The Crises in Rwanda and Burundi Are Not Over Yet
WHILE the world is still trying to sort out who should have done what to avert last summer's genocide in Rwanda, another round of genocidal war threatens to erupt there and in neighboring Burundi. This time the war could spread through the entire region.
When a few thousand troops might have averted large-scale genocide in Rwanda this spring, the international community failed to act. The world did step in to mount the massive relief effort for the refugees this summer, but by then an awful price in lives had been paid, and resources that might have been used to stabilize the region had to be spent on the emergency.
Now, unless the international community responds with vigor, the cycle threatens to repeat itself.
Ironically, some of the largely Hutu refugees who have been saved increasingly threaten the security of Rwanda and Burundi. The leadership that carried out the last genocide in Rwanda has consolidated control over the 2 million refugees along Rwanda's borders. Safe repatriation of the civilians is absolutely necessary to prevent renewed war. The United Nations -- in cooperation with the governments of Zaire and Tanzania -- must act to defuse this time bomb.
A security force will be needed to permit free choice by the refugees to return home. It is unlikely that governments will quickly agree to put troops into the refugee camps to break the hold of the Hutu military leaders. If they do not, then the UN secretary-general should be authorized and funded to hire his own security force. Further delay in addressing this problem will only make it more intractable. Already, voluntary agencies in the camps are threatening to pull out because the Hutu military lead ership has been menacing relief workers, inciting violence within the camps, and undermining assistance to the neediest refugees by controlling distribution. Humanitarian workers are troubled by the moral dilemma of indirectly aiding a reviving genocidal leadership.
Meanwhile, in Rwanda, the new government has received almost no foreign assistance. A substantial amount of aid has flowed into the UN agencies that have sprouted large infrastructures in Rwanda, but government offices remain without even bare necessities, such as furniture and paper. The military hasn't been paid in three months. As a result, the weak government is tending to fray and harder-line elements will move into the vacuum.
It is hard to understand why the international community has been so cautious to aid the new government. There clearly have been some abuses by the Rwandan Patriotic Army. Displaced persons and some of the small number of returning refugees have been abused and sometimes killed, as apparently documented in one UNHCR report. More than 15,000 people have been arrested by the new regime and are being held in wretched conditions.
Yet the near-unanimous view among humanitarian agencies on the ground in Kigali is that the government -- while not a band of angels -- must be aided if it is to be able to take hold, which is a far better option than to let conditions slide out of control.
Following the slaughter of the professional class in Rwanda, a key priority is to give the government support in the administration of justice, including the probable need for foreign lawyers, judges, and judicial police to train government officials.
The World Bank, which had been holding off aid because of unpaid arrearages, is apparently resolving the issue. Loan money will flow in early 1995. Governmental and other donors should move to provide aid even more quickly. (This task will be complicated by a continuing French campaign to deny aid to the new Rwanda government.) The current demand for reform from a government with no funds is a recipe for disaster.
The return home of the internally displaced in Rwanda is the possible key to reconciliation and the later repatriation of refugees. The UN Human Rights Monitors program, inexorably slow in getting under way, must do its part to bolster refugees' confidence as they return to their villages.
In Burundi, despite the loss of two presidents over the last year, another wave of full war has not occurred. But violence is growing. Hard-line Hutu elements are conducting guerrilla operations and threaten to expand them. The government counters with ethnic-cleansing operations.
Recently, in northwestern Burundi, 40,000 refugees were pushed into neighboring Zaire. Even more disquieting is that any member of the 80 percent Hutu majority who shows any prominence in any field is under threat of execution. There are said to be death lists similar to those that circulated in Rwanda on the eve of the genocide there. Recently, two respected moderates were gunned down in one 24-hour period. One was killed, along with his son, in his hospital room. As always, no suspects were apprehende d. If the moderates continue to be mowed down, the field will be left to extremists. Civil war will begin again -- likely further destabilizing the region and the 2 million Hutu refugees on the Rwandan border.
The UN secretary-general's representative, Ould Abdallah, and his deputy, Hany Abdel-Aziz, lead a small, deeply committed team trying to keep the lid on in Burundi. As in Rwanda, reform of the justice system is vital. In particular, to deter future assassins and to reassure the Hutu majority, the police must be reinforced with anti-terror and investigative capacity. A donor country or other entity should step in to accomplish this, as the UN apparently cannot. In Colombia, it was possible to break the p ower of the drug lords. It should be possible to begin to counter the far-less-sophisticated assassins of Burundi.
To defuse Burundi and to prevent Rwanda from going into an instant replay, the UN-led efforts must get much more serious backing from the United States and other major nations. Funds and political support are required. The best way to achieve this would be to name an internationally known figure to augment the secretary-general's fine representatives in each country. Such an envoy would direct a regional strategy and sell it aggressively to the countries of the region and to donors, cutting through UN r ed tape.
Much has been said about how to prevent future Rwandas. Eerily, Rwanda and Burundi threaten to become repeating genocides. And incredibly, the world appears still not to have learned the lesson that only early action can prevent these instant replays. We should seize the initiative because eventually we will pay more to pick up the pieces than to prevent the wars. And the human pieces can never be picked up.