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Rwanda Genocide - April-July 1994

Rwanda's population consists of three ethnic groups: Hutus (88%), Tutsis (11%), and Twa pygmies (1%). The Republic of Rwanda has been torn apart by ethnic division and a civil war between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi. No other recent conflict in Africa has taken as high a toll in such a short period of time as the Rwanda genocide, in which between half a million and a million people were massacred. The genocide between April and July of 1994 began after Rwanda's Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana, with whom Paris had cultivated close ties, was killed when his plane was shot down. On April 6, 1994, the plane carrying Rwanda's president and his Burundian counterpart was shot down as it was landing in the capital, Kigali. Both men were killed, setting off a wave of revenge and ethnic cleansing. Extremist members of the president's Hutu people savagely attacked and murdered members of Rwanda's Tutsi minority, and many moderate Hutus too. U.N. peacekeepers withdrew after some of their troops were killed, and the rampage continued for 100 days.

Genocide was instant. Roadblocks sprang up right across the city of Kigali, the militia being armed with one intent - to identify and kill Tutsis. At the same time, Interahamwe began house-to-house searches.The names on the death lists were the first to be visited and slaughtered in their own homes. Children watched as their parents were tortured, beaten and killed in front of their eyes, before their own small bodies were sliced, smashed, abused, pulverised and discarded. The elderly, the pride of Rwandan society, were despised, and mercilessly murdered in cold blood. Neighbours turned on neighbours, friends on friends, even family on their own family members. Rwanda had turned into a nation of brutal, sadistic, merciless killers, and of innocent victims - overnight. The genocidaires did not kill a million people. They killed one, then another, then another...... day after day, hour after hour, minute by minute. Every minute of the day, someone, somewhere, was being murdered, screaming for mercy. And receiving none.

From April to July 1994, extremist political groups organized the massacre, directed primarily at the minority Tutsi ethnic group, but also against those from the Hutu majority who opposed the killings or had been active in the pro-democracy movement. Neighbors killed neighbors. Rwandans taking shelter in churches were slaughtered, as were pregnant women in maternity clinics. After the killing of 10 UN peacekeepers by Hutu radicals, the international community basically upped and left.

Radio stations in Rwanda had a special connotation inasmuch as it is sort of a radio culture. It is the means of communication, and in some villages it was even perceived as nearly the voice of God. The Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) actively encouraged people to search out and kill anyone who was from the Tutsi ethnic group. Radio broadcasts urged the Hutu to take up machetes and kill their neighbors. As that radio station became more and more virulent and became in fact absolutely criminal with the genocide, the UN local commander proposed to either jam it or to take it out. A number of nations through the U.N. were requested to provide assets for this purpose, but the response came in near unison that Rwanda is a sovereign state, and "as a sovereign state we have no right to interfere".

Samantha Power, author of A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide that was awarded the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, and named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine, noted that : "In three short, cruel months, between April and July 1994, Rwanda experienced a genocide more efficient than that carried out by the Nazis in the Second World War. The killers were a varied bunch: drunk extremists chanting ''Hutu power, Hutu power;'' uniformed soldiers and militia men intent on wiping out the Tutsi inyenzi, or ''cockroaches;'' and ordinary villagers who had never themselves contemplated killing before, but who decided to join the frenzy. The murderers, and their ebullient abettors, were turned into ghastly marionettes, consumed by a manic wrath. Men and women, young and old, religious and agnostic, became killers. They killed with radios in one hand and machetes in the other. They killed in churches, at traffic lights, in supermarkets, and in homes. They killed after taunting, after savage beating, and, often, after raping.... By July 1994, when Tutsi rebels took control of the country, the killers had accomplished much of what they set out to achieve. Eight hundred thousand people—half of the Tutsis who had lived in Rwanda three months earlier—had been eliminated. The United States and its allies on the UN Security Council did not simply watch. They voted to withdraw the UN peacekeepers who were in Rwanda, abandoning Rwandans who had relied upon the blue helmets for their protection."

The slaughter ended when rebel forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) overthrew the genocidal government. However, ongoing political tensions, guerrilla warfare and massive refugee movements have continued to sow political instability and humanitarian crises throughout the Great Lakes region, including in neighboring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).

The Tutsi-led Rwanda Patriotic Front was victorious and formed a new government. Subsequently, many refugees (mostly Hutus) have fled Rwanda to neighboring Zaire (~2 million), Tanzania (~480,000), Burundi (~200,000) and Uganda (~10,000). In addition, another 1 million refugees were believed to be within Rwanda. These refugees have concentrated in huge numbers at barren places with no sanitation, polluted water and little food. These conditions have caused great suffering and mass death.

The largely Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which took power following the civil war and genocide of 1994, is the principal political force and controls the Government of National Unity. President Pasteur Bizimungu and Vice President and Minister of Defense General Paul Kagame both belong to the RPF. The mainly Hutu Republican Democratic Movement retained the office of Prime Minister. Prime Minister Pierre Rwigema ran the Government on a daily basis and is responsible for relations with the National Assembly.

The genocidal militias that massacred Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994 continued their campaign of ethnic extermination and sought to expand their operations beyond the northwest. The insurgents committed numerous serious human rights abuses, including killings of those perceived as Tutsi survivors of the genocide, and of Hutu officials who opposed their agenda, as well as of religious and humanitarian aid workers. The militias, composed of members of the defeated army, the former Rwandan Armed Forces (ex-FAR) and Interahamwe genocide gangs, regularly attack government offices and public service institutions, such as prisons, clinics, and schools. These actions have increased friction between the security forces and the Hutu population and created insecurity on the roads.

Insurgent militias, which include members of the ex-FAR and Interahamwe gangs and some former refugees, committed hundreds of killings both for political reasons and in pursuit of their genocidal ideology. They also sought to create panic and undermine confidence in the Government's ability to protect the population. In 1998 insurgents stepped up propaganda efforts, distributing hate literature and newspapers designed to persuade readers of the justness of their cause, their strength against the Government, and the evil intentions of the government's Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA). The tracts identified anyone who opposed the insurgents' cause as an enemy. Genocide survivors, Tutsi refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Hutu government officials, local Hutu politicians, and those who refused to cooperate with the insurgency all were targeted. By late summer 1998, the RPA appeared to have gained the upper hand against the insurgents. Intense operations by the RPA combined with disillusionment with the insurgency drove thousands of persons who had abandoned their homes to return to the relatively safer areas controlled by the RPA.

Romeo A. Dallaire, who commanded the U.N. peacekeeping force before, during and after the Rwandan genocide, later observed : "Rwanda essentially did not count, and one would question whether or not it does today. Rwanda simply had no strategic value with its geography, no strategic value in its resources as it just has coffee and tea, and those economies are already overstocked, and, as one interlocutor who came in the first day to do an assessment of whether or not they would send troops to support me said, the only thing they have here in Rwanda is a lot of people, and they have too much of it."

Under international law, a distinction is generally made between crimes against humanity and genocide. Genocide requires the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Crimes against humanity, in contrast, are acts intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury as part of a widespread or systematic attack knowingly directed against any civilian population. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was the first international tribunal to interpret the definition of genocide as provided in the Genocide Convention. The ICTR mandate expired at the end of 2015 after the ICTR had indicted 93 individuals for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. The International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) was established in 2010 by UN Security Council Resolution 1966 to complete the remaining work of two specialized criminal tribunals, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Rwandan community-based gacaca courts responded to the 1994 genocide from 2005 to 2012, with over 10,000 of these courts established, trying approximately 1.2 million cases. The gacaca courts, as a form of transitional justice, received mixed reviews with regard to their ability to achieve truth, justice, and reconciliation among Rwandans. While the courts were considered a unique experiment in collaborative justice, human rights organizations stressed that they did not meet international standards for a fair trial, which require legal representation for the accused, the impartiality of judges, and witness protection.

France had long been accused of not doing enough to halt the massacres. France notably led Operation Turquoise, a military-humanitarian intervention launched under a UN mandate in June 1994. Its critics believe that it was in reality aimed at supporting the genocidal Hutu government. And there have also been repeated accusations that authorities in Paris helped suspects in the Rwanda genocide to escape while under French military protection.

France bears overwhelming responsibilities over the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and was "blind" to preparations for the massacres, a report by historians said 25 March 2021, while adding there was no evidence Paris was complicit in the killings. A historical commission set up by President Emmanuel Macron concluded there had been a "failure" on the part of France under former leader Francois Mitterrand over the genocide that saw around 800,000 people slaughtered, mainly from the ethnic Tutsi minority. Historian Vincent Duclert, who heads the commission, handed over the damning report to Macron at the Elysee Palace after years of accusations France did not do enough to halt the massacres and was even complicit in the crimes.

The report concluded that in July 1994, "murderers but also the masterminds of the genocide" were in a safe zone established by French forces in the west of the country "who the French political authorities refused to arrest". Socialist Mitterrand and his inner circle were also fearful of the encroachment of English-speaking influence into francophone Africa by Uganda and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) of Kagame. The report tells of French decision-makers trapped in "post-colonial" thinking who supported the "racist, corrupt and violent" regime of Habyarimana as he faced a Tutsi rebellion which many considered was directed from English-speaking Uganda.

France "bears significant responsibility" for enabling the genocide in Rwanda and still refuses to acknowledge its true role in the 1994 horror, said a separate report commissioned by Kigali that was released 24 May 2021. The damning report, commissioned in 2017 and running to nearly 600 pages, labels France a "collaborator" of the extremist Hutu regime that orchestrated the pogrom of some 800,000 people, and outright rejects the position that Paris was blind to their genocidal agenda.

The years-long investigation by US law firm Levy Firestone Muse said France knew a genocide was coming but remained "unwavering in its support" of its Rwandan allies, even when the planned extermination of the Tutsi minority was clear. "It is our conclusion that the French government bears significant responsibility for enabling a foreseeable genocide," states the Muse report, which drew on millions of pages of documents and interviews with more than 250 witnesses. It found no evidence, however, that French officials or personnel directly participated in the killing of Tutsis.

But the Muse report asserts greater French culpability, saying the Duclert Commission stopped short of explaining what France was responsible for, and erred in concluding that Paris "remained blind" to the looming genocide. "The French government was neither blind nor unconscious about the foreseeable genocide," the report stated.

The issue still poisons modern relations a quarter of a century later between France and Rwanda under its controversial President Paul Kagame, a former Tutsi rebel who has ruled the mountainous nation in Africa's Great Lakes region since the aftermath of the genocide.


Rwanda is a very poor country with a market economy; over 90 percent of the population earns its living through subsistence agriculture. The principal export crops are coffee and tea. Per capita Gross National Product is estimated at $210 per year. The massive genocide and war in 1994 resulted in the destruction of much of the country's economic infrastructure, including utilities, roads, and hospitals. The main religions are Roman Catholic (65%), Protestant (9%), and Muslim (1%). The official languages are French and Kinyardwanda with Kiswahili spoken in commercial centers.

According to folklore, Tutsi cattle breeders began arriving in the area from the Horn of Africa in the 15th century and gradually subjugated the Hutu inhabitants. The Tutsis established a monarchy headed by a mwami (king) and a feudal hierarchy of Tutsi nobles and gentry. Through a contract known as ubuhake, the Hutu farmers pledged their services and those of their descendants to a Tutsi lord in return for the loan of cattle and use of pastures and arable land. Thus, the Tutsi reduced the Hutu to virtual serfdom. However, boundaries of race and class became less distinct over the years as some Tutsi declined until they enjoyed few advantages over the Hutu. The first European known to have visited Rwanda was German Count Von Goetzen in 1894. He was followed by missionaries, notably the "White Fathers." In 1899, the mwami submitted to a German protectorate without resistance. Belgian troops from Zaire chased the small number of Germans out of Rwanda in 1915 and took control of the country.

After World War I, the League of Nations mandated Rwanda and its southern neighbor, Burundi, to Belgium as the territory of Ruanda-Urundi. Following World War II, Ruanda-Urundi became a UN trust territory with Belgium as the administrative authority. Reforms instituted by the Belgians in the 1950s encouraged the growth of democratic political institutions but were resisted by the Tutsi traditionalists who saw in them a threat to Tutsi rule. An increasingly restive Hutu population, encouraged by the Belgian military, sparked a revolt in November 1959, resulting in the overthrow of the Tutsi monarchy. Two years later, the Party of the Hutu Emancipation Movement (PARMEHUTU) won an overwhelming victory in a UN-supervised referendum.

During the 1959 revolt and its aftermath, more than 160,000 Tutsis fled to neighboring countries. The PARMEHUTU government, formed as a result of the September 1961 election, was granted internal autonomy by Belgium on January 1, 1962. A June 1962 UN General Assembly resolution terminated the Belgian trusteeship and granted full independence to Rwanda (and Burundi) effective July 1, 1962.

Gregoire Kayibanda, leader of the PARMEHUTU Party, became Rwanda's first elected president, leading a government chosen from the membership of the directly elected unicameral National Assembly. Peaceful negotiation of international problems, social and economic elevation of the masses, and integrated development of Rwanda were the ideals of the Kayibanda regime. Relations with 43 countries, including the United States, were established in the first 10 years. Despite the progress made, inefficiency and corruption began festering in government ministries in the mid-1960s. On July 5, 1973, the military took power under the leadership of Maj. Gen. Juvenal Habyarimana, who dissolved the National Assembly and the PARMEHUTU Party and abolished all political activity.

In 1975, President Habyarimana formed the National Revolutionary Movement for Development (MRND) whose goals were to promote peace, unity, and national development. The movement was organized from the "hillside" to the national level and included elected and appointed officials.

Under MRND aegis, Rwandans went to the polls in December 1978, overwhelmingly endorsed a new constitution, and confirmed President Habyarimana as president. President Habyarimana was re-elected in 1983 and again in 1988, when he was the sole candidate. Responding to public pressure for political reform, President Habyarimana announced in July 1990 his intention to transform Rwanda's one-party state into a multi-party democracy.

On October 1, 1990, Rwandan exiles banded together as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and invaded Rwanda from their base in Uganda. The rebel force, composed primarily of ethnic 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 war dragged on for almost two years until a cease-fire accord was signed July 12, 1992, in Arusha, Tanzania, fixing a timetable for an end to the fighting and political talks, leading to a peace accord and power-sharing, and authorizing a neutral military observer group under the auspices of the Organization for African Unity. A cease-fire took effect July 31, 1992, and political talks began August 10, 1992.

On April 6, 1994, the airplane carrying President Habyarimana and the President of Burundi was shot down as it prepared to land at Kigali. Both presidents were killed. As though the shooting down was a signal, military and militia groups began rounding up and killing all Tutsis and political moderates, regardless of their ethnic background.

The prime minister and her 10 Belgian bodyguards were among the first victims. 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 left up to1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands of organized bands of militia--Interahamwe. Even ordinary citizens were called on to kill their neighbors by local officials and government-sponsored radio. The president's MRND Party was implicated in organizing many aspects of the genocide.

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. The RPF then resumed its invasion, and civil war raged concurrently with the genocide for two months. French forces landed in Goma, Zaire, in June 1994 on a humanitarian mission. They deployed throughout southwest Rwanda in an area they called "Zone Turquoise," quelling the genocide and stopping the fighting there. The Rwandan army was quickly defeated by the RPF and fled across the border to Zaire followed by some 2 million refugees who fled to Zaire, Tanzania, and Burundi. The RPF took Kigali on July 4, 1994, and the war ended on July 16, 1994. The RPF took control of a country ravaged by war and genocide. Up to 800,000 had been murdered, another 2 million or so had fled, and another million or so were displaced internally.

The international community responded with one of the largest humanitarian relief efforts ever mounted. The U.S. was one of the largest contributors. The UN peacekeeping operation, UNAMIR, was drawn down during the fighting but brought back up to strength after the RPF victory. UNAMIR remained in Rwanda until March 8, 1996.

Following an uprising by the ethnic Tutsi Banyamulenge people in Eastern Zaire in October 1996, a huge movement of refugees began which brought over 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 another 500,000 from Tanzania, again in a huge, spontaneous wave. Less than 100,000 Rwandans were estimated to remain outside of Rwanda in late 1997, and they were thought to be the remnants of the defeated army of the the former genocidal government and its allies in the civilian militias known as Interahamwe.

With the return of the refugees, a new chapter in Rwandan history began. 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.

United Nations Security Council marked the closure on Dec. 31, 2015, of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), said a press statement of the council. The council acknowledged the substantial contribution of the ICTR to the process of national reconciliation and the restoration of peace and security, and to the fight against impunity and the development of international criminal justice, especially in relation to the crime of genocide, said the statement. It also noted that the establishment of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals by resolution 1966 (2010) was essential to ensure that the closure of the ICTR does not leave the door open to impunity for the remaining fugitives.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:21:02 ZULU