The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa

[The situation in Rwanda changed dramatically after this report was completed. On April 6 President Habyarimana's plane was shot down and Rwanda militias began to massacre Tutsis and members of Rwanda's moderate opposition. All of the organizations listed in this report were affected by the massacres and the war that followed. All of them lost essential members of their staff and boards. The addresses and telephone/fax numbers of the organizations listed in Appendix 2 were mostly non-functional at the time this report went to press.]


As described by its own human rights activists, Rwanda is a small, overpopulated and isolated country in central Africa. The population of about eight million is almost entirely divided between Hutu (85%) and Tutsi (14%), two categories--not necessarily "ethnic groups"--that have strong historical significance, but are far less distinct than commonly believed. Acknowledging that there exist typical "Hutu" or "Tutsi" features, the distinction has more to do with social than ethnic characteristics. The Belgian colonizer enforced the relatively fluid categories through the use of national identity cards, and adapted a system in which the numerically fewer Tutsis ruled the Hutus.

Rwanda, which was administered as a trust territory by Belgium, became independent in 1962. In 1973, Major General Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu from the north of the country, took power in a military coup, marginalizing Tutsis and Hutus from the south. Habyarimana established a single legal party, the Mouvement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement (MRND). In 1988, he was "elected" to another five-year term by nearly 99% of the electorate.

One hundred fifty thousand Rwandese, almost entirely Tutsi, fled the country in 1959 at the time of an uprising against Tutsi control. They fled to Uganda, Zaire, Burundi and Tanzania where they have lived without the possibility of returning for more than thirty years. By the 1990s the number of stateless refugees had reached 400,000-500,000. In a 1988 speech to the United Nations, President Habyarimana implied that there was no place for the refugees in Rwanda.

On October 1, 1990, refugees based in Uganda, many of whom had fought with Yoweri Museveni when he took power in 1986, took up arms against the Habyarimana regime. The attack by the forces, known as the Front Patriotique Rwandaise (FPR), came at a time of increased internal pressure for change. The previous July, President Habyarimana had promised reform leading to multi-party democracy by 1992. Many disempowered Hutus joined or sympathized with the largely Tutsi rebel force. The government responded with round-ups of thousands of supposed sympathisers and, as discovered later, massacres of large numbers of civilians. Zairian troops joined in the attack. Belgium and France also sent troops to the country in support of the Habyarimana regime.

In April 1992, President Habyarimana expanded his government to include four parties from the internal opposition: the Mouvement Démocratique Républicain (MDR), the Parti Libéral (PL), the Partie Démocratique Chrétien (PDC) and the Partie Sociale Démocrate (PSD). On August 4, 1993, the Rwandan government signed a peace accord with the rebels in Arusha, Tanzania. The accord, which, together with the 1991 Constitution, constitutes the fundamental law of Rwanda, calls for the establishment of human rights and the rule of law. With the arrival of UN forces, planned for September 11, 1993 the treaty provided for a transfer of presidential authority to a cabinet composed of the three principal political blocs. The UN forces were delayed, however, until the end of 1993. And most recently, in late February 1994, the transition was still blocked and tense, largely due to the February 21 assassination of Gatasazi, and political and ethnic clashes in Kigali. In the meantime, the coalition of the former single party and the internal opposition formed in April continues to govern.


Prior to the invasion of October 1990, President Habyarimana had taken measures to liberalize freedom of the press, assembly and religion. Even in early 1990, however, the government had begun to crack down on many of those who took advantage of their newly-recognized rights. With the invasion came a state of emergency that led to the suspension of all normal procedures for arrest and detention. About 10,000 people were detained in 1990 and 1991, mostly Tutsis. As many as 2,000 were killed in individual attacks or organized massacres.

Fighting continued during 1991, with government-supported violence against Tutsis, particularly in the northern regions of Gisenyi and Ruhengeri. At the same time, independent newspapers began to flourish and, despite periodic crackdowns, the government continued to respond to pressure for political liberalization.

Human rights abuses were increasingly "privatised" as political parties established their own militias, which were tolerated by the government but also allowed the President a means of claiming ignorance. The government eventually removed some local officials for involvement in the violence, but there have been no significant prosecutions. In any event, the responsibilitiy of higher authorities has been obscured.

The war has created an immense problem of refugees and displaced persons. About one million Rwandans were displaced. Approximately 300,000 remained in camps at the end of the 1993.


There are four principal human rights groups in Rwanda, organized into a coalition known as the Collectif des ligues et associations de défense des droits de l'homme au Rwanda (the Rwandan Collective of Leagues and Associations for the Defense of Human Rights) (CLADHO). The groups all came into existence in the period just before or during the war, and have followed a similar course of development:

- the Association Rwandaise pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (the Rwandan Association for the Defense of Human Rights) (ARDHO) was formed on September 30-31 1991;

- the Association des Volontaires de la Paix (Association of Peace Volunteers) (AVP) was formed on August 6, 1991;

- the Ligue Rwandaise pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits de l'Homme (Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights) (LIPRODHOR) was formed in 1991;

- the Association Rwandaise pour la Défense des Droits de la Personne et des Libertés Publiques (Rwandan Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Person and of Public Liberties) (ADL) was formed on September 4, 1991.

All four groups are recognized as non-profit corporations ("ASBL").

The war served as the catalyzing event for the human rights groups and shaped their work during their first year of existence. In 1992, the Rwandan groups called for an international investigation into the human rights violations committed during the war. The investigation was eventually carried out in January 1993 by an International Commission with the close collaboration of the Rwandan groups. A confluence of political forces and timing allowed the investigation to proceed without incident, but the threat of violence hung over the participants and exploded as soon as the international investigators left the country on January 23, 1993.

The government response to the International Commission report issued on March 8, 1993 was complicated. On the one hand the government responded by "recognizing and regretting" the abuses that had taken place and promising a ten-point set of reforms reflecting the recommendations of the Commission. On the other hand, the government supported the creation of four new human rights groups--all with names and acronyms similar to the four reputable groups that participated in the creation of the Commission--whose chief purpose was to denounce the report internationally. There is even a competing coordinating committee--The Rwandan Federation for Human Rights. Since their efforts to counter the impact of the report, however, the four new groups--ARDVI, ARHO, LIDEL and Misércordia--and the Federation have not been heard from.

There have been various reprisals against human rights activists and citizens who have collaborated with the human rights groups. Monique Mujawamaliya, an organizer of the ADL who was actively involved in organizing the International Commission (and who is currently the Permanent Secretary of the Ligue des Droits de la Personne dans la Région des Grands Lacs) was injured in a suspicious car accident just before the arrival of the Commission. As the Commission left the country, she was publicly threatened with death by Captain Pascal Simbikangwa, a military official known to have participated in acts of violence and torture. Most recently, in January and February of 1994, Ms. Mujawamaliya was stopped, threatened and robbed by members of Interhamwe, the militia associated with the ruling party.

A number of other activists and members of the other major human rights groups have been threatened or attacked. On November 14, 1993, Alphonse Marie Nkubito, President of the CLADHO and a leader in the human rights movement--who is currently the Prosecutor General of the country--was attacked by several assailants. Grenades hurled by the assailants first hit his car and then him. Although permanently injured, he was able to return to work in early 1994.

Each of the human rights groups has incorporated the same basic structure. There is one Permanent Secretary and a series of subject-oriented committees composed of active members. In contrast with organizations in Zaire, for example, the leading figures instrumental in creating the human rights groups tend to remain outside of their day-to-day operations. For example, Abbé André Sibomana, President of the ADL, and Alphonse Nkubito, President of CLADHO and ARDHO, while active, leave the day-to-day operations to the Permanent Secretaries, primarily jurists, who tend not to be well-known figures with broad human rights experience.

Each group is engaged in a range of activities including monitoring, educating and assisting victims in particular cases. Each has an open-office policy of receiving complainants during office hours. There is a general plan for the groups to develop specialization, although it has not yet been put into action. Under the plan, ARDHO would concentrate on developing a network inside the country; AVP would develop a judicial assistance program; ADL would lead a major campaign of education and consciousness raising; and LIPRODHOR would specialize in cases of arbitrary detention.

In general, the groups appear to cooperate well and to have good links to both the international community and domestic institutions. While some accuse the NGOs of close political affiliations, there is an awareness of the need for--and, I believe, sincere effort at--political independence and balance on the question of Hutus and Tutsis. There is another group, Association pour l'Union et la Justice Sociale, that remains outside the coordinating committee, CLADHO. They are considered to be predominantly Tutsi, though still credible. The Catholic Church has played an important role in the human rights movement. LIPRODHOR was formerly known as the "Christian League for Human Rights." The Legal Representative of AVP is a priest, as is the President of ADL.

All of the groups essentially expressed the same interests with regard to training:

- human rights law and institutions;

- office organization and document production;

- grant writing.

They would appreciate exchanges with the international community and other groups in Africa.


Regional Organization

Ligue des Droits de la Personne dans la Région des Grands Lacs
(League of the Rights of the Person in the Great Lakes Region)

The Ligue is an umbrella organization which is currently composed of members from Rwanda, Burundi and Eastern Zaire. The Ligue was created at a meeting held May 28-30, 1993 in Kigali. While it plans to extend membership to human rights groups in each of the countries of the Great Lakes region (Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and Zaire), it is currently limited to the three French-speaking former Belgian colonies. The three principal officers are respectively affiliated with organizations in each of the countries: Joseph Mudumbi, the President, is from Grace in North Kivu; the Vice-President is from Iteka in Burundi; and Monique Mujawamaliya, the Permanent Secretary and permanent staff member, is the former Permanent Secretary of ADL in Rwanda.

The Ligue has opened an office in Rwanda under the direction of Monique Mujawamaliya and one principal staff member. Its activities until now have been limited largely to promotion and planning for future activities.

The Ligue's six primary goals are to:

- Coordinate the activities of promotion and defense of human rights and basic liberties;

- Elaborate the justification and basis of the actions led by the Ligue and associations which are members;

- Research and mobilize resources in order to promote and support the actions undertaken by the members;

- Develop common strategies to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights;

- Work actively to strengthen the ties among the people of the region over and above ethnic, tribal, professional or other barriers;

- Cooperate to achieve the human rights and security objectives of relevant international instruments.

The Ligue held an Extraordinary General Assembly January 17-19, 1994 at Lwiro in South Kivu, Zaire. There were more than thirty participants at the meeting, including members from the three countries and observers from human rights groups (VSV and LIZADHO from Kinshasa), development organizations (Oxfam-Goma, CNONGD-Kinshasa), and support organizations (PREFED-Bujumbura, IRED-Bukavu) (See descriptions of these organizations in Zaire section). The members exchanged information on their countries and reviewed the proposed activities for the coming year. The meeting was extremely well-organized in light of the limited infrastructure. The proposals were well-prepared and presented. They include the following:

- Human rights training for activists;

- Distribution of information on and popular education in human rights laws;

- Investigation, research and education in the areas occupied by Rwandan refugees;

- Colloquium on the problem of the Banyarwanda;

- One month of intercultural events for the promotion of human rights in the Great Lakes region; and

- Office structure and organization.

The advantage of the Ligue is that it has a broad participation of groups from the three countries, including individuals with a wide range of talents and experience. Communications are relatively good among the four areas (the two Kivus in Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi) and the leading members of the Ligue have already developed a pattern of collaboration.

National Organizations

Association des Volontaires de la Paix
(Association of Peace Volunteers)

AVP has its permanent office in two rooms. Ms. Kanzayire, who was trained as a jurist, is the organization's first Permanent Secretary. There are about ten active members out of eighty total members. AVP is involved in educational activities, judicial assistance, investigating and reporting.

AVP programs include a program for education and consciousness raising for which they have targeted public officials, church people and their own members, and a program of judicial assistance to support the victims of the war massacres.

Association "Haguruka" pour la Défense des Droits de la Femme et de l'Enfant
("Haguruka" Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Woman and the Child)

Haguruka was created in June 1991 and registered in December 1992. It is a member of the women's collective, Pro-Femme/Twese Hamwe.

The Association has an office in Nyamirambo where it provides information, training and judicial assistance. Its projects include expanding legal assistance to women, providing training on women's rights through other associations, and undertaking a study of the laws of succession and marital regimes.

Association Rwandaise pour la Défense des Droits de l'Homme
(Rwandan Association for the Defense of Human Rights)

ARDHO has some of the best office space and equipment which it shares with CLADHO. The President of ARDHO, Alphonse Nkubito, is also the President of CLADHO. There are 260 members of which 70 are in Commissions. Nevertheless, many members are inactive. The Permanent Secretary of ARDHO was also trained as a jurist. He is assisted by a secretary/researcher. ARDHO is actively working to open offices outside the capital. It now has chapters in Butare, Cyangugu and Kibuye. One major current project of ARDHO is to collect and distribute information throughout the country through the chapters it plans to create and through a bulletin. Another project involves training and education among teachers and students.

Association Rwandaise pour la Défense des Droits de la Personne et des Libertés Publiques
(Rwandan Association for the Defense of the Rights of the Person and of Public Liberties)

ADL's current Permanent Secretary, Rosalie Mukarukaka, replaced Monique Mujawamaliya (currently Permanent Secretary for LDGL) in December 1993. Like Ms. Mujawamaliya, she was trained as a social worker. There are 104 members of whom only the Board of Directors (bureau exécutif) is active. The Permanent Secretary is assisted by a lawyer who reviews the individual cases that present themselves.

ADL is better situated than other organizations, occupying one large space and a smaller office. There is a computer but little other office machinery. The ADL has published a significant annual report on human rights in the country. Otherwise, its work program is largely the same as the other organizations. It has a project to work on training and education together with an agricultural collective, "Imbaraga." ADL is actively seeking to expand membership to areas outside the capital.

Collectif des Ligues et Associations de Défense des Droits de l'Homme au Rwanda
(Rwandan Collective of Leagues and Associations for the Defense of Human Rights)


CLADHO was formed in March 1992, following the massacre at Bugesera on March 8, 1992. Its purposes are:

- to serve as a structure for support and combined action for its members;

- to reinforce the collaboration among the human rights groups;

- to promote a national human rights consciousness;

- to establish contacts with organizations and institutions that pursue the same objectives;

- to undertake any mission assigned to it by its members.

CLADHO is far more than a forum for collaboration. It is the executing agent of major human rights actions. It might be viewed as an independent human rights organization whose members are the the human rights groups themselves. It has credibility among all of the groups and, in turn, it reinforces their own credibility. In addition, it has the means--unavailable to any of the groups singly--to undertake serious investigations and reports.

Its projects for the future include:

- a national human rights newsletter;

- creation and implementation of a human rights curriculum;

- regular publication of investigations.

As part of the last project, CLADHO plans to develop a serious printing capacity that could serve the other human rights groups. CLADHO also recognizes the need to provide training to all of the human rights groups and to help them build their office and staff capacities.

Ligue Rwandaise pour la Promotion et la Défense des Droits de l'Homme
(Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights)
(formerly known as LICHREDHOR or Ligue "Chrétienne")

LIPRODHOR has its permanent office in one small room. The Permanent Secretary is trained as a lawyer and was formerly a magistrate. He has held the position since mid-1993. He is assisted by a full-time secretary. There are about 70 members of the organization though only a few are actively involved in Commissions. Many of the principal members are originally from the Cyangugu area in the southwest of the country, an area with a history of hostility to the rule of President Habyarimana.

LIPRODHOR researches cases, issues statements and declarations, and pursues recourse at the administrative and judicial level. It has a periodic newsletter which is issued in the Kenyrwanda language. It accepts written complaints from individuals, though there is no formal system for determining how to act on the complaints. The organization has held several seminars and conferences to discuss human rights and to publicize its work with the local population. In that connection it often works through the local Catholic Church or missionary groups.

- Peter Rosenblum

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