Graphic Photos: Remembering the Rwanda genocide 25 years after

  • 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

April 6: The plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, shown here in 1982, is shot down over Kigali. Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira, both members of the Hutu ethnic group, are killed along with everyone else onboard. Getty Images/PRI

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.

Rwanda Today

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:

Skulls of victims of the Ntarama massacre during the 1994 genocide are lined in the Genocide Memorial Site church of Ntarama, in Nyamata 27 February 2004. In the Bugesera province, where the small town of Nyamata is located, the 1994 Rwandan genocide was particularly brutal. Among the 59.000 Tutsis who lived in the province, 50.000 were killed during the genocide, and among them, 10.000 were slain in the church. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)/PRI


5 May 1994- Displaced Rwandans collect water from a polluted lake near a refugee camp in Benako, Tanzania. Gerard Julien: AFP


20 May 1994- Fishermen pile up corpses for burial at Kasensero village in Uganda. The bodies were carried by the Akagera river from Rwanda into Lake Victoria. Reuters


20 May 1994- Fishermen pile up corpses for burial at Kasensero village in Uganda. The bodies were carried by the Akagera river from Rwanda into Lake Victoria. Reuters
23 May 1994- Rwandan Patriotic Front rebels load mortars and other ammunition onto a truck after taking the Kanombe barracks from government troops. Corinne Dufka: Reuters
26 May 1994- Rwanda Patriotic Front rebels inspect the wreckage of the plane in which President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when it crashed on 6 April, sparking the murder of hundreds of thousands of people. Corinne Dufka: Reuters


A Rwandan boy covers his face from the stench of dead bodies in this July 19, 1994 file photo. 

Recovered bodies that had been dumped in the Kigera River at Rusumo Falls. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
Decomposing bodies of Tutsis
Rather than kill this young boy, his father said that a Hutu gang cut his Achilles heels so that he couldn’t walk. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
A group of hungry boys pick up pieces of grain that fell from a relief truck at the Benaco refugee camp. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
Refugees carry water from a small lake that was contaminated from the runoff from a nearby area that was being used as an outdoor latrine. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
19 July 1994- Rwanda’s newly-elected Hutu president Pasteur Bizimungu and his vice president the Tutsi-led RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) commander Paul Kagame, share a joke in Kigali. Pascal Guyot: AFP
20 July 1994- A Rwandan refugee girl stands next to a mass grave outside Kigali, where dozens of bodies were laid to rest. Corinne Dufka: Reuters
23 July 1994- An aid truck full of medical supplies makes its way past scores of bodies of Rwandan refugees who died of cholera. Corinne Dufka: Reuters
28 July 1994- Rwandan refugees carry food distributed by the Red Cross at the Kibumba camp in Zaire. Ulli Michel: Reuters
28 July 1994- A Rwandan woman collapses with her baby on her back along a road connecting Kibumba refugee camp and Goma in Zaire. Aid officials said that refugees were dying at a rate of 1,800 per day. Ulli Michel: Reuters
29 July 1994- A Rwandan refugee carries the body of his baby who died of cholera towards a mass grave. Corinne Dufka: Reuters
A Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel soldier stares at a portrait of slain president Juvenal Habyarimana in Kigali. Corinne Dufka: Reuters
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