of President Juvenal Habyarimana and the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front was never actually implemented.

Today's posting is the 5th in a series of a joint "#Rwanda20yrs" project co-sponsored by the Archive and the Museum to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. The documents are drawn from the records of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda, known as UNAMIR, and State Department records released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests from the Archive. The Archive still has 33 pending requests with the State Department for key records about the Rwandan genocide, in addition to the many other requests pending with the Clinton Library, Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and Department of Defense, along with records from the French and Belgian national archives that we still do not have access to.

A State Department "refugee fact sheet" issued in March 1994 (above) on the eve of the genocide summarizes three overlapping refugee crises in Rwanda and neighboring Burundi:


Burundi refugees in Butare prefecture, southern Rwanda, December 1993. Credit: M. El Khoury/UNHCR.
  • Hutu refugees from Burundi. An October 1993 coup attempt in Burundi, and assassination of the country's democratically elected Hutu president by Tutsi army officers, resulted in an exodus of predominantly Hutu refugees from Burundi. According to the State Department, about 287,000 Burundi refugees remained in southern Rwanda in March 1994.
  • Tutsi refugees from Rwanda. The State Department estimated that there were 550,000 predominantly Tutsi refugees in Central Africa, most of whom fled Rwanda in the pogroms that followed the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy in 1959. The largest exile communities were located in Uganda (200,000) and Burundi (245,000).
  • Internally displaced persons fleeing RPF incursions into northern Rwanda from Uganda in 1990 and 1993. The State Department estimated that 350,000 Rwandans (predominantly Hutu, but also some Tutsi) remained displaced as a result of fighting between the RPF and the Rwandan government.

Each of these three groups had their own distinct grievances and aspirations, dating back many decades. The Tutsi diaspora served as a natural recruiting ground for the Rwandan Patriotic Front. According to a former U.S. diplomat in Kigali, Joyce Leader, Hutu refugees from Burundi were "radicalized" by their experiences and were "potential recruits" for the Interahamwe militia groups who were responsible for some of the worst episodes of the genocide.

The documents published today show that international officials devoted considerable diplomatic attention to the Rwandan refugee problem. A protocol settling refugee issues was signed in June 1993, as part of the Arusha negotiations. Instead of implementing the agreement, U.N. peacekeepers were overwhelmed by a fresh wave of refugees from Burundi following the October 1993 assassination of President Melchior Ndadaye.

The documents suggest that U.N. officials were wary of providing assistance to Tutsi refugees and internally displaced persons in northern Rwanda for fear of creating a "pull factor" that would result in even larger numbers of refugees. (See Document 10)


Burundi refugees in southern Rwanda, October 1993. Credit: B. Press/UNHCR.

 


THE DOCUMENTS

Document 1
DATE: 9 June 1993

"Protocol of Agreement between the Government of Rwanda and the Rwandese Patriotic Front on the Repatriation of Rwandese Refugees and the Resettlement of Displaced Persons"

Initialed in a blaze of optimism, the refugee protocol recognized the "indisputable right" of Rwandan refugees to return to their country of origin "without any precondition whatsoever." It also established a timetable for resettlement efforts linked to the establishment of a new, broad-based transitional government, or BBTG. Since the transitional government was never established, the protocol was never implemented.

 

Document 2
DATE: 14 October 1993
TO: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
FROM: SecState WashDC
SUBJECT: [President] Habyarimana Working Visit to Washington and Meeting with [Assistant Secretary of State George] Moose
CABLE #: State 313592

In early October 1993, the President of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, reviewed the status of the repatriation program with US diplomats during an official visit to Washington. He said the Rwandan government was issuing passports to Rwandan exiles, and urged the United Nations to step up its assistance and resettlement efforts.

 

Document 3
DATE: 25 October 1993
TO: [Head of Military Division at UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) Maurice] Baril for [Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations Kofi] Annan, UNations, New York
FROM: [Roméo] Dallaire, Force Commander, UNAMIR, Kigali, Rwanda
SUBJECT: UNAMIR Situation Report 1

Just three days after taking up his new post in Kigali, UNAMIR commander Romeo Dallaire cited the influx of some 200,000 refugees from Burundi as an additional headache in his first situation report to New York. He mentioned signs of "ethnic frictions" in the refugee camps, and expressed concern about a lack of resources to deal with the overall refugee crisis, which could "destabilize peace implementation plans."

 

Document 4
DATE: 4 November 1993
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Burundi Refugees: Numbers Up, Coordination Coming Together
CABLE #: Kigali 03970

In a dispatch from Kigali, U.S. ambassador Robert Flaten reports that the arrival of predominantly Hutu refugees from Burundi (now estimated at 375,000) could create political problems inside Rwanda. He states that embassy officials are "gaining an understanding of the intimate link between what happens in Burundi and the security situation in Rwanda."

 

Document 5
DATE: 16 November 1993
TO: SecState WashDC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Burundi Crisis: Potential Regional Tensions
CABLE #: Kigali 04084

Ambassador Flaten reports on rumors of "military recruitment activity" by Hutu nationalists from Burundi (known as Palipehutu) following the attempted coup in Burundi. He acknowledges that the United States lacks concrete information about the situation in the camps.

 

Document 6
DATE: 23 November 1993
TO: [Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations Kofi] Annan, UNations, New York
FROM: [Force Commander of UNAMIR Roméo] Dallaire, UNAMIR, Kigali, Rwanda
SUBJECT: Weekly Sitrep No. 6
CABLE #: UNAMIR 002

Reporting on the situation inside the RGF (Rwandan government forces) sector, Dallaire cites further reports of political factions "arming and training young men in and around the Burundi refugee camps." (See Point G, Page 6.) He adds that UNAMIR is attempting to get a "reasonable recce party" into the area "to show the UN flag," but needs more military monitors. In a 2003 book, Shake Hands with the Devil, Dallaire recalled that his superiors had rejected a request for a further 48 unarmed observers to help monitor the situation in the refugee camps. (Page 181.)

 

Document 7
DATE: 1 December 1993
TO: SecState WashDC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Potential Regional Tensions
CABLE #: Kigali 04247

According to the U.S. embassy in Kigali, the UN High Commission for Refugees has become deeply concerned about security in the Hutu refugee camps in southern Rwanda. Meanwhile, an American aid worker reports sighting a group of young men in military uniforms at a refugee camp, including one with "a rocket launcher on his shoulders."

 

Document 8
DATE: 19 January 1994
TO: SecState WashDC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Refugee Update
CABLE #: Kigali 00252

The US embassy in Kampala provides an update on the Rwandan refugee situation. An international "plan of action" for Rwandan refugees is reported to be "on hold" pending the formation of a transitional government, which has been blocked by internal political disputes.

 

Document 9
DATE: 28 January 1994
TO: [Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations Kofi] Annan, [Under Secretary General for Political Affairs James] Jonah, [State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Jan] Eliasson, UNations, New York
FROM: [UN Special Representative Jacques-Roger] Booh-Booh, UNAMIR, Kigali
SUBJECT: Visit to Camp for Internally Displaced Persons at Nyacyonga on 26 January 1994
CABLE #: MIR-211

After visiting a camp for Burundian refugees in southern Rwanda, UN Special Representative Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh reports that the "humanitarian emergency" in the country is reaching "catastrophic proportions." He reports that the refugees are becoming "increasingly restive" and concerned that nobody is paying attention to their plight.

 

Document 10
DATE: 2 February 1994
TO: SecState WashDC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Burundi Refugees: Too Many Problems; Rwandan Returnees: How to Help?
CABLE #: Kigali 00454

The newly-arrived U.S. ambassador to Rwanda, David Rawson, reports that the Rwandan government is "totally unprepared" to begin receiving predominantly Tutsi returnees from Uganda. He adds that planning for the refugee returns "has been stalled for nearly two years," with the exception of the Arusha refugee protocol, which exists only "on paper. " He reports that the UNHCR is reluctant to help Tutsi returnees in northern Rwanda for fear of being swamped by more refugees.

 

Document 11
DATE: 10 February 1994
TO: AmEmbassy Kampala [Uganda]
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: GOR, RPF, UNHCR, ICRC Plan for Rwandan Returnees from Uganda
CABLE #: Kigali 00606

The U.S. embassy in Kigali reports that the failure to form a new transitional government is delaying a resolution to the refugee problem. (See Paragraph 16.) Some exiles are returning spontaneously. International agencies are wary of providing assistance to long-term exiles to Uganda for fear of creating a "pull factor" that will overwhelm their technical abilities.

 

Document 12
DATE: 14 March 1994
SUBJECT: Burundi Refugees and Displaced Persons Fact Sheet

According to a fact sheet prepared by the Department of State, an estimated 580,000 Burundians fled to neighboring countries after the October 1993 coup attempt, of whom approximately 200,000 returned home. The UNHCR reported high death rates (six per 10,000 every day) among Burundian refugees in Rwanda.

 

Document 13
DATE: 15 March 1994
SUBJECT: Rwanda - Refugee Fact Sheet

A State Department fact sheet traces the history of the refugee problem in Rwanda back to the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy in Rwanda in 1959, and the forced exodus of the former Tutsi elite.

 

Document 14
DATE: 22 March 1994
TO: All African Diplomatic Posts
FROM: SecState WashDC
SUBJECT: INR [Bureau of Intelligence and Research] Analyses
CABLE #: State 073815

An analysis by the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) for the U.S. State Department notes that nearly three million Rwandans and Burundians — out of a total population of 14 million — have fled their homes since 1990. (See paragraph 19.) It predicted that the "centuries-old" friction between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups was "unlikely to fan violence" beyond the immediate region, but would "impede development and fuel demands for international humanitarian assistance."

 

Document 15
DATE: 29 March 1994
TO: SecState WashDC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: AF/DAS [Deputy Assistant Secretary for Africa] and AF/C [Office of Central African Affairs] Director Discuss Rwanda's Humanitarian Issues
CABLE #: Kigali 01373

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Prudence Bushnell visited Rwanda in March 1994, two weeks before the onset of the genocide. She was briefed by UNHCR special envoy Michel Moussalli who stressed the need to form a new Rwandan government to address refugee issues.

 

Additional Documentation of the Refugee Crisis in Rwandan before the Geoncide in April 1994

Document 16
DATE: 23 March 1991
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: 1991 World Refugee Report: Rwanda

 

Document 17
DATE: 3 June 1992
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Durable Solutions for Rwandan Refugees: Time to Push the Process
CABLE #: Kigali 00225

 

Document 18
DATE: 25 November 1992
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Arusha V: Refugee Discussions
CABLE #: Kigali 04871

 

Document 19
DATE: 14 January 1993
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kampala [Uganda]
SUBJECT: RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] Stops by in Kampala
CABLE #: Kampal 00343

 

Document 20
DATE: 11 May 1993
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Dar es Salaam [Tanzania]
SUBJECT: Arusha Talks: End of Military Talks Near?
CABLE #: Dar es 02474

 

Document 21
DATE: 28 October 1993
TO: [Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations Kofi] Annan, UNHQ, New York
FROM: [Force Commander of UNAMIR Roméo] Dallaire, UNAMIR, Kigali
SUBJECT: UNAMIR Situation Report No. 2, 28 Oct. 1993

 

Document 22
DATE: 8 November 1993
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Burundi Refugees: Dramatic Proportions
CABLE #: Kigali 03993

 

Document 23
DATE: 10 November 1993
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Burundi Refugees: Population Stabilizes
CABLE #: Kigali 04007

 

Document 24
DATE: 23 November 1994
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kampala [Uganda]
SUBJECT: RPF [Rwandan Patriotic Front] Rep Complains about Developments in Rwanda
CABLE #: Kampal 09074

 

Document 25
DATE: 22 December 1993
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Burundi Refugees: Influx at 400,000
CABLE #: Kigali 04522

 

Document 26
DATE: 21 January 1994
TO: [Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations Kofi] Annan, New York
FROM: [Special Representative to the Secretary General] J.R. Booh-Booh, SRSG, UNAMIR, Kigali, Rwanda
SUBJECT: Daily Sitrep 200600B Jan to 210600B Jan 94

 

Document 27
DATE: 22 January 1994
TO: [Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations Kofi] Annan, New York
FROM: [Special Representative to the Secretary General] J.R. Booh-Booh, SRSG, UNAMIR, Kigali, Rwanda
SUBJECT: Daily Sitrep 210600B Jan to 220600B Jan 94

 

Document 28
DATE: 25 January 1994
TO: [Undersecretary for Peacekeeping Operations Kofi] Annan, UNations, New York
FROM: Special Representative to the Secretary General Jacques Roger] Booh-Booh, UNAMIR, Kigali, Rwanda
SUBJECT: Weekly Sitrep No 15, 18 Jan 94 - 24 Jan 94

 

Document 29
DATE: 14 February 1994
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali [Rwanda]
SUBJECT: Official - Informal
CABLE #: Kigali 00660

 

Document 30
DATE: 30 March 1994
TO: SecState Wash DC
FROM: AmEmbassy Kigali
SUBJECT: Rwandan Request for Demining Assistance
CABLE #: Kigali 01377

 

 

 

 

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