Rwandan genocide

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The skulls of victims show gashes and signs of violence

The Rwandan genocide was the organized murder of up to one million Rwandans in 1994. It is commonly portrayed as an eruption of ethnic conflict in which militias of the Hutu ethnic majority, with the connivance of the Hutu-dominated government, attempted to carry out an ethnic cleansing of the minority Tutsis, and of Hutu moderates who opposed the genocide. Other explanations focus on the role of political elites in mobilizing and arming supporters. Despite warnings before and intelligence during the genocide about the scale of the violence, the United Nations, along with virtually all first-world countries, declined to take positive action. The failure to act became the focus of bitter recriminations towards the policymakers of the UN such as Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, and nations such as France and the United States.

The genocide ended when a Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Army invaded from neighboring Uganda, and a Tutsi-led government took power. In the aftermath of the genocide, hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees fled into eastern Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The violence and its memory continue to affect the country and the region. Both the First and Second Congo Wars trace their origins to the genocide, and it continues to be a reference point for the Burundian Civil War.



Rwanda is one of the few states in Africa to closely follow its ancestral borders. The Kingdom of Rwanda, controlled by a Tutsi royal family, ruled the region throughout recorded history. While the upper echelons of this society were largely Tutsi, racial divisions were not stark. Many Hutu were among the nobility and significant intermingling took place. The majority of the Tutsi, who made up 15-18% of the population, were poor peasants, as were most of the Hutu.

Colonial history

In 1890 the country was given to the Germans at a conference in Brussels, but there was virtually no German presence in the area until the end of the century. The Belgians were awarded some German spoils after the First World War, including Rwanda. They tended to simplify matters; transforming a majority Tutsi elite into a solely Tutsi elite, with position in society determined by ethnicity. Colonial identity cards even used ethnic affiliation as a classification despite the fact that Tutsis and Hutus shared many cultural characteristics including geography, language and traditional practices. Tutsis enjoyed privileged status under Belgian rule and were able to secure better jobs and better education than Hutus for the next two decades.

Belgium controlled both Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi from the end of the First World War until independence in 1962. Belgian colonialism, in Rwanda and Burundi as well as the Belgian Congo, was marked by brutality and incompetence. Many have accused the Belgian system of leaving its colonies utterly unprepared for independence, and all three countries have had violent and unhappy histories since their independence. The portion of the Great Lakes region controlled by Britain in western Tanzania and Uganda has not been marked by the same violence.


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After World War II the Belgian colonial administration in Rwanda was placed under United Nations trusteeship and was therefore expected to prepare Rwanda for independence. Preceeding the Belgian pull out, elections brought the Hutu nationalist Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) to power in 1959. They launched a program of advancing the power of the Hutu majority, largely condoned in the West. While the Tutsi had been the favourites of the colonial powers, perception shifted as the Tutsi became viewed as feudal overlords. It was thus seen as proper that the Tutsi leadership was ousted in favour of rule by the Hutu majority. This also led to a downplaying of the violence that was associated with this process. Some 20,000 Tutsi were killed and an additional 200,000 fled to neighbouring countries.

After independence, PARMEHUTU established a one-party rule based upon Hutu nationalism. In 1964 and again in 1974, programs were initiated in which large numbers of Tutsi were killed and more were forced into exile.

In 1973 Juvénal Habyarimana seized power in a military coup, ousting PARMEHUTU, but continuing to rely on Hutu nationalism to stay in power.

Other causes of the violence

Another school of thought argues that the violence in the region is a result of the same European theories of race that lead to the Holocaust. These ideas were propagated by John Hanning Speke. Unlike the other mixed states of Africa, Rwandans were considered by Europeans to be on the border between Blacks and the "more noble" Hamites. Tutsis were viewed as Hamites and Hutus as inferior Bantus. This ingrained racism was reversed upon independence when the majority Hutus took to viewing the Tutsis as foreign invaders and not true Rwandans. Similar divisions have led to violence in other parts of northeast Africa, most notably in Sudan.

Others see an economic explanation for the violence. The Great Lakes region, with rich soil and a more temperate climate because of its altitude, is one of the most densely populated parts of Africa. This has led to a great deal of competition for scarce land and resources.

Jared Diamond, in his book Collapse, argues that this overpopulation was a contributing factor to the violence, as in one area where only a single Tutsi lived, 5% of the 2000 Hutu inhabitants were also killed. Diamond claims that the mayhem of the genocide provided a pretext for some Rwandans to kill their wealthier neighbors and seize their land.

Many Rwandans claim that there was little inter-ethnic rivalry until it was deliberately encouraged by the Juvénal Habyarimana government as a ploy to counter Paul Kagame and the Rwandese Patriotic Front's largely Tutsi invasion on October 1, 1990.

Finally, another analysis locates the conflict in the wider regional context of a transfer of power from Francophone to Anglophone spheres of influence. By this account [1] ( the instability in the region was (and remains) due to the end of the Cold War and a realignment of central Africa away from France and Belgium, towards Uganda and its Western sponsors, the USA and the UK.

There is some evidence suggesting US approval of the RPF's military takeover, begun in 1990:

  • Training provided for Kagame and other RPF officers at Fort Leavenworth immediately prior to and during their invasion from Uganda is officially acknowledged.
  • Specific training in Surface-to-air missile deployment is alleged, alongside claims that the US supplied the SAM missiles used to kill Habyarimana. [2] (
  • Two Ugandan emissaries were briefly charged in 1992 with attempting illegally to purchase TOW missiles [3] ( in Orlando, Florida — formerly a distribution hub of TOW weapons in the Iran-Contra affair.
  • US and UK diplomacy apparently did nothing to halt the destabilising RPF invasion until June 1993 [4] (, by which time a stalemate had in any case been reached.
  • Doubts were raised [5] ( about the handling by UN investigators of a black box thought to be from Habyarimana's plane, which was lost at UN headquarters for 10 years. The black box was later determined to be unrelated to that crash. [6] (
  • American reluctance to permit an effective UN intervention, a matter of record [7] (, may be portrayed as permitting the RPF an opportunity to seize the territory.

Prelude to genocide

Another source of mounting tensions in 1990 was the grumblings of the Tutsi diaspora in refugee camps ringing the nation, particularly from Uganda. Rwanda had been given independence before Uganda, and the early Tutsi outcasts saw history played out in 30 years of Uganda's history, from independence from Britain, to a fledgeling democracy, and on to Idi Amin and successive military overthrows. Rwandans fought alongside Ugandans, where they had helped depose Milton Obote with Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army and saw his installation as president in January 1986.

The mainly Tutsi Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) was formed in 1985 under Paul Kagame and saw an opportunity in their own country to demand recognition of their rights as Rwandans, including the right of return. On October 1, 1990 RPF forces invaded Rwanda from their base in neighboring Uganda. The rebel force, composed primarily of Tutsis, blamed the government for failing to democratize and resolve the problems of some 500,000 Tutsi refugees living in diaspora around the world.

The Rwandan government portrayed the invasion as an attempt to bring the Tutsi ethnic group back into power. International reaction was ambiguous. The violence increased ethnic tensions as Hutus rallied around the President. Habyarimana himself reacted by immediately repressing Tutsis and Hutus who were perceived to be in league with Tutsi interests. Habyarimana justified these acts by proclaiming it was the intent of the Tutsis to restore a kind of Tutsi feudal system and thus to enslave the Hutu race.

Arusha Accords

See main article Arusha accords

The war dragged on for almost two years. Talks began July 12 1992, a cease-fire took effect July 31, and political talks began August 10, 1992. The Arusha accords were signed after protracted negotiations under the auspices of the Organization of African Unity, until June 24, 1993, with a meeting in Rwanda July 19 to July 25, 1993. Final signing was on August 4, 1993.

The accords fixed a timetable for an end to the fighting and a start of political talks, leading to a peace accord and power sharing, while authorizing a neutral military observer group under the auspices of the Organization for African Unity. However, the relations continued to be strained.

Preparations for the genocide

During this period the rhetoric of Hutu nationalism escalated. Radio stations, particularly Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) and newspapers, began a campaign of hate and fear, broadcasting and publishing material referring to the Tutsi as subhuman and making veiled calls for violence. Radical Hutu groups started to amass weapons, and the nation became increasingly polarized as neighbourhoods became exclusively populated by only one group.

According to Linda Melvern [8] (, a British investigative reporter who was given access to official records, the genocide was well organised. By the time the killing started, the militia in Rwanda was 30,000 strong — one militia member for every ten families — and organized nationwide, with representatives in every neighborhood. Some militia members were able to acquire AK-47 assault rifles by completing requisition forms. Other weapons such as grenades required no paperwork and were widely distributed.

The genocide was at least partly financed with money misappropriated from international aid programs, such as the funding provided by the World Bank and the IMF under a Structural Adjustment Program. It is estimated that $134 million was spent on genocide preparation in Rwanda — already one of the poorest and most troubled nations on Earth — with some $4.6 million spent on machetes, hoes, axes, razors, and hammers alone. It is estimated that such spending allowed the distribution of one new machete to every three Hutu males.

According to Melvern, the Prime Minister of Rwanda, Jean Kambanda, revealed [9] ( that the genocide was openly discussed in cabinet meetings, and how one cabinet minister said that she was "personally in favour of getting rid of all Tutsi… without the Tutsi all of Rwanda's problems would be over".

Initial assassinations

On April 6, 1994, the aeroplane carrying President Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the President of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali. Both presidents were killed when the plane crashed. The exact responsibility for this act is not known. Recent reports suggest it was radical Hutu nationalists in the presidential guard.

However, in January 2000 three Tutsi informants told the United Nations that they were part of an elite strike team that carried out the assassination of the Hutu president. They told UN investigators in 1997 that the killing of president Juvénal Habyarimana was carried out "with the assistance of a foreign government" under the overall command of Paul Kagame, currently (2005) the president of Rwanda.

UN investigators had believed that Hutu extremists within the family circle of Mr. Habyarimana had killed him. At the time, Habyarimana was involved in talks that aimed at sharing power with the Rwandese Patriotic Front. The informants told the investigators that the front decided to kill Habyarimana because the group was not pleased with the slow pace of the talks.

The person charged by the UN with inquiring into the assassinations in 1994, Mr. Rene Degni-Ségui, affirmed in front of the Belgian senate [10] (

"Concerning the attack of the presidential plane, it is the Gordian knot of this story. As soon as I took my duties, I went to Geneva. I had in audience the ambassador of France because my mandate specified well that I was to investigate this subject. I asked whether France could place at my disposal the black box of the presidential plane. He said to me:"I understand, I will refer about it to my government" Thereafter, he indicated to me that the government did not have this black box. I then went to Kigali, where I met the military staff. I asked them: "Can I have the black box?" There were four soldiers, the head of staff and others. The head of staff said to me: "the black box is with the military" I said to him: "But yourselves, you are the military" And finally, he said to me: "We do not have it, ask France" I was thus returned one with the other, and finally, there was a certain Baril captain (sic: misspelled for Captain Paul Barril) who claimed to have the box — and I asked the United Nations to place at my disposal a board of inquiry with an expert in ballistics, in order to make research. Indeed, meanwhile, it was said that the ICAO could not make the investigation, because the plane was not a civil aircraft, but a military aircraft. And one thus needed a board of inquiry. I requested it from the United Nations, and it was answered me that there was no budget for that. The Rwandan government had also asked me to investigate this subject. And in one of my reports, I precisely recall, I draw the alarm bell, for saying to make quickly before it is too late. I even fear that it is too late now. So that, up to now, I did not achieve this task before I have to leave"

This high-level attack was an unambiguous signal to all Rwandans. Those who were going to kill knew what they had to do, those who were of Tutsi, or the moderate Hutu, understood at once that they would be attacked.

On the night of the 6 to April 7 the staff of the Armed Forces of Rwanda (FAR) and Colonel Bagosora clashed verbally with UNAMIR Force Commander General Roméo Dallaire, who pointed out the legal authority of the Prime Minister, Agathe Uwilingiyimana, to take the control of the situation as outlined in Arusha Accords. Colonel Bagosora disputed the authority. General Dallaire decided to give an escort of UNAMIR personnel to Mrs Uwilingiyimana to protect her overnight and to allow her to send a calming message on the radio the next morning. By then, the presidential guard occupied the radio station and Mrs Uwilingiyimana had to cancel her speech. In the middle of the day, she was assassinated by the presidential guard. The Belgian UNAMIR soldiers sent to protect her were later found massacred.

Other moderate officials favorable to the Arusha Accords were quickly assassinated. Faustin Twagiramungu escaped execution as he was passed to the safety of UNAMIR.


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Unearthed bodies at a massacre site

As though the assassination was a signal, military and militia groups began rounding up and killing all Tutsis they could capture as well as the political moderates irrespective of their ethnic backgrounds. Large numbers of opposition politicians were also murdered. Many nations evacuated their nationals from Kigali and closed their embassies as violence escalated. National radio urged people to stay in their homes, and the government funded station RTLM broadcast vitriolic attacks against Tutsis and Hutu moderates. Hundreds of roadblocks were set up by the militia in the capital Kigali and around the country. General Dallaire and UNAMIR, escorting Tutsis in Kigali, were unable to do anything as Hutus kept escalating the violence and even started targeting, via RTLM, UNAMIR personnel and General Dallaire.

The killing swiftly spread from Kigali to all corners of the country; between April 6 and the beginning of July, a genocide of unprecedented swiftness officially left 937,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands of organized bands of militias known as the Interahamwe. One such massacre occurred at Nyarubuye. Even ordinary citizens were called on by local officials and government-sponsored radio to kill their neighbours and those who refused to kill were often killed themselves. "Either you took part in the massacres or you were massacred yourself," said one Hutu who was forced to take part. The president's MRND party was implicated in organizing many aspects of the genocide.

Most of the victims were killed in their villages or in towns, often by their neighbors and fellow villagers. The Interahamwe mostly killed their victims by chopping them up with machetes, although some army units shot and killed the Tutsis and moderate Hutus. In some towns the victims were forcibly crammed into churches and school buildings, where Hutu extremist gangs then massacred them. In June 1994 about 3000 Tutsis sought refuge in a Catholic church in Kivumu. Local Interahamwe then used bulldozers supplied by the local police to knock down the church building. People who tried to escape were hacked down with machetes.


For the next couple of weeks, many questionable decisions were made by members of the United Nations Security Council. The UN had a peacekeeping force in the country, UNAMIR — the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda.

UNAMIR's Force Commander General Dallaire became aware of the genocide taking place, and pleaded for reinforcements of 2000 soldiers and logistical support. The UN Security Council refused, several journalists laying blame on a gun-shy US President Bill Clinton administration who refused to provide requested material aid after the failed US efforts in Mogadishu, Somalia. He was directly "taken to task," in his words, for even suggesting that UNAMIR should raid Hutu militants' weapons caches, whose location had been disclosed to him by a reliable government source. Future Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was undersecretary-general for peacekeeping operations, insisted on 'impartiality' even in the face of genocide, to Dallaire's frustration. Annan's deputy, Iqbal Riza, who was intimately involved in the UN's weak response, would be kept by Annan as his deputy even after assuming the UN's top role. Annan would eventually be held accountable by the UN inquiry into its role in the genocide both for blocking Dallaire's proposed action, as well as failing to mention his alarming report to the Security Council.

The UN appeared largely detached from the realities on the ground. In the midst of the crisis, Dallaire was instructed to have UNAMIR focus only on evacuating foreign nationals from Rwanda, and the change in orders even led Belgian peacekeepers to abandon a technical school filled with 2,000 refugees, while Hutu militants waited outside, drinking beer and chanting "Hutu Power." After the Belgians left, the militants entered the school and massacred those inside, including hundreds of children. Four days later, the Belgians withdrew their peacekeepers, and the Security Council voted to reduce UNAMIR down to 260 men.

The administrative head of UNAMIR was former Cameroonian foreign minister Jacques-Roger Booh-Booh, who has come under criticism for downplaying the significance of Dallaire's reports, and holding close ties to the Hutu militant elite. The Rwandese Patriotic Front claims to have intercepted secret communications to this effect between Booh-Booh and the Hutu-controlled Rwandan army, a fact which would make Booh-Booh's role in UNAMIR -- handed to him by UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali -- appear absurd.

Following the Belgian forces' withdrawal after 10 soldiers were killed, General Dallaire consolidated his contingent of Canadian, Ghanian, and Dutch soldiers in urban areas and focused on providing areas of "safe control". His actions are credited with directly saving the lives of 20,000 Tutsis.

The new Rwandan government, led by interim President Théodore Sindikubwabo, worked hard to minimize international criticism. Rwanda at that time had a seat on the Security Council and its ambassador argued that the claims of genocide were exaggerated and that the government was doing all that it could to stop it. Representatives of the Rwandan Catholic Church, long associated with the radical Hutus in Rwanda, also used their links in Europe to reduce criticism. France, which felt the United States and United Kingdom would use the massacres to try to expand their influence in that francophone part of Africa, also worked to prevent a foreign intervention.

Finally, on May 17, 1994, the UN conceded that "acts of genocide may have been committed." By that time, the Red Cross estimated that 500,000 Rwandans had been killed. The UN agreed to send 5,500 troops to Rwanda, most of whom were to be provided by African countries. The UN also requested 50 armored personnel carriers from the United States. However, deployment of these forces was delayed due to arguments over their cost.

On June 22, with no sign of UN deployment taking place, the Security Council authorized French forces to land in Goma, Zaire on a humanitarian mission. They deployed throughout southwest Rwanda in an area they called "Zone Turquoise," quelling the genocide and stopping the fighting there, but often arriving in areas only after the Tutsi had been forced out or killed.

RPF renewed invasion

The RPF battalion stationed in Kigali under the Arusha Accords came under attack immediately after the shooting down of the president's plane. The battalion fought its way out of Kigali and joined up with RPF units in the north.

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Refugee camp in Zaire, 1994

The RPF renewed its civil war against the Rwandese Hutu government when it received word that the genocidal massacres had begun. Its leader, Paul Kagame, directed RPF forces in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Tanzania to invade the country, battling the Hutu forces and Interahamwe militias who were committing the massacres. The resulting civil war raged concurrently with the genocide for two months.

The Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu regime and ended the genocide in July 1994, 100 days after it started, but approximately two million Hutu refugees — some of whom participated in the genocide and feared Tutsi retribution — fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire. Thousands of them died in epidemics of cholera and dysentery that swept the refugee camps. The Rwandan genocide and the resulting large numbers of refugees destabilized the regional balance of power along the Zairean border, resulting in the start of the First Congo War, which set the stage for the Second Congo War that continues to trouble the region.

France and Belgium refused to recognize the new government, but it was supported by the United States and Germany.

Relief efforts

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The international community responded with one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever mounted. The U.S. was one of the largest contributors. UNAMIR was brought back up to strength after the RPF victory (and was called UNAMIR 2 thereafter). UNAMIR remained in Rwanda until March 8, 1996.

Following an uprising by the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge people in eastern Zaire in October 1996 that marked the beginning of the First Congo War, a huge movement of refugees began which brought more than 600,000 back to Rwanda in the last two weeks of November. This massive repatriation was followed at the end of December 1996 by the return of 500,000 more from Tanzania, again in a huge, spontaneous wave.

Justice, reconciliation, reforms

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Poster of fugitives wanted for genocide in Rwanda

With the return of the refugees, the government began the long-awaited genocide trials, which got off to an uncertain start in the closing days of 1996 and inched forward in 1997. In 2001, the government began implementation of a participatory justice system, known as "gacaca" in order to address the enormous backlog of cases. Meanwhile, the United Nations set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, currently based in Arusha, Tanzania.

Despite substantial international assistance and political reforms — including Rwanda's first ever local elections held in March 1999 — the country continues to struggle to boost investment and agricultural output and to foster reconciliation. A series of massive population displacements, a nagging Hutu extremist insurgency, and Rwandan involvement in the First and Second Congo Wars in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to hinder Rwanda's efforts.

On April 7, 2004, the President of the UN General Assembly, Julian Hunte of Saint Lucia, told a commemorative meeting which included representatives from the Security Council: "What a pity it is that the deliberate killing of the President of Rwanda, together with the President of Burundi, would not have caused a nation to mourn, but instead would have resulted in 100 days of terror and violence, in full view of the United Nations and the world". (Source: UN News Centre (

On March 31, 2005, the successor organization to the Interahamwe, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), finally condemned the genocide of 1994 and announced that they were putting an end to their civil war.

See also

  • Hotel Rwanda (a movie about Paul Rusesabagina, who ran a Kigali hotel that became a sanctuary for Tutsis and moderate Hutus fleeing the genocide)

Note that reference works may be found at the Bibliography of the Rwandan Genocide.

de:Völkermord in Ruanda es:Genocidio de Ruanda fr:Génocide au Rwanda sv:Folkmordet i Rwanda pt:Genocídio de Ruanda


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