- Twenty-five (25) years gone and we remember the ethnic cleansing of the Tutsis, a minority tribe of cattle herders in Rwanda
- The whole event started with one murder and ended up with about 500,000-100,000 deaths, constituting 70% of the Tutsis population and 30% of the Twa population
- The ‘Rape Squad’, a biological warfare strategy involving HIV infected males were released from hospitals by the Hutus to rape Tutsis women
- The genocide was organized by members of the core Hutu political elite, many of whom occupied positions at top levels of the national government.
The Rwandan genocide, which began 25 years ago this week, was one of the worst atrocities in living memory. It took just 100 days to massacre as much as 20 percent of the country’s population, decimate its infrastructure and sow the seeds of regional conflicts still to come.
What is the Rwandan genocide?
The Rwandan genocide was the mass slaughter of the Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government.
The Rwandan genocide was not a tribal conflict. They share the same language; the same religion; the same culture. They had lived together for centuries before the arrival of the European colonists. The minority Tutsis were mostly aristocratic cattle herders, and the majority Hutu were mostly farmers and peasants. The differences between the communities were emphasized by the Germans and Belgians as an instrument of colonial rule. The Belgians changed these terms from separating based on socio-economic classes to signify different socio-ethnic groups.
After Rwanda gained its independence in 1962, the distinctions driven by the Europeans remained. The Hutu majority continued to use these labels politically to win elections. Before 1994, 14% of the population was Tutsi, 85% were Hutu, and 1% was Twa. The only way to differentiate between these groups was to check national identity cards.
How the Rwandan Genocide started
The genocide took place in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, a conflict beginning in 1990 between the Hutu-led government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). The latter was made up largely of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda after the 1959 Hutu revolt against colonial rule. Waves of Hutu violence against the RPF and Tutsi followed Rwandan independence in 1962. International pressure on the Hutu government of Juvénal Habyarimana resulted in a ceasefire in the civil war in 1993, with a road-map to implement the Arusha Accords. This was intended to create a power-sharing government with the RPF. Numerous conservative Hutu, including members of the Akazu, opposed the Accords, believing they were a concession to enemy demands.
On April 6, 1994, less than a year after a ceasefire was established between the Hutu government and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the Tutsi-backed paramilitary lead by Paul Kagame, an airplane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana and the Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down. The assassination of Habyarimana ended the peace talks. The Hutus fingered the RPF
Genocidal killings began the following day. Soldiers, police, and militia quickly executed key Tutsi and moderate Hutu military and political leaders who could have assumed control in the ensuing power vacuum. Checkpoints and barricades were erected to screen all holders of the national ID card of Rwanda (it contained ethnic classifications; the Belgian colonial government had introduced the use of these classifications and IDs in 1933). This enabled government forces to systematically identify and kill Tutsi.
The Rwandan Genocide ‘Rape Squad’
UN Special Rapporteur Rene Degni-Segui stated, “Rape was the rule and its absence was the exception.” During the conflict, Hutu extremists released hundreds of HIV/AIDS positive patients from the hospitals to form ‘rape squads’ During the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-June in 1994, between 500,000-1,000,000 Rwandans were killed.
The genocide had lasting and profound effects on Rwanda and neighboring countries. The pervasive use of rape as a weapon of war caused a spike in HIV infection, including babies born to mothers infected during rapes. Due to the wholesale slaughter of both men and women, many households were headed by widows or totally orphaned children. The destruction of infrastructure and the severe depopulation of the country crippled the economy, challenging the nascent government to achieve rapid economic growth and stabilization. The RPF military victory and installation of an RPF-dominated government prompted many Hutu to flee to neighboring countries.
How the Rwandan genocide ended
The genocide ended when the RPF, led by Paul Kagame, took control of the country after toppling the Rwandan government dominated by the Hutus. Nearly 2,000,000 Rwandans, mostly Hutus, became refugees as a result of the RPF’s efforts.
The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and President Paul Kagame have continued to exert control over the political landscape in Rwanda, as political opposition leaders have been intimidated and silenced, arrested, or forced into exile. The RPF won an overwhelming victory in legislative elections in September 2018, following Kagame’s re-election with a reported 98.8 percent of the vote in the 2017 presidential elections. Bulk of President Paul Kagame’s government has seen freedom of speech grossly abused.
In July 2018, the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) canceled its visit to Rwanda, due to a lack of cooperation from Rwandan authorities, making it the first time in 11 years the SPT would cancel a visit. The National Commission for Human Rights is yet to publish a report on the killing of Congolese refugees by police in the Western Province.
More photos of the Rwandan genocide can be seen below: