Rwandan Civil War, 1990

Belgian rule during the era of colonialism had created and intensified the tensions between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi ethnic groups in Rwanda. In the decades after Rwandan independence, tens of thousands of Tutsi exiles and refugees had fled to Uganda. In the late 1980s, many second generation Tutsi exiles formed into the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and called for the return of all Tutsi exiles to their homeland to fight for democracy and ethnic equality. Economic and political instability in Rwanda in 1990 provided the opening the RPF rebels needed. On October 1, 1990, several dozen RPF fighters crossed the border into Rwanda and killed the check point guards, opening the way for hundreds more rebels to enter the country. The rebels, most of whom were veterans of the Ugandan Bush War of the 1980s, were wearing Ugandan military uniforms and armed with Ugandan weapons. Rwandan president Habrayimana accused Uganda of invasion by proxy, but the Ugandan president denied knowledge of the RPF’s plans. With the help of financial aid and weapons supplied by France and additional troops sent by Zaire, the Rwandan government were able to quickly push back the invasion. On the third day of fighting, RPF commander Fred Rwigyema was killed, although it is still disputed whether he fell during the fighting or was killed by one of his own men during an argument. Major Paul Kagame, who was in the U.S. training at the General Staff College, quickly returned to Rwanda to take up leadership of the RPF. After some initial setbacks, the RPF regrouped and changed tactics from direct combat to guerrilla war. The two sides reached a tenuous cease-fire in 1993, but it was short-lived. President Habyarimana was killed when his presidential jet was shot down in April 1994, triggering a violent reaction from his supporters against the Tutsi population and perceived supporters of the RPF. The genocide that followed killed approximately 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The RPF was eventually able to defeat the government forces and halt the genocide, but the country was devastated by the war. Millions died in the fighting and genocide, millions more fled the country as refugees, and thousands died of disease in the refugee camps. There are many places where you can find documents related to the Rwandan genocide, including those dealing with international law as well as the rhetoric of the genocide and the experiences of the survivors. The documents here are centered around the first few months following the 1990 invasion.

RwandaMillions of Rwandans fled their country to escape the violence of the Rwandan Civil War and the genocide that followed.


Rwandan Foreign Minister Address to Diplomats, 8 October 1990

President Habyarimana’s Speech, 15 October 1990

Kagame statement to the press, 2 April 1991

Rwandan Foreign Minister Address to Diplomats, 8 October 1990 Top

Source: BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. “Rwanda Foreign Minister Outlines Prevailing Situation, Condemns Rebel Incursion.” 11 October 1990.  Accessed from LexisNexis Academic, 19 September 2012.

(i) Excerpts from a recording of an address on 8th October to diplomats in Kigali by Rwandan Foreign Minister Casimir Bizimungu

[Announcer] this afternoon, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Dr Casimir Bizimungu, met diplomats accredited in Kigali in order to inform them about the situation currently prevailing in our country. He seized the opportunity to thank the friendly countries which have supported us and which continue to do so in these particularly difficult times. Listen to him.

[Bizimungu, recording] On the morning of 1st October 1990, Rwanda was subject to an external aggression by assailants comprised of Rwandan refugees, members of the Ugandan army, who were joined by Ugandan elements belonging to the same army. The aggressors were equipped with heavy and sophisticated weapons, including among others armoured vehicles, cars equipped with machine-guns, mortars and recoilless guns. The invaders started their attack near Kagitumba, in the Mutara region in the north-eastern part of the country, where they started by destroying the economic infrastructure and assassinating innocent civilians. The aggressors, whose number is at present estimated at 10,000 [figure as received] , a figure which can double or triple if recruitment from the Ugandan army continues – and there is abundant evidence on this matter – I would like to say that the aggressors are led by Maj-Gen Fred Rwigyema, one of the highest ranking officials of the Ugandan army and the leader of the organisation Rwandan Patriotic Front [Kinyarwanda word indistinct] . This terrorist organisation has as its only aim the establishment of a minority regime embodying feudalism with a modern look. The Rwandan people will not agree to reverse history, leading the nation’s dynamic forces back to feudal drudgery and enslavement. That is why they are resolved to preserve courageously the gains of the 1959 social revolution and those of the second republic, unity and peace in particular.

The international press has been inundated with the propaganda from the movement of the aggressors, who pretend to struggle for the advent of democracy and social justice in Rwanda. This media campaign carried out by the Inkotanyi [Kinyarwanda fierce fighters] movement must fool nobody as the abundant literature which it has made public is clear and explicit about the goals to be attained. If it was simply a question of establishing democracy and social justice in Rwanda, any experienced observer knows about the second republic’s merits on that matter and realises the openness recently shown by the head of state towards itself in a multi-party system [sentence as received] .

The international community must therefore understand that this is not an internal conflict at all but rather an external aggression conducted by forces with several faces. It is true that after this attack the Rwandan government quickly realised that there were accomplices inside the country. This explains the arrest of several persons in the country suspected of being either (?culturalists) or accomplices of these terrorists. The competent authorities are establishing the responsibility of each person under arrest so as to take the measures indicated, with strict respect for our law.

On the situation now prevailing in the country today, I feel obliged to inform you that calm prevails in the greater part of the territory, including the capital, Kigali. Fighting continues in the [north-eastern] Mutara [region] and for the time being, the enemy seems to be losing its grip.

The Rwandan government has been informed of the Ugandan government’s willingness to put an end to any infiltration of Rwanda by rebels coming from its own [Ugandan] territory. It [the Rwandan government] hopes that this promise will genuinely materialise so that the recruitment of new assailants from the Ugandan army, as well as their infiltration into our country, will end immediately.

I take this opportunity to inform those among the refugees who excite the international community by saying that the Rwandan government had for a long time decided to ignore the problem of these refugees, and [I inform them] that Rwandan politico-administrative officials put the issue at the centre of their preoccupations.

This is all the more true since Rwandan-Ugandan consultations on the issue were about to reach realistic and lasting political solutions. We express warm thanks to the UNHCR for the important role it plays to that effect. . .

This opportunity allows me to ask friendly countries, international humanitarian bodies and the international community to condemn vigorously this aggression which has as its only aim the establishment of a minority and feudal regime under the veil of slogans of liberation and democracy. The UN and the OAU are invited in their turns to spare nothing in order to condemn this barbarous aggression, to monitor closely the development of the situation and to make sure that territorial integrity and peaceful co-existence, as contained in the two organisations’ charters, is safeguarded. . .

(ii) Excerpts from Rwandan Foreign Minister’s comments on his meeting with Ugandan ambassador, with introduction

. . .During this afternoon’s meeting, the Ugandan ambassador to Rwanda announced some proposals made by his country, proposals which were received favourably by the Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation. The statement made by the Ugandan diplomat reassures the Rwandan government and the head of Rwandan diplomacy tells us why

[Bizimungu – recording] A statement which in fact reassures us and which is edifying in the sense that it does not only confine itself to taking measures, immediate measures which should slow down the aggressors’ movements, but also measures which are constructive in time in the sense that meetings are envisaged – the Ugandan side proposes regular meetings between the two heads of state in order to assess the development of the situation – and in the sense that the Ugandan government is disposed to listen to any eventual proposals….

But I also impressed upon the ambassador, the Ugandan representative, the fact that we continue receiving evidence showing that the aggressors are recruiting new members – who number several thousand people – inside Uganda and that it seems that the recruitment exercise is being conducted steadily and without any hindrance. I asked him to check properly with his government so that we may know, because if we talk about good-neighbourliness and if we talk about sub-regional co-operation, if we talk about the building of this eventual African community, we think that nations, countries must first co-operate, even if only at the bilateral level.

And we – the Ugandan ambassador said that the entrances and exits between Rwanda and Uganda had been entirely sealed off and that there were no leaks. Yet we continue to receive evidence that means of infiltration remain. I then asked the Ugandan representative to verify so that we may be told exactly what is happening at present. Naturally, in our turn, we will inform the diplomatic community in Kigali about exactly what is happening. . .

President Habyarimana’s Speech, 15 October 1990 Top

Source: BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. “Rwandan President on Current Situation; Castigates Media ‘Disinformation.’” 18 October 1990. Accessed from LexisNexis Academic, 19 September 2012.

Before leaving Kigali for Nairobi, the head of state this morning, once again and for the second time since the attack on our country by the enemy from Uganda on 1st October 1990, made a statement. The head of state’s message centres on the stirring up of the international community by the enemies who unleashed aggression against our country. We suggest you listen straight away to the head of state’s address to the nation.

[Habyarimana] Rwandans, friends of Rwanda. Our country continues, with courage and strength, to deal with the attack which it has been experiencing since 1st October 1990, unleashed by strongly armed assailants partly of Rwandan origin, partly of foreign origin, from Uganda – most of them members of the Ugandan Liberation Army. The attack we have to face is of course at the military level and at the level of armed infiltrations, but it is also at other levels, as we have seen.

Militants and friends of Rwanda, allow me to inform you about the situation concerning the multiple aspects of the aggression against our country, Rwanda. On the military front and on the infiltration into our country by enemy forces, the news these days is comforting. Indeed, the infiltration of assailants and of rebels into the Kigali prefecture is at the present hour under control. Enemy arms caches in the capital and its environs have been seized and, above all, the majority of the infiltrators have been spotted. . .

However, we have noted with anger and grief that there has also been some sort of excess of zeal, transcending what is reasonable on the part of some individuals attempting to stir up confusion by setting out to take revenge on people whom investigations had rapidly shown had nothing to reproach themselves with.

As regards infiltrations into the Kigali region, the situation seems to be under control, but the enemy being what he is we must remain extremely vigilant not only during the coming days but also during the coming weeks and months. On the military front, which continues to be [word indistinct] in the north of our country, in the Mutara region in particular, there also we have better news as our armed forces – by virtue of their high morale and patriotic fervour which we can be proud of, be highly proud of – resist the enemy forces, which are remarkably well supplied, as confirmed by external observers, and are supported by a recruitment office in Ugandan territory. Battles, some very fierce, took place and will continue as long as the enemy remains within our borders. Rwanda radio will continue informing you in the most objective and sincere manner about the development of military operations on the northern front for all of us to monitor these developments.

Rwandans, friends of Rwanda. The aggression against our country is not just military. It is also one which manipulates the international media with disinformation about the truth of the Rwandan position and about what is at stake in the current tragic events hitting our country. As was the case with the military attack on our country, which took us by surprise when a military detachment in uniform crossed the Kagitumba bridge and took our border post by assault, as was the case with the military attack then, we have also been surprised by the strength of the manipulation – planned as we know now, planned for a long time – of some Western media – and important media at that – aimed at turning world opinion against our country. Militants, our country accordingly was and remains the target of attacks and libels, of systematic lies which we can only describe as diabolic.

Who are these people, who, under the pretext of overthrowing our government, resort to such a campaign, resort to such a campaign [repeats] , aimed at tarnishing our country? Sometimes, we even have the impression that anybody can say anything and that everything he says will be reported throughout the world without verification, totally uncritically, and regardless of what we consider to be the most elementary professional code of ethics. But this is perhaps how things work. We can do nothing but deplore it.

This aggression against our country, its reputation, its gains and its will to progress and this disinformation about Rwandan realities are what is really at stake in these events. . .

It is said that our government reportedly wildly massacred thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens, that the darkest Middle Ages reportedly reign over our penal establishments, that we are reportedly unrestrained bloodthirsty people wildly trampling human rights underfoot, and also many other horrors. The truth is completely different. [Repeats] The truth is completely different. Apparently, and fortunately, there is only one death to deplore during the provisional detention [French mise en prevention provisoire] of the 2,500 to 3,000 people whose identities and activities were to be investigated for national security reasons and also for their own protection.

Apart from a few clashes and a few rigours – probably unavoidable given the mood of tension, of threats of civil war and which by contrast help us to see better the remarkable command shown by our security forces – everybody seems to be reasonably well, given of course the situation.

Our prisons have been visited by journalists who are free to take any pictures they like, and to discuss things with anybody. Diplomatic missions have also entered our prisons. They are free to do so as many times as they wish. . . We have nothing to hide. I invite the parliaments of countries friendly to us to send commissions of inquiry here if they so wish. They will be allowed to see everything. They will be allowed to investigate anything. We really have nothing to hide. what we want is for the world to know the truth and nothing but the truth instead of this miserable campaign of pseudo-information. . .

Rwandans, I have said what I set out to say today. I would like to end by warmly thanking on behalf of the Rwandan people the friendly countries which have so spontaneously stood up for us by bringing in important support in the field, by helping us protect their compatriots working in our country for the progress of our country. I would like to tell them that we shall continue to need their presence for a certain period, until we are sure that things are back in order. . .

[Announcer] That was the message of the President of the republic to the nation and to the world. . . In the field, fighting continues and (?not only) today. Our armed forces last Saturday [13th October] recaptured the village of Nyagatare [in northern Rwanda] thus allowing for the evacuation to Kigali of three Japanese women volunteers and Belgian nationals working in the region. In tandem with the fierceness shown by the [word indistinct] to defend the nation, the Rwandan authorities continue with their explanations and briefings to the population.

Kagame statement to the press, 2 April 1991 Top

Source:Inter-Press Service. “Rwanda: Rebels Demand a Place in Government.” 3 April 1991. Retrieved from LexisNexis Academic on 13 April 2012.

The rebel Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) is seeking integration into the government of Rwanda following a ceasefire agreement that ended the five-month-long conflict which began when the RPF invaded Rwanda from Uganda last October.

Maj. Paul Kagame, military commander of the RPF army, told newsmen here yesterday that “everything hinges on the integration of the RPF into the government of Rwanda.”

“We would like to become partners in government and the democratization process that would follow. It would be acceptable if there were multiparty elections where the RPF could stand.”

However, he ruled out the prospect of the RPF laying down arms prior to the political negotiations due to start within a fortnight. The ceasefire agreement between the Rwanda government and RPF was signed Mar. 29.

“That would be unacceptable to us,” Kagame said, “because there would be no security for us. The democratization process came about because we took up arms and need to be in government to safeguard it.

“We want to be in Rwanda, to be safe when we are there, and to participate in every sector of life.”

Many of the 500,000 Rwandese refugees in east Africa want to go back home, the commander said. “The most important thing is that the Rwanda government accepts its people outside. There must be commitments and things must be seen to be done.

“It is the burden of the government to accept its peoples and it was their refusal to accept that responsibility which led to the conflict.”

According to Kagame, the ceasefire had only occurred because of casualties inflicted on government troops by his 7,000-10,000 strong army since October.

He claimed that since Mar. 29 the ceasefire had been broken several times by shelling of the RPF army positions.

Kagame expressed reservations about the effectiveness of proposed monitoring teams from other African countries.

Tanzania’s, for example, had already withdrawn from the arrangements.

He said that the chairman of the RPF, Col. Alex Kanyarengwe, who had earlier been reported killed, was now in Europe mobilizing international support for the RPF.

And Maj. Linzinde, the former director of intelligence, freed from Ruhengeri prison in February, was now director of information in the RPF.


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