Rwandan Patriotic Front
|“||Some of us had been refugees since 1959, and over the years - in the 60's and 70's - there had been killings of Tutsis in different parts of Rwanda. So we mainly focused on the fact that there was need for change in the country. We were a stateless people - we were everywhere in the neighboring countries - and we needed to come back home.||„|
|~ Paul Kagame talks about the origins of the RPF.|
The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF, French: Front patriotique rwandais, FPR) is the ruling political party in Rwanda. Led by President Paul Kagame, the party has governed the country since its armed wing defeated government forces and ended the Rwandan Genocide in 1994.
On 1 October 1990 the RPF led by Maj-General Fred Gisa Rwigyema invaded Rwanda, starting the Rwandan Civil War. Despite commander Fred Gisa Rwigyema being killed on 2 October, the RPF incursion was initially successful. However, the Rwandan Army received help from Belgium, France and Zaire and within a month had regained the initiative, forcing the RPF back into Uganda.
Paul Kagame was very close to Maj-Gen Fred Gisa Rwigyema as such he was asked to return from his military studies in the United States to take over the RPF. Thereafter the RPF resorted to guerrilla attacks, focusing on the Byumba and Ruhengeri areas, gaining control of much of the north of the country in 1992.
Eventually negotiations between the RPF and the Rwandan MRND government led to the signing of the Arusha Accords in 1993, resulting in RPF personnel and other refugees being allowed to return to the country.
The cease-fire ended on 6 April 1994 when President Juvénal Habyarimana's plane was shot down near Kigali Airport, killing him and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the President of Burundi. It is still unknown who launched the attack; the RPF blamed Hutu extremists in the Rwandan government, while the government claimed that the RPF was responsible for the attack.
The shooting down of the plane served as the catalyst for the subsequent genocide against the Tutsi, which began within a few hours. Over the course of approximately 100 days, an estimated 1,000,000 Tutsi were killed, on the orders of the interim government. The Tutsi RPF restarted their offensive, and took control of the country methodically by cutting off government supply routes and taking advantage of the deteriorating social order.
On 7 June, the Hutu Archbishop of Kigali, Vincent Nsengiyumva, was murdered near the Kabgayi church center with two bishops and thirteen priests by members of the RPF, who were said to have believed the prelates were involved with the killing of their families.
The RPF victory was complete when Kigali was captured on 4 July and the rest of the country on 18 July. The RPF's Pasteur Bizimungu was installed as President of Rwanda, with Kagame appointed Vice President. The RPF was split into a political division which retained the RPF name, and a military one, called the Rwandan Patriotic Army (now the Rwandan Defence Forces).
In February 1998 Kagame was elected president of the RPF, replacing Alexis Kanyarengwe, and in March 2000 he became the national President.
Following a constitutional referendum in 2003, Kagame was elected President with 95% of the vote. The RPF formed a coalition with several smaller parties, which received 74% of the vote in the 2003 parliamentary elections, winning 40 of the 53 elected seats in the Chamber of Deputies. The coalition won 42 seats in the 2008 parliamentary elections, and Kagame was re-elected as President in 2010 with 93% of the vote. The 2013 parliamentary elections saw the RPF-led coalition win 41 seats.
Atrocities during the civil war
During both the civil war and the genocide, as well as in the months following the RPF victory, RPF soldiers killed many people, although the nature and causes of these atrocities is a matter of dispute.
According to one view, which is supported by the post-genocide regime, killings by RPF soldiers were perpetrated by undisciplined recruits seeking revenge and that all such transgressions were promptly punished. Another view, maintained by critics of the regime, is that RPF committed atrocities in a systematic fashion which were directed by officers with a high level of authority, possibly implicating Paul Kagame himself; crimes which should have been prosecuted by the ICTR. Some of those critics argue that these killings amounted to genocide under international law.
The first rumours of RPF killings emerged after 250,000 mostly Hutu refugees streamed into Tanzania at the border crossing of Rusumo on 28 April 1994. The refugees had fled before the Tutsi rebels arrived because they believed the RPF were committing atrocities. A spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) observed that "There's a lot of propaganda by the Government radio aimed at the Hutu" which "makes them feel very anti-Tutsi."
After the RPF took control of the border crossing at Rusumo on 30 April, refugees continued to cross the Kagera River, ending up in remote areas of Tanzania. In early May, the UNHCR began hearing concrete accounts of atrocities and made this information public on 17 May.
After the RPF took power in Rwanda, UNHCR sent a team led by Robert Gersony to investigate the prospects for a speedy return of the nearly two million refugees that had fled Rwanda since April. After interviewing 300 people, Gersony concluded that "clearly systematic murders and persecution of the Hutu population in certain parts of the country" had taken place. Gersony's findings were suppressed by the United Nations. The Gersony Report did not technically exist because Gersony did not complete it, but a summary of an oral presentation of his findings was leaked in 2010. Gersony's personal conclusion was that between April and August 1994, the RPF had killed "between 25,000 and 45,000 persons, between 5,000 and 10,000 persons each month from April through July and 5,000 for the month of August." The new authorities categorically denied the allegations of Gersony, details of which leaked to the press.
According to an RPA officer, "There was not time to do proper screening. [...] We needed a force, and some of those recruited were thieves and criminals. Those people have been responsible for much of our trouble today." In an interview with journalist Stephen Kinzer, Kagame acknowledged that killings had occurred but stated that they were carried out by rogue soldiers and had been impossible to control.
The RPF killings gained international attention with the 1995 Kibeho Massacre, in which soldiers opened fire on a camp for internally displaced persons in Butare prefecture. Australian soldiers serving as part of UNAMIR estimated at least 4,000 people were killed, while the Rwandan government claimed that the death toll was 338.
During the First Congo War
The RPF also committed numerous atrocities during the First Congo War, most notably conducting multiple massacres of Hutus as part of a campaign of collective punishment. The RPF and their allies systematically shelled numerous camps and committed massacres with light weapons. These early attacks cost the lives of 6,800–8,000 refugees and forced the repatriation of 500,000–700,000 refugees back to Rwanda.
As survivors fled westward of the DRC, the RPF hunted them down and attacked their makeshift camps, killing thousands more. These attacks and killings continued to intensify as refugees moved westward as far as 1,800 km away. The report of the United Nations Joint Commission reported 134 sites where such atrocities were committed. On 8 July 1997, the acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that "about 200,000 Hutu refugees could well have been massacred."
Children alongside the adults were killed indiscriminately, sometimes in particularly cruel ways, with blows from hatchets or with their head smashed against a wall or tree trunk. Others were reported burned alive in their homes, along with their families. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’s DRC Mapping Exercise Report listed incidents of women who were raped before being killed, e.g. in the course of the refugee massacres at Hombo in December 1996. Women were also tortured and subjected to mutilation, particularly sexual, during these massacres.