As the RPF fought to take control of the country and defeat the genocidal government, members of its army, too, killed civilians. Most of the victims were Hutu and many of them were children. Some of these killings constituted crimes against humanity. RPF soldiers killed seventy-eight persons, of whom forty-six were listed as children, at Murambi in Byumba prefecture between April 13 and 15, 1994. In another case, RPF soldiers assembled both local residents and persons from a neighboring displaced persons camp in Mukingi, Gitarama prefecture, for a meeting on June 19, 1994. The soldiers opened fire on the crowd of hundreds of people. Some people fled down the road next to the field and were shot trying to escape into the woods on the adjacent hills. Others were caught and killed with hammers, hoes, or other blunt instruments. The soldiers killed without regard to age, sex, or ethnic group. One of the victims was a Tutsi woman identified as the daughter-in-law of a man named Gahizi. Others included the wife, three children, and daughter-in-law of Karemangingo and ten people of the family of Rwabigwi. Approximately half of the bodies found and photographed by a Human Rights Watch researcher in the nearby woods were the remains of women and children. In addition, the body of a baby was visible floating in a nearby stream. Major Sam Bigabiro, who was reportedly implicated in the Mukingi killings, was later convicted by an RPA military court of having directed a similar slaughter in the nearby commune of Runda on July 2, 1994.
Some children participated actively in the genocide as members of the Rwandan army and the while others did so as part of the general mobilization of the civilian population. Children, because of their emotional and mental immaturity, were even more susceptible to manipulation by the same kind of propaganda that moved adults. Given that Rwandan children are usually taught to obey adults, these youngsters were even readier than adults to obey orders coming from authorities.
As in other aspects of the judicial system, minors are frequently last in line to be investigated. The Special Representative of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to Rwanda reported that only 35 percent of prisoners aged fourteen to eighteen at the time of the genocide had complete case files at the end of 2000. When Human Rights Watch researchers visited Rutonde lockup in 1998, the minors detained there said that – despite overcrowding, lack of water, and poor sanitation – their most urgent complaint by far was that they had received no information or progress on their cases. Although the police inspector had been visiting the lockup daily, he interrogated only the adult prisoners. None of the twenty-two we interviewed said they had been questioned, despite the fact that they had been detained there for close to or more than a year.
Peter R., a young man who was fourteen during the genocide, was freed amid cheers from the crowd at one public meeting attended by Human Rights Watch researchers in Ntongwe. Large numbers of people stood to defend him, alleging that an adult prisoner, who was also presented that day, had falsely accused Peter R. because of a property dispute. Peter R. had spent seven years in prison without ever speaking to a prosecutor. None of the other detainees presented that day were charged as minors nor did any minor detainees participate in another presentation Human Rights Watch observed in Runda the following week.
International officials have repeatedly raised the issue of minors detained illegally with the government but rarely achieved success. In an exceptional case, Michel Moussalli, then Special Representative of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to Rwanda, spoke to President Kagame about the problem in October 2000 and obtained from Kagame the promise that the under-fourteens would be released by the end of the year. True to the president's word, the government did release some 500 under-fourteens in December 2000. The Rwandan government and Moussalli both gained international praise and positive press for this achievement. International attention was not, however, drawn to the fact that at least 400 others who were under fourteen in 1994 had not been released and would spend another year in prison.
Beatings were reportedly most common after the time of arrest and initial interrogation. After the post-genocide period of massive arrests, reported beatings have been primarily described as "disciplinary," less frequent, and less severe. Laurent S., sixteen during the genocide, was arrested in Ntyazo commune in Butare in October 1994. Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed him in the minors' wing of the Butare central prison in March 1996:
Conditions in lockups can be abominable, far below recognized standards for adults as well as children. During and after the massive post-genocide arrests of 1995-1998, detainees complained of overcrowding to the point that they could not even lie down to sleep. At Rutonde lockup in 1998, some 464 detainees, all but nine accused of genocide, were crowded into the small space. Twenty-two were children, and nineteen were women. From the appearance and stories of the twenty-two boys who filed out from the lockup to speak with Human Rights Watch researchers, conditions inside were abysmal. All twenty-two had been there for close to or more than one year, and many said they were arrested soon after their return from refugee camps in Tanzania in December 1996 or January 1997. The boys were extremely thin and many had open sores, wounds, insect bites, and scabies covering their bodies. Many said they were suffering from malaria. Bernard S. told this story:
In 1997 and 1998, when living conditions in the lockups were far worse, detainees in some places also suffered from physical abuse by local authorities and security agents, particularly around the time of arrest. In Gikoro lockup in Kigali Rural, two boys detained there for common law crimes told Human Rights Watch researchers that they had been beaten indiscriminately: "The police come in and threaten us, telling us we're killers. Most of the people in here are accused of genocide. They make us lie down and hit us on our backs, or do handstands against the walls while they kick us." Several boys in different lockups across the country reported that guards would sometimes take detainees outside to allow their accusers to beat them. "Usually when someone accuses a person they come here and beat you. The guards take you out and the accuser then beats you," said Michael R., who had been detained in Rutonde lockup since April 1997. Fourteen-year-old Richard N., who was detained in Murambi lockup for four months in 1997 before being transferred to central prison, similarly complained that he had been removed from the lockup for interrogation by the police inspector, and was beaten by both the inspector and the survivors who accused him. One thirteen-year-old boy, ten at the time of the genocide, complained of having been beaten by a police inspector with metal rods in the presence of those who accused him in the lockup of Mugesera commune.
The first place of detention for most Rwandan prisoners is the local lockup, of which there are more than 150 around the country. District authorities, who report to the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs, control the lockups, but the central government does not provide a budget for their operation. Detainees, through their families, are responsible for their own food and supplies. It is difficult to monitor the large number of lockups dispersed across the country and local burgomasters, now called mayors, have at times denied access to international monitors seeking to investigate conditions in these lockups. The Ministry of Local Government, too, has at times refused to grant NGOs access to visit lockups. While conditions vary widely from one lockup to another, they have generally improved in recent years as the bulk of detainees have been transferred to central prisons, thus reducing overcrowding. However, cases of ill-treatment (particularly at the time of arrest and during the first days of detention) and instances of insufficient food, water, medicines, and poor sanitation still exist.
Four out of five children Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed there that month reported beatings. Prison officials explained that boys had been disciplined for trying to climb up the door to their room, which had recently been closed off to limit the noise they made while they played. "I was kicked by one of the soldiers last Sunday," another boy, thirteen during the genocide, said. "I was playing cards and one of the boys climbed up [to look outside from a gap between the wall and the roof] and the military wanted to get him. I went to the doctor and got some medicine."