The author is reachable at He works at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). However, views expressed herein are not a reflection of the official position, past, present, or future, of the United Nations or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

  1. Introduction 

Rwanda has been a country of origin for refugees since her early years as an independent state to date. Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), the ruling party born in exile, has been keen on repatriating refugees. In this line, the Government of Rwanda has indefatigably collaborated with other states and partner organisations to ensure the repatriation of Rwandese refugees and the elimination causes of refugeehood from the national law, policy, and practice. Nonetheless, there are Rwandans in neighbouring countries and have reportedly participated in armed struggles across the region. It not only hinders their voluntary repatriation but also threatens peace and security in Rwanda and the region.

This paper sets out to investigate the history of Rwandese refugee outfluxes and envisages a future where no Rwandese will be a refugee. The paper defines a refugee from the international refugee law perspective. It attempts to delineate push factors for Rwandese refugees, interrogate circumstances under which Rwandese refugees became combatants, explore implications for peace and security in the Great Lakes region. Finally, it poses conditions for sustainable peace in the region.

2. Who is a refugee? 

Different academic disciplines define “refugee” differently.  This paper uses the definition of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of refugees (hereinafter the 1951 Refugee Convention). Accordingly, Article 1A (2)[1]  clarifies that a refugee is any person who has a well-founded fear of persecution for nationality, race, membership of a particular social group or political opinion resulting from events that occurred before 1 January 1951. Due to such a founded fear, a person is not willing/able to avail him/herself to his country of nationality or unwilling to return to the former nationality.

However, this definition has limitations. It applies to “refugees” on the territory of Europe (there were approximately 1.2 million European refugees after World Wat II[2]), and therefore, the effect of the Convention was construed in a temporal (before 1 January 1951) and spatial scope (Europe). This limitation necessitated the 1967 Protocol. Article 1(2) of the Protocol[3] omits the “as a result of such events” in article 1 A (2) of the Convention to expand the scope. The protocol’s definition retains reasons for prosecution outlined in the 1951 Convention.

Nonetheless, the definition was thus far construed to the geographical content and effects of WWII. The Organisation of African Union (OAU) extended the definition in the context of colonisation and decolonisation in Africa by including elements of foreign domination and other issues that may cause forced emigration. As such, article 1 (2) of the 1969 OUA definition details other conditions for becoming a refugee: external aggression, foreign domination or grave partial or generalised public order, occupation[4], thus making the definition more comprehensive.

Similarly, due to refugee crises in Central America which caused large numbers to flee generalised violence and oppression, Latin American states adopted the Cartagena Declaration in 1984. Its third article considers the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol. It adds that a person becomes a refugee after running away from their country of nationality due to lack of safety or freedom threatened by generalised violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or any situation that considerably disturbs public order[5], thus making it more comprehensive than the 1951 Convention.

The two regional definitions of the concept “refugee” clearly extend the 1951 refugee convention’s definition and corroborate the 1967 refugee protocol. This paper will use the OAU’s definition. Legitimate causes of being a refugee include external aggressions, occupation, foreign domination, and events seriously gravely disturbing public order in a part of or the whole of the country of origin/nationality.

3. Rwandan Refugees: Militarisation Context 

For ease of analysis, the paper divides events into three:  Fragile Independence 1959 -1973), Civil War, Genocide and Emergency Period (1990-1998), and the “post-genocide” situation. For each of these events, the paper outlines refugee outfluxes’ context and investigates the militarisation context.

3.1. Fragile Independence (1959-1973)

Under this, the paper explores causes that led to forced migration and circumstances under which they were militarised. Like many African territories, Rwanda was a kingdom. European visitors came to Rwanda out of research curiosity; the culture of Rwandans and the source of the River Nile had been opaque to the European world. During the Berlin Conference or partitioning of Africa, Rwanda became an annex to the Das deutch-ostafrikanische Schutzgebiet (East African German protectorate). In 1989, Dr Richard Kandt came to Rwanda to document findings in his Caput Nili. The German Reich was so impressed that they appointed him a Resident of Rwanda. His decision gave birth to Kigali, the Capital City of Rwanda, as evidenced by the Richard Candt Museum in Kigali. He is also credited for having introduced coffee to Rwanda. He would later go back to Germany in 1913 due to sickness and would not return[6] since his sunset on 29 April 1918 coincided with the World War approaching the end (November 1918), but German lost it.

As a punitive measure to German, the rest would be that the Kingdom of Belgium under Leopold II assumed the protection of Rwanda. In collaboration with the Catholic Church Missionaries, the Belgian administration would later divide and rule the Rwandans; using the Tutsi as pulpits to mistreat the Hutu, they would later find it easy to instigate the Hutu to rise against the Monarch in the so-called 1959 Social Revolution.

This so-called revolution received a divided interpretation; for the Hutu, it meant the end of oppression, while for the Tutsi, it meant oppression. Ethnic tensions, region-based political parties. King Mutara III Rudahigwa passed on in circumstances that remain opaque; it was necessary to take a yellow fever vaccine before travelling to New York. Bujumbura was the only option for him to take it. After injection, he never saw his people again. Rwandans mourned the death of a man who had wanted unity. The colonial ruler arranged for a symbolic replacement by Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, son of the de cojus[7] who would rule in theory but unable to assert his voice in the conduct of the country’s affairs.

Between September 1959 and May 1960, there were 20 political parties, of which four big ones were going to dominate. The big ones were: APROSOMA (Association pour la Promotion Sociale de la Masse), whose membership was Hutu; UNAR – Union Nationale Rwandaise, with a mission to fight divisive ideologies among Rwandans; RADER – Rassemblement Democratique Rwandaise, reportedly created with the support of the missionaries and members of the colonial rule to fight the UNAR; and the PARMEHUTU – Parti du Mouvement de l’Emancipation des Bahutu, reportedly supported by some Europeans, missionaries, and members of the colonial rule to fight the Tutsi[8] whom they hated.

Amidst the divisions, elections were organised at different levels. At Commune levels, elections took place between 28 June and 30 July 1960, where the people elected 229 bourgmestres (mayors) and 2896 Commune Advisors. PARMEHUTU took 70.4% of the seats. The Referendum was also organised where 80% were in favour of shifting from monarchy to republic. Behind the scenes, however, the process was manipulated by the Belgian administration. Finally, the legislative assembly elections whereby PARMEHUTU had 35 seats against 7 for UNAR and 2 for APROSOMA. The king’s efforts to request the annulment of referendum results were futile[9]. There would finally be the 1962 independence, and the leaders of PARMEHUTU would use their party’s manifesto to rule. Amidst these insecurities, extremist Hutus put the Tutsi’s shelters on fire, killings happened here and there, leading to refugee outfluxes to neighbouring countries.  No political speech rebuffed this neither has there been any commission to investigate these anomalies.

Amidst this insecurity, some members of UNAR denied what was happening in the country, would launch incursions into the country. These armed groups called inyenzi mushroomed without the will of party leaders (who were busy with diplomatic engagements with the UN to reverse the course of events in Rwanda). Incursions were launched in Bugesera (1963-1964), Cyangugu – Bugarama (1964), Nshili and Bweyeye (1966), deepening thus the resentment that the extremist Hutus had against the Tutsi. For instance, between 8,000 and 10,000 Tutsi were assassinated in Gikongoro alone[10]. The total figure of victims across the country was estimated at 25,000-35,000 death toll, triggering new waves of refugees[11]based on their ethnicity[12]. Estimates suggest that 200,000 were refugees by 1961 in Uganda[13], 245,000 refugees in Burundi[14],  50,000 in Zaire, and 50,000 in Tanzania. While no further inyenzi incursions decreased over time, the racist government continued to hunt the Tutsi. In 1973, similar killings targeted the Catholic seminaries of the Tutsi-dominated clergy and educational establishment[15]. These, among other events, increased the volume of refugee outflows.

It is legitimate to ask why the inyenzi failed. It is a fact that refugees’ reception was not warm.  In Uganda, they met the indifference of the British, who were minding the course of events related to decolonisation. It contributed to the militarisation of the Uganda based inyenzi[16]. When Obote took power, he warned the refugees against attacking Rwanda. Around 800 were even expulsed in Zaire and sought asylum in Tanzania because some supported the Mulelists (a rebel movement led by Pierre Mulele in Congo). Rwandese refugees were even attacked and looted. Tanzania extradited some of refugees that Kigali was hunting. In Burundi, while they actively recruited without hindrance, they did not have military support.

In summary, inyenzi failed because they lacked a clear political agenda and leadership. All senior leaders in UNAR were busy attempting to engage the UN to reverse the course of events in Rwanda. Secondly, inyenzi were different factions with distinct leaders such as Hamud, Sebyeza, Mudandi, Kayitare and Ngurumbe). Thirdly, inyenzi did not have military support from host countries. Finally, conflicts amongst leaders of factions played against inyenzi [17].  The cumulative effect was somewhat positive to the government of Kigali as their threat became weak.

Rwandese refugees had to languish in different camps in neighbouring countries. There were legal barriers against their return. In 1966, the first president Gregoire Kayibanda warned returnees against claiming their properties. In the same line, the succeeding president, Juvenal Habyarimana, decreed that the property left behind by refugees belonged to the government, even though government officials did not relinquish these properties. The government of Kigali considered the returnees a priori spies working for inyenzi. Rwandan embassies in countries of asylum, among other duties, had to monitor the activities of refugees[18]. Kigali even fermented animosity between host communities and refugees. For instance, refugees had haunting relationships with the Mutuelle des Agriculteurs des Virunga (MAGRIVI) in northern Zaire and the Abanyarwanda – Bahutu Association in Uganda[19]. It was, therefore, difficult for refugees to enjoy basic security.

In 1963, Rwanda and Uganda established a joint commission on the return of Rwandese refugees. The commission met once 21-28 July 1974 because many officials were clearly against the refugees’ repatriation. On the contrary, refugees sought by Kigali would be refouled. For instance, Kigali refouled about 60,000 refugees and only accepted 1,026 who reportedly fulfiled requirements. August 1976, Rwanda’s Minister to the Presidency instructed that “[t]he return of refugees must be strictly controlled and only encouraged when those applying to return are useful to the country […] since their massive return would conflict with the population explosion”.[20] In 1982, President Habyarimana reiterated that the country was already undergoing too much population pressures to host large numbers of refugees who wanted to return[21]. He expressed his wish to the European Economic Community Review that refugees permanently settle out of the country due to Rwanda’s dense population[22]. In 1986, the ruling party’s central committee proposed an alternative durable solution: the naturalisation of refugees in host states, a decision that refugees did not like. On 09 February 1989, Kigali put in place a special commission on the problems of refugees. Its report was available in 1990 and recommended two venues: repatriation and naturalisation. However, the report required that either a refugee or the international community would guarantee that the returnee would be self-reliant. The paper argues that this was a tacit negative response. Under public international law, the state enjoys a monopolistic right to protect its citizens. If some of these returnees were vulnerable, it was not a reason to deny the right to return. The government of nationality must integrate them into social protection schemes as other citizens. In other words, the government had no political will to receive its citizens.

In tandem with these efforts, refugees had suffered in the countries of asylum. They had, for instance, suffered massacres by Idi Amin’s military in 1978-1979, counter-massacres soon after, and further anti-Rwandan demonstrations in 1982, were deeply accustomed to insecurity and the need for vigilance. They had demonstrated considerable creativity and adaptability in responding to these risks; then organised as “RANU” (the Rwandan Alliance for National Unity), and responded to the massacres mentioned above by joining armies or rebel movements in their host states to learn the skills of war. For instance, Rwandese refugees joined the National Resistance Movement (NRM) rebels in Uganda and the NRM’s victory in 1986 facilitated entry into the military and intelligence in Uganda, where they had access to training, equipment, and connections. With time, RANU metamorphosed into RPF. In the RANU’s Congress held in December 1987, members rebaptised RANU into Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and decided to accelerate the military option. On 1 October 1990, Alas Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), the RPF’s military wing, attacked Rwanda, with approximately 3000 men and women[23].

The civil war could culminate in the Arusha Peace Accords[24] , which compiled all the agreements achieved through the peace process.  The agreement establishes a Transitional Government (TG) and sets out a time frame for implementation. The Accord’s preamble, among other things, reiterated that the return of refugees was their inalienable right. The first article indicated that RPF/A and the Republic of Rwanda had brought the war to an end. Unfortunately, it was a bearing on the genocide. When President Habyarimana was flying back from Arusha, unknown elements shot down his aircraft. During that very night, the genocide started. The rest would be another failure of humanity to stop the preventable genocide. The armed forces and Interahamwe militia, and ordinary citizens were armed to finish the Tutsi progeny and moderate Hutu in a genocide that lasted for 100 days. Today, the global community reflects on the genocide committed against the Tutsi upon the resolution of the UN general assembly[25]. It would be appropriate to have a section on genocide, but it would be too short of delineating dynamics before, during and after the genocide. RPF/A had found a durable solution to the refugees of 1959 – 1973. However, another outflux was on its way to neighbouring countries.

3.2. 1994: From ex-FAR and Interahamwe to Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda, FDLR/Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi (FOCA)

There had been a civil war since 1990. There were approximately 1.5 million Internally Displaced (IDPs) in Rwanda[26]. The genocide against Tutsi and civil war led to another massive outflow of refugees into neighbouring countries: Estimates suggest that by the end of August 1994, there were 1.2 million in Zaire, 10,000 in Uganda, 580,000 in Tanzania, and 270,000 in Burundi[27], making it one of the most significant humanitarian situation globally.

Rwandese refugees from the 1994 caseload was a threat to the peace and security of Rwanda. The government in exile rebranded itself in 1995 as a political body advocating for the return of Rwandan refugees – Rassemblement pour le Retour des Réfugiés et de la Démocratie au Rwanda (RDR)[28]. Refugee camps were militarised and located in the vicinity of the Rwandan border. The large camps in North Kivu in Zaire were a few kilometres away from the Rwandan border. The camps rapidly became the main base for the defeated Rwandan armed forces (Forces Armées Rwandaises, or FAR) and members of the Hutu militia group, the Interahamwe. Exiled Hutu soldiers and militiamen keep the refugees virtually hostage for the next 2-1/2 years[29].

Meanwhile, the ex-FAR in Zaire continued their hard-line insurgency tactics, launching attacks on places like schools, where they would order students to separate based on ethnicity, then kill the Tutsis[30]. They would also conduct targeted killings of local government officials and other opinion leaders, lay ambushes and burn public transport buses, place landmines in rural roads, and sabotage infrastructures such as roads, water resources, electricity lines and bridges. They forcefully recruited young men and women, forced peasants to contribute to the war effort by delivering food to their designated venues, lest one risked their lives. In case of heavy fire from RPA, they would then retreat to the refugee camps. In June 1996, the USA signalled that these combatants were a formidable challenge to the peace and security in Rwanda and called for a concerted action but in vain[31], which gave them some freedom of manoeuvre.

Such conducts contravene the OAU Refugee Convention. While international or regional instruments do not specify the required distance, the OAU Refugee Convention (Article II.6) stipulates that countries of asylum shall settle refugees at a reasonable distance from the frontier of the country of origin.  The practise also violates the doctrine of “civilian and humanitarian character of asylum.” According to this principle, only civilians running away from war, conflicts, generalised violence, or persecution can enjoy the refuge. In the same spirit, refugee camps should be arms free, out of reach of fighters and combatants. However, it is possible to grant asylum to combatants or fighters if they surrender their weapons and permanently desist from violence.

Finally, combatants cannot benefit from humanitarian assistance[32]. In contrary to this, humanitarian organisations extended humanitarian support to civilians and combatants alike. Combatants, to some extent, controlled the distribution of aid. Genocidaires enjoyed asylum and humanitarian aid to reinvigorate their dominance and carry out genocide in Rwanda[33]. After learning from experience, the “do-no-harm” principle was developed with a profound understanding that, while humanitarian aid aims at saving lives and relieving misery, it has the potential to intensify rifts between belligerents[34].

Failure to demilitarise refugee camps in Zaire also affected the host country. It exacerbated the protracted land conflicts and volatile ethnic relations involving the rwandophone Congolese. Congolese dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, a good friend and “elder brother” of late president Habyarimana and the former Rwandan regime, tacitly accepted the presence of the ex-FAR as an effective means of containing his domestic opposition, which had traditionally been most loquacious in the east[35]. The presence of ex-FAR and Interahamwe influx alongside the Rwandan Hutu into the North and South Kivu provinces complicated the ethnic balance. The situation worsened in September 1996 when the ex-FAR/Interahamwe (with encouragement from Mobutu, instigated an ethnic cleansing against the Congolese Tutsi, which resulted in refugee outfluxes in neighbouring countries Rwanda inclusive. In early October, the genocidaires allied with the government Forces Armées Zairoises (FAZ) were contemplating replicating the ethnic cleansing campaign in South Kivu when the Congolese Tutsi native to the province (called Banyamulenge) launched a “pre-emptive” attack against ex-FAR/Interahamwe and FAZ positions. Rwanda immediately intervened on the side of the Banyamulenge rebels, which put fire on fuel for the first Congolese War. As such, Rwanda put its weight behind the Alliance des Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Congo (ADFL)[36].

One of the first actions of the Rwandans in this rebellion was to send Rwandan civilians and ex-FAR back to Rwanda. On 15 November 1996, they dismantled the camps in eastern Zaire, causing the militia and former troops to flee the camps. It freed more than 500,000 refugees to return home to Rwanda. By the end of the year, more than 1.2 million refugees had returned from Zaire and Tanzania[37]. However, around 30,000 retreated deeper into Zaire’s forests. Other African states, notably Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia, had intervened on Mobutu’s behalf during the conflict. Despite this solidarity between some African leaders and the Congolese president, the ADFL, heavily backed by Rwanda, took Kinshasa in May 1997 and declared Laurent-Désiré Kabila president[38].

This exclusion of Rwandans from the governance structures of the DRC undermined the security guarantee for which Rwanda had gone to war, and the Rwandan leadership rapidly engineered a new assault to engage the ex-FAR. It marked the second Congo War. Throughout the War, the pro-Rwandan rebel group, the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), also gained control of much of the DRC’s border with Rwanda and its hinterland, depriving the ex-FAR insurgents of their base and access to the broader set of sympathetic armed groups in the region[39].

Meanwhile, an estimated 5,000 ex-FAR and Interahamwe rebels who had dispersed in North Kivu regrouped to create the Armée de Libération du Rwanda (Rwanda Liberation Army, ALIR) and its political branch, the Peuple en Action pour la Libération du Rwanda (People in Action for the Liberation of Rwanda, PALIR)[40]. Meanwhile, Rwandan Hutus who had fled to the western DRC, Angola, the Republic of the Congo, the Central African Republic (CAR), and Sudan formed ALIR-2. In 1999, ALIR/PALIR and ALIR-2 came into contact with the support of President Joseph Kabila[41]. However, after the massacre by ALIR/PALIR of Western tourists in Bwindi national park, the USA put ALIR / PALIR on the list of terrorist organisations. To efface this bad name, ALIR/PALIR became the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) / Forces Combattantes Abacunguzi (FOCA)[42].

FDLR/FOCA took hostage Rwandese refugees and the Congolese who lived in the area under their control. This civilian population generated incomes for the organisation, was a pool for forced and voluntary recruitment. In addition to weapons that ex-FAR brought from Rwanda in 1994, the FDLR–FOCA acquired weapons from Mobutu and his allies in 1996, President Laurent-Désiré Kabila DRC and his allies between 1998 and 2001. They also received weapons from FARDC through purchases and transfers. Since 2002, they procured from other Congolese armed groups. Also, they captured from enemy forces such as Rwandan Patriotic Army, the CNDP, and the FARDC.

Finally, they received provisions from allied foreign armed groups operating in the Kivu provinces, such as the Burundian Forces Nationales de Libération (National Liberation Forces) and Forces de Défense de la Démocratie (Forces for the Defence of Democracy)[43]. In recent years, the FDLR/FOCA appears to have procured weapons and ammunition primarily from sympathetic segments within the FARDC. In its 2009 report, the UN Group of Experts cites ‘evidence and testimony demonstrating that certain FARDC officers, particularly senior officials in control of the tenth military region (South Kivu), [were] implicated in the deliberate diversion of arms and ammunition to FDLR–FOCA and other armed groups[44]. Ammunition supplies from the FARDC to the FDLR–FOCA gained further momentum in 2012, as the former were eager to count on the latter’s support to contain the new rebellion initiated by the Mouvement du 23 Mars (23 March Movement, M23)[45]. While this collaboration petered out in late 2013, after the defeat of M23, reports suggest individual FARDC soldiers continued to barter or sell their weapons, ammunition, and uniforms to the FDLR–FOCA as late as April–May 2014[46].

Improvements in Rwandan–Congolese relations in late 2008 resulted in the joint 2009 FARDC–RDF ‘Umoja Wetu’ and the Congolese led ‘Kimia II’ operations against the FDLR– FOCA, both of which severely weakened the group militarily[47]. FARDC operations continued from 2010 to 2012 under the name ‘Amani Leo’, sustaining the pressure on the group[48]. In 2012, FDLR–FOCA also came under attack by a few Congolese militias— some of which, such as the Raia Mutomboki, formed self-defence groups to protect communities[49].  One analyst observed that ‘before 2009, no Congolese militia group would have contemplated an assault on the FDLR in its heartland’, highlighting the FDLR–FOCA’s new state of military weakness in 2012[50]. Since then, many FDRL fighters were captured and repatriated. The paper, however, jumps to the new forms of alliances in the following subsection.

3.3. Post- Genocide Rebellion: Actors and Factors

It is a fact that Rwanda still considers FDLR a security threat. However, Rwanda National Congress[51] and FDLR allied; the UN Experts Report suggest that all anti-Rwanda rebel movements (Amahoro People’s Congress (Amahoro-PC), the People’s Defence Pact-Imanzi (PDP-Imanzi), the Forces démocratiques unifées-Inkingi (FDU Inkingi), the Social Party-Imberakuri (PS Imberakuri) and the Rwanda National Congress) are under the umbrella of the Platform Five (P5)[52].

The P5 is active in the Southern Kivu in Fizi and Uvira territories. The P5 recruits from several African countries. It also utilises facilitator in East, Central and Southern Africa, and Western Europe. They target Rwandans and use malice to persuade recruits to join the ranks; they promise well-paying job opportunities, recruits converge in Bujumbura from where they are smuggled to DRC through motorised pirogues through Lake Tanganyika or employing rafts via the Ruzizi River. Upon reaching DRC, the recruits are taken to the heights of the Hauts Plateaux to the movement’s base in Bijabo, inside the Bijombo forest.[53]

“Platform Five – P5” [54]. P5 elements carried out incursions in 2018 (July and December), April 2019 into Rwanda’s territory and claimed lives of civilians. Some rebel commanders were pursued and captured and are facing trial in Rwanda[55]. The Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa decided to withdraw the refugee status of Nyamwasa upon an application lodged by the CORMSA, the South African Consortium of Refugees and Migrants, a status that he had been enjoying since 2010. The reason for the revocation of the refugee status was accusations against Nyamwasa for war crimes and crimes against humanity reportedly committed between 1994 and 1998[56]. In the same developments, on 01 January 2020, South Africa passed the law that renders illegal refugees’ engagement in political activities related to the countries of origin or participation in South African politics, lest South Africa will deport the “refugees.” [57]

The most recent development has recorded court hearings from Rwandan “refugees” such as Rusesabagina and men who worked for him. Rusesabagina was a refugee under Belgian law. He is also a co-founder of the opposition Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change (Mouvement Rwandais pour le Changement Démocratique, MRCD), a coalition of opposition groups, which has an armed wing known as the Forces de Libération Nationale, (FLN)[58]. As this paper is taking shape, the High Court Chamber for International and Cross Border Crimes in Rwanda is hearing the case for twenty-one suspects over terrorism and other charges.  During public hearings, evidence suggests that some neighbouring countries had been supporting rebel movements against Rwanda. For instance, Rwanda accused Uganda of extending a haven and providing support to RNC and FDLR[59]. Besides, there have been tensions between Burundi and Rwanda over allegations of supporting rebels. Both developments have a bearing on the East African Community, which has struggled to strengthen security and political integration[60].

4. Ending Refugeehood: A Final Reflection on the Cessation Clause

On 30 June 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declared the Cessation Clause for Rwandese refugees (1959 and 1998). According to the 1951 Convention[61], a refugee ceases to enjoy that Status when she/he avails her/himself to the protection of the country of origin through spontaneous or voluntary repatriation or acquires nationality of a new country. In other words, the ceased circumstances make international protection irrelevant since the state protection supplants it.  Besides, the ceased circumstances imply that the well-founded fear of prosecution is no longer warranted. In other words, the Cessation Clause for Rwandese refugees implies that circumstances that contributed to refugee outfluxes between 1959 and 1998, including genocidal violence and severe insecurity, are no longer. The Cessation Clause does not require the voluntary consent of the refugee. However, refugees can decide between voluntary repatriation, naturalisation or alternative stay in the country of asylum or elsewhere. By January 2018, approximately 20,000 Rwandan refugees in different African countries were affected by the cessation clause but reluctant to repatriate[62]. Refugees who do not return risk the consequences of de facto statelessness (the inability to enjoy the benefits associated with legal nationality) outside their country of origin, while political dissidents abroad face de jure statelessness (lack of legal nationality in any country)[63].

5. Conclusion: Towards Peace and Security in the Region? 

This paper interrogated Rwandese refugees as actors in regional conflicts as it relates to peace and security. It outlined contexts in which major refugee outfluxes occurred and how these refugees became combatants. There have been different causes for forced displacement. In 1959 and subsequent years, the Tutsi fled to neighbouring countries in the context of the legacy of Belgian colonisation and ethnic tensions that ensued and regional politics that claimed the lives of civilians. The inyenzi took arms and attempted to reverse the course of events in vain. Severe conditions in the region coupled with divisionist politics in the host states received refugees. It culminated in creating the Rwanda Patriotic Army that organised an armed struggle and eventually captured power. The termination of the genocide against the Tutsi marked two events: The RPF/A had reached a durable solution for the 1959 and subsequent years caseload of refugees. At the same time, the ex-FAR and Interahamwe drove with them thousands of civilian refugees to the neighbouring countries. Exploiting the prevailing contexts in host states, such as in Zaire, and the lack of adherence to the principle of humanitarian and civilian character of asylum, ex-FAR and the militia pursued their genocide agenda with the support of politicians, which prompted Rwanda’s involvement in many regional wars. After positioning themselves to recapture power in Kigali, the ALIR/PALIR were further changed names until the current FDLR. The paper also examined the post-genocide refugees. They were essentially political, unlike the previous ones who had involved masses. The P5, an umbrella of the opposition to Rwanda, sought an alliance with FDLR under Kayumba Nyamwasa. There is evidence that some countries in the region provide support to P5, which further makes regional peace and security a puzzle. There is a need for a solution to this problem. The individual states or the East African Community can chat the way out of this situation.


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Organisation of African Unity. “Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (‘OAU Convention’),” 10 September 1969.

Orth, Richard. “Rwanda’s Hutu Extremist Insurgency: An Eyewitness Perspective.” by Susan E. Cook, 215–56. edited by Susan E. Cook, 1st ed. Routledge, 2017.

Oxford Analytica. “Rwanda-Burundi Tensions Threaten Regional Stability.” Emerald Expert Briefings, 27 February 2019.

Pole Institute. “Guerrillas in the Mist: The Congolese Experience of the FDLR War in Eastern Congo and the Role of the International Community.” Goma, DRC, 2010.

Regional Refugee Instruments. “Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, Colloquium on the International Protection of Refugees in Central America, Mexico and Panama.” Refworld. Accessed 15 April 2021.

RRN Newsletter. “Burundi/Tanzania/Zaire/Rwanda (February 1997).” Humanitarian Practice Network, 1997.

Scalzo, Kristin. “The Rwandan Refugee Crisis: Before the Genocide.” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 464, 31 March 2014.

Social Science Research Council. “FDLR: Past, Present, and Policies,” 2014.

The Government of Rwanda. “Communiqué of the Republic of Rwanda on FDLR Declaration – Rwanda.” ReliefWeb, 1 April 2005.

The New Times. “History of Rwandan Refugees: 1959 to-Date.” The New Times | Rwanda, 17 June 2011.

United Nations. “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.” United Nations Treaty Series 189 (28 July 1951): 137.

———. “Final Report of the Group of Experts on the DRC Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 8 of Security Council Resolution 1857 (2008).” Washington, DC, 2009.

———. “International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda (A/RES/74/273).” United Nations, 21 April 2020.

———. “Midterm Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2018/1133).” Washington, DC: United Nations, 2018.

———. “Midterm Report of the Group of Experts Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 5 of Security Council Resolution 2136 (2014).” Washington, DC: United Nations, 2014.

———. “Peace Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and the Rwandese Patriotic Front,” 4 August 1993.

———. “Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.” United Nations, Treaty Series 606 (31 January 1967): 267.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “Guidance Note on Maintaining the Civilian and Humanitarian Character of Asylum.” Refworld, December 2018.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The Rwandan Refugee Crisis: Before the Genocide: Part I.” Accessed 15 April 2021.

Uvin, Peter. Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda. Connecticut: Kumarian Press, Inc, 1998.

Voice of America. “Rwanda Accuses Uganda of Supporting Rebels,” 5 March 2019.

Watson, Catharine, and Virginia Hamilton. Exile from Rwanda: Background to an Invasion. Washington, DC: US Committee for Refugees, 1991.



[1] United Nations, “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” United Nations Treaty Series 189 (July 28, 1951): 137.

[2] Manfred Nowak, Introduction to the International Human Rights Regime (Leiden and Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2003).

[3] United Nations, “Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees,” United Nations, Treaty Series 606 (January 31, 1967): 267.

[4] Organization of African Unity, “Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (‘OAU Convention’),” September 10, 1969,

[5] Regional Refugee Instruments, “Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, Colloquium on the International Protection of Refugees in Central America, Mexico and Panama,” Refworld, accessed April 15, 2021,

[6] Gerald Mbanda, “The Legacy of Dr. Richard Kandt (Part IV) | The New Times | Rwanda,” October 9, 2014,

[7] Déogratias Byanafashe and Paul Rutayisire, History of Rwanda: From the Beginning to the End of the Twentieth Century (Kigali: National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NUCRC), 2016), 388.

[8] Byanafashe and Rutayisire, 389.

[9] Byanafashe and Rutayisire, 405.

[10] Byanafashe and Rutayisire, 436.

[11] Katy Long, “Rwanda’s First Refugees: Tutsi Exile and International Response 1959–64,” Journal of Eastern African Studies 6, no. 2 (May 10, 2012): 211–29.

[12] In Rwanda, “ethnicity” is misleading. An ethny has clear characteristics including language, culture, norms and beliefs. These features do not apply between the Tutsi, the Hutu and the Twa who were reported to be three different ethnies. However, the legal consideration under the international refugee law matters because they were treated as an ethny and prosecuted as such.

[13] Long, “Rwanda’s First Refugees.”

[14] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Rwandan Refugee Crisis: Before the Genocide: Part I,” accessed April 15, 2021,

[15] Long, “Rwanda’s First Refugees.”

[16] Long.

[17] Byanafashe and Rutayisire, History of Rwanda, 426.

[18] Byanafashe and Rutayisire, 465.

[19] Byanafashe and Rutayisire, 466.

[20] Republic of Rwanda, Office of the President, “Instruction présidentielles relatives aux réfugies,” 12 June 1976

[21] Jean-Paul Kimonyo, Rwanda’s Popular Genocide: A Perfect Storm (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2015).

[22] Le Courrier ACP/CEE, Brussels, No. 72, Mar.–Apr. 1982, cited in A. Guichaoua, The Problem of the Rwandese Refugees and the Banyarwanda Populations in the Great Lakes Region, UNHCR, May 1992, 27.

[23] Byanafashe and Rutayisire, History of Rwanda, 471.

[24] United Nations, “Peace Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and the Rwandese Patriotic Front,” August 4, 1993,

[25] United Nations, “International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda (A/RES/74/273)” (United Nations, April 21, 2020),

[26] Long, “Rwanda’s First Refugees.”

[27] Social Science Research Council, “FDLR: Past, Present, and Policies,” 2014, 4,

[28] Social Science Research Council, “FDLR: Past, Present, and Policies,” 2014, 4,

[29] CSMonitor, “Rwanda’s Refugee Crisis: Timeline – Rwanda,” February 12, 1997,

[30] Richard Orth, “Rwanda’s Hutu Extremist Insurgency: An Eyewitness Perspective,” by Susan E. Cook, ed. Susan E. Cook, 1st ed. (Routledge, 2017), 215–56,

[31] RRN Newsletter, “Burundi/Tanzania/Zaire/Rwanda (February 1997),” Humanitarian Practice Network, 1997,

[32] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Guidance Note on Maintaining the Civilian and Humanitarian Character of Asylum,” Refworld, December 2018,

[33] Peter Uvin, Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda (Connectcut: Kumarian Press, Inc, 1998).

[34] Abu Faisal Md Khaled, “Do No Harm in Refugee Humanitarian Aid: The Case of the Rohingya Humanitarian Response,” Journal of International Humanitarian Action 6, no. 1 (December 2021): 1–13,

[35] RRN Newsletter, “Burundi/Tanzania/Zaire/Rwanda (February 1997).”

[36] CSMonitor, “Rwanda’s Refugee Crisis.”

[37] CSMonitor.

[38] Danielle Beswick, “Unpacking Rwanda’s Involvement in DR Congo and the International Response,” E-International Relations (blog), December 19, 2012,

[39] Rakiya Omaar, “Omaar, Rakiya. 2008. The Leadership of Rwandan Armed Groups Abroad with a Focus on the FDLR and RUD/Urunana.” (Kigali, Rwanda: Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission, 2008), 40,

[40] Rakiya Omaar, “Omaar, Rakiya. 2008. The Leadership of Rwandan Armed Groups Abroad with a Focus on the FDLR and RUD/Urunana.” (Kigali, Rwanda: Rwanda Demobilisation and Reintegration Commission, 2008), 40,

[41] Pole Institute, “Guerillas in the Mist: The Congolese Experience of the FDLR War in Eastern Congo and the Role of the International Community” (Goma, DRC, 2010), 21,

[42] The Government of Rwanda, “Communiqué of the Republic of Rwanda on FDLR Declaration – Rwanda,” ReliefWeb, April 1, 2005,

[43] Hans Romkema De Veenhoop, “Opportunités et contraintes relatives au désarmement et au rapatriement des groupes armés étrangers en RD Congo: Cas des FDLR, FNL et ADF/NALU.” (Washington, D.C: World Bank, August 2009), 46,

[44] United Nations, “Final Report of the Group of Experts on the DRC Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 8 of Security Council Resolution 1857 (2008)” (Washington, D.C, 2009), para 23,

[45] United Nations, “Midterm Report of the Group of Experts Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 5 of Security Council Resolution 2136 (2014)” (Washington, D.C: United Nations, 2014), paras. 106–09,

[46] United Nations, para 54.

[47] Omaar, “Omaar, Rakiya. 2008. The Leadership of Rwandan Armed Groups Abroad with a Focus on the FDLR and RUD/Urunana.,” 10.

[48] Social Science Research Council, “FDLR: Past, Present, and Policies,” 10.

[49] Social Science Research Council, 11.

[50] Omaar, “Omaar, Rakiya. 2008. The Leadership of Rwandan Armed Groups Abroad with a Focus on the FDLR and RUD/Urunana.,” 9.

[51] This was formed by Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa. He was in Ugandan army as many of his compatriots. He was later the Rwandan Army Chief of Staff and Ambassador of Rwanda to India. The Military High Court (MHC) sentenced him to 24 years in prison for forming a terrorist group, threatening state security, undermining public order, promoting ethnic divisions and insulting the person of the President of the Republic. His sentence includes four years for deserting the Army. He was also dismissed with disgrace from the Rwanda Defence Forces.

[52] United Nations, “Midterm Report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2018/1133)” (Washington, D.C: United Nations, 2018),

[53] United Nations.

[54] United Nations, “Letter S/2018/1133 – E – S/2018/1133 Dated 18 December 2018 from the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo Addressed to the President of the Security Council,” December 18, 2018,

[55] Nantulya.

[56] Kyle Cowan, “Former Rwandan General Faustin Nyamwasa’s Refugee Status Set aside,” BusinessLIVE, May 25, 2017,

[57] Edmund Kagire, “Rwanda Welcomes S. Africa Law Barring Refugees from Engaging in Politics,” KT PRESS (blog), January 6, 2020,

[58] Human Rights Watch, “Rwanda: Rusesabagina Was Forcibly Disappeared,” Human Rights Watch, September 10, 2020,

[59] Voice of America, “Rwanda Accuses Uganda of Supporting Rebels,” March 5, 2019,

[60] Oxford Analytica, “Rwanda-Burundi Tensions Threaten Regional Stability,” Emerald Expert Briefings, February 27, 2019,

[61] United Nations, “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” Article I (c).

[62] Johnson Kanamugire, “African Countries in a Fix as Rwanda Refugee Status Ends,” The East African, January 20, 2018,–1382204.

[63] Lindsey N. Kingston, “Bringing Rwandan Refugees ‘Home’: The Cessation Clause, Statelessness, and Forced Repatriation,” International Journal of Refugee Law 29, no. 3 (November 13, 2017): 417–37,

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