Genocide: Rwanda

The genocide in Rwanda shocked the world, in 1994 an estimated 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis, were brutally murdered in 100 days. The world only intervened when it was too late. What was perhaps most shocking was the openness with which it happened. Only when it was realized that the outside world was truly shocked did the Hutus begin to conceal their crimes.

Rwanda in Brief

Small Rwanda was known for a long time as the tropical Switzerland of Africa, but that changed in the 1950s. Rwanda is and was populated by mainly two population groups: the Hutus, who make up about 85% of the population, and the Tutsis, who make up about 14%. The Hutus are originally farmers, the Tutsis pastoralists. In addition, there are the Twa, a people of Pygmies, who make up only 1% of the population and mainly live in the rainforest. They mainly live by hunting and gathering. From 1894 to 1918, Rwanda was part of German East Africa, but after the First World War the country passed into Belgian hands. The Belgians used the Tutsi minority as their middlemen, the aristocratic-looking Tutsis were educated and gained more status, driving a wedge between two groups that had lived together relatively peacefully until then. In addition, there was the church, also something new in the lives of the Rwandans, and the church taught the Hutus that they were oppressed. Modern weapons were also introduced to the area. In 1956 the Hutus revolted against their inferior position and in 1959 they finally took power. The battle had cost more than 100,000 lives. The Hutus immediately used their acquired power to confiscate the land from the Tutsis. Many Tutsis, around 300,000, fled to neighboring countries where they founded the Front Patriotique Rwandais (FPR, the Rwandan Patriotic Front). The country became independent in 1962.

Before the Genocide

The inexperienced Hutus did not make a success of their government. There were constant problems throughout the country and rebellion among the Tutsis grew as the measures against them increased. In 1973, General Habyarimana came to power through a coup. In 1990, the FPR seized the opportunity and invaded the country from Uganda and a civil war began. In 1993 a ceasefire followed, and UN troops, UNAMIR, arrived to monitor the situation. An attempt was made to introduce a multi-party system, but the Hutus opposed any interference from the Tutsis. On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwandan President Habyarimana and Burundian President Ntaryamira was shot down, killing all on board. This was the signal for a genocide on an unprecedented scale.

The Genocide

The attack on the plane carrying the Rwandan president set the Hutus’ plan, the Final Solution, in motion. (To this day it is not clear who was actually behind the attack, whether it was Tutsis or Hutus who needed this incident to start their genocide.) Tutsis were blamed for the attack and Hutus were called to arrest all Tutsis kill their environment. This happened mainly by radio. Also, all Hutus who were not anti-Tutsi had to be killed. Within an hour after the attack, the Rwandan air force, the presidential guard and Hutu militias started their ‘work’. The militias, known as Interahamwe (,Those who attack together,) and Impuzamugambi (,Those who have the same goal,) set up roadblocks and began killing. One of the first victims was the moderate Hutu minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana and her ten Belgian bodyguards. A power vacuum emerged that extremist Hutu leaders took advantage of. Between April and June, between 800,000 and 1,000,000 million people were murdered. Most of them were killed with knives and machetes. National radio stations and local officials called for the killing of Tutsis and their supporters. Unlike other genocides, everything happened in front of the media, the mass murder was not hidden. The FPR continued to fight during this period and in July they managed to take power. As a result, two million people, most of them Hutus, fled and the refugee camps in neighboring countries overflowed.

The Role of the UN

UNAMIR troops were present while the Rwandan genocide was taking place. In early 1994, they asked the UN Security Council to intervene because of the threat of genocide, but the request was denied. With the death of the ten Belgian bodyguards, the Belgian UN soldiers were also withdrawn. Only 260 UN soldiers remained in Rwanda. It was not until mid-May that the UN admitted that ,acts of genocide may have been committed, in Rwanda and that more troops should be sent. At that time, half a million Tutsis had already been murdered.

Paul Kagame

The FPR set up a coalition government, with Hutu Bizimungu as president and Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, as vice president and defense minister. Habyarimana’s party was banned because it had largely been behind the genocide. In 2003, a new constitution was introduced, which meant that ethnicity was no longer stated on citizens’ identity documents. The new constitution was followed by free elections in which Kagame was elected president for ten years.