Murders Impede Justice in Rwanda


The group of armed men who forced their way into the house of Jean Sibomana, a local government official, appeared to know exactly who he was.

They called him by name, shot him, and then went on to kill his daughter and wife. Five others were killed in the attack.

Mr. Sibomana, a survivor of the 1994 genocide that killed up to 1 million people in Rwanda, says he believes the attackers are members of the notorious Interahamwe, the Hutu militia responsible for much of the slaughter. "We know the Interahamwe are hiding around here. Sometimes we've seen them in the swamps along the river. All seven killed were Tutsi. It hasn't finished. They're still trying to kill us," he says.

The attack in Mugina, just 25 miles south of the capital Kigali, has spread fear among local villagers. The Army has stepped up patrols in the area. A government official says soldiers killed two armed men, believed to be Interahamwe militiamen, in a skirmish near the river at the end of last month.

A representative for the United Nations human rights operation in Rwanda says the UN is concerned by the increase in reported attacks on genocide survivors and witnesses to the genocide. In the first half of 1996, it documented at least 98 such attacks, resulting in the killing of at least 85 people.

In the majority of such cases, the UN's investigations indicate that the perpetrators were probably members of the former Hutu army, Interahamwe militias, or insurgents opposed to the current Tutsi government.

As well as genocide survivors, local government officials and Tutsis who returned to Rwanda from exile after the end of the war were targeted. The names of some of the victims are said to have been included on death lists.

Rwanda has yet to start its own trials of some 80,000 genocide suspects being held in prisons and lock-ups around the country. Evidence is due to be heard next month against the first suspects on trial before the international tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania.

"It's not easy to say whether someone wants to kill the evidence or just to kill Tutsis to continue the genocide," says Acting Justice Minister Gerald Gahima. "Certainly it will affect the gathering of evidence on an individual level, although it won't stop us proving that a genocide happened and getting a number of people convicted."

In the countryside, Hutus and Tutsis coexist uneasily. A Tutsi woman who lost most of her family during the genocide said her Hutu neighbors shout insults at her as they pass her house. Many survivors say they would be too frightened to give evidence at future trials unless their safety afterward could be guaranteed.

Maintaining security, however, especially in western regions bordering Zaire, is pushing the Rwandan Army to its limits. In recent months, armed groups from the vast Hutu refugee camps in Zaire have infiltrated, perpetrating murders, ambushes, and sabotage.

The Army typically responds to the threat by conducting anti-insurgency operations in troubled areas, in which unarmed local civilians are frequently killed. In July, for example, the UN recorded the killing of nearly 200 people in Army operations.

With few documents to identify the planners and executors of the 1994 genocide, justice will depend almost totally on individual testimonies. As that evidence diminishes by the killing and intimidation of witnesses, so diminishes the prospect of ending perpetrators' impunity.

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