The Rwandan Genocide



Composition of the Rwandan Population

The Rwandan population is comprised of three main ethnic groups: the Hutus, Tutsis, and Twa.

Learning Objectives

Describe the ethnic subgroups that make up the Rwandan population

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The largest ethnic groups in Rwanda are the Hutus, the Tutsis, and the Twa.
  • When Europeans first explored the region around the Great Lakes of Chad that has since become Rwanda, they described the people in the region as having descended from three racially distinct tribes and coexisting in a complex social order.
  • A contrasting picture of human cultural diversity was recorded in the early Rwandan oral histories, ritual texts, and biographies, in which the terms Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa were rarely used and the boundary between Tutsi and Hutu was somewhat open to social mobility.
  • Elites in pre-colonial Rwanda propagated an origin myth of the three groups to justify the hierarchical relationship of sociopolitical inequality between them in sacred, religious terms.
  • Despite sociopolitical stratification, Rwanda was a unified society. Inhabitants all considered themselves part of the same nation, spoke the same language, practiced the same cultural traditions, and worshiped the same God.
  • European colonizers would later exploit group divisions as a means of securing control.

Key Terms

  • pygmies: A member of an ethnic group whose average height is unusually short. Anthropologists define this as any group where adult men are on average less than 4 feet 11 inches tall.
  • serfs: The status of many peasants within feudal systems, an individual who occupies a plot of land and is required to work for the owner of that land in return for protection and the right to exploit certain fields on the property to maintain their own subsistence.

The largest ethnic groups in Rwanda are the Hutus, the Tutsis, and the Twa. Starting with the Tutsi feudal monarchy rule of the 10th century, the Hutus were a subjugated social group. It was not until Belgian colonization that the tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis became focused on race, with the Belgians propagating the myth that Tutsis were the superior ethnicity. The resulting tensions would eventually foster the slaughtering of Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide. Since then, government policy has changed to recognize one main ethnicity: “Rwandan.”

The map shows the location of Rwanda. Located in central and east Africa, Rwanda is one of the smallest countries on the African mainland. Located a few degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rwanda: Location of Rwanda (dark blue) in the African Union (light blue)

Pre-Colonial Rwanda

When Europeans first explored the region around the Great Lakes of Chad that has since become Rwanda, they described the people found in the region as descending from three racially distinct tribes and coexisting in a complex social order: the Tutsis, Hutus, and Twa. The Tutsis, an elite minority of about 24% of the population, were tall, slim pastoralists. The Hutu majority, about 75% of the population, were stocky, strong farmers. The Twa were a marginalized minority of 1% of the population: a tribe of pygmies, dwelling in the forests as hunter  and gatherers. Although these groups were distinct and stratified in relation to one another, the boundary between Tutsi and Hutu was somewhat open to social mobility. The Tutsi elite were defined by their exclusive ownership of land and cattle. Hutus, though disenfranchised socially and politically, could she Hutuness, or kwihutura, by accumulating wealth and thereby rising through the social hierarchy to the status of Tutsi.

A contrasting picture of human cultural diversity was recorded in the early Rwandan oral histories, ritual texts, and biographies, in which the terms Tutsi, Hutu, and Twa were rarely used and had meanings different from those conceived by the Europeans. In these oral histories, the term Tutsi was equivalent to the phrase “wealthy noble”; Hutu meant “farmer”; and Twa was used to refer to people skilled in hunting, use of fire, pottery-making, guarding, and other disciplines. In contrast to the European conception, rural farmers are often described as wealthy and well-connected. Kings sometimes looked down on them but still married individuals from this group and frequently conferred them with titles, land, herds, armies, servitors, and ritual functions.

Origin Myths

Elites in pre-colonial Rwanda propagated an origin myth of the three groups to justify the hierarchical relationship of sociopolitical inequality in sacred, religious terms. According to this myth, Kigwa, a deity who fell from heaven, had three sons: Gatwa, Gahutu, and Gatutsi. He chose an heir by giving each son the responsibility of watching over a pot of milk during the night. Gatwa drank the milk, Gahutu fell asleep and carelessly spilled his pot, and Gatutsi kept watch, keeping his milk safe. Therefore, Kigwa appointed Gatutsi to be his successor and Gahutu to be his brother’s servant, while Gatwa was to be resigned to the status of an outsider. Gatutsi would possess cattle and power, and Gahutu would only be allowed to acquire cattle through service to Gatutsi, whereas Gatwa was condemned to the fringe of society. This myth was the basis of the hierarchical relationship that placed the Tutsi at the apex of the social pyramid. The prevalence of this myth became the basis for the social and political stratification of Rwanda.

From the 15th century when the Tutsi arrived in what is now Rwanda as migrant pastoralists to the onset of colonization, Rwanda was a feudal monarchy. A Tutsi monarch ruled, distributing land and political authority through hereditary chiefs whose power was manifest in their land and cattle ownership. Most of these chiefs were Tutsis. The land was farmed under an imposed system of patronage in which Tutsi chiefs demanded manual labor in return for the rights of Hutus to occupy their land. This system left Hutus with the status of serfs. Additionally, when Rwanda conquered the peoples on its borders, their ethnic identities were cast aside and they were simply labeled “Hutu.” Therefore, “Hutu” became an identity that was not necessarily ethnic, but rather associated with subjugation.

Stratified Social Hierarchy

This social system was based on five fundamental assumptions, as reinforced through group interactions and influenced by cultural myths:

  1. Fundamental natural differences existed between the groups.
  2. The origin of the Tutsis was celestial.
  3. The civilization that Tutsis brought to Rwanda was superior.
  4. The kingship of the Tutsi Mwami was divinely ordained.
  5. Divine sanctions would occur if the monarchy was usurped by any other group.

Despite the stratification promulgated by these ideas, Rwanda was still very much a unified society. Notwithstanding association with different groups in the sociopolitical hierarchy, the inhabitants all considered themselves part of the same nation, the Banyarwanda, which means “people of Rwanda.” They spoke the same language, practiced the same cultural traditions, and worshiped the same God. However, the arrival of European colonizers would later exploit group divisions as a means of securing control. The modern conception of Tutsi and Hutu as distinct ethnic groups in no way reflects the pre-colonial relationship between them. Tutsi and Hutu were simply groups occupying different places in the Rwandan social hierarchy, the division between which was exacerbated by slight differences in appearance propagated by occupation and pedigree.

Imperialism and Racial Divisions

European imperialists used power disparities and pseudo-science to perpetuate the myth of divergent Tutsi and Hutu racial identities.

Learning Objectives

Explain how European imperialists encouraged categorizing Rwandans on the basis of ethnicity

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The construction of divergent ethnic “Tutsi” and “Hutu” identities occurred during the era of European colonization from the late 1880s to the 1950s.
  • The Germans were not interested in disrupting social affairs – their sole concern was the efficient extraction of natural resources and trade of profitable cash crops. Therefore, their strategy was to reaffirm Tutsi chiefdoms over Hutus to maintain administrative order.
  • The German presence had mixed effects on the authority of Rwandan governing powers, not only helping the Mwami increase control over Rwandan affairs, but also weakening Tutsi power due to the introduction of capitalist forces and increased integration with outside markets.
  • Germany’s defeat in World War I allowed Belgian forces to conquer Rwanda, and Belgian involvement was far more intrusive than German administration.
  • Influenced by racialized attitudes, Belgian social scientists declared that Tutsis must be descendants of the Hamites, who shared a purported closer bloodline to Europeans, and that the Tutsis and Hutus composed two fundamentally different ethno-racial groups.
  • The Belgians’ pseudo-scientific perspective justified Tutsi racial superiority and Hutu oppression for decades to come.

Key Terms

  • Mwami: A chiefly title usually translated as “king.”

Unlike much of the rest of Africa, Rwanda and the Great Lakes region was not divided up during the 1884 Berlin Conference. Instead, the region was divided in an 1890 conference in Brussels. Rwanda and Burundi were given to the German Empire as colonial spheres of interest in exchange for Germany renouncing all claims on Uganda. The poor-quality maps referenced in these agreements left Belgium with a claim on the western half of the country, and after several border skirmishes, the final borders of the colony were not established until 1900. These borders contained the kingdom of Rwanda as well as a group of smaller kingdoms on the shore of Lake Victoria.

German and Belgian Colonization

Germany

The construction of divergent ethnic “Tutsi” and “Hutu” identities occurred during the era of European colonization from the late 1880s to the 1950s. German colonialism did little to alter the existing stratified social system. The Germans were not interested in disrupting social affairs – their sole concern was the efficient extraction of natural resources and trade of profitable cash crops. Colonial bureaucrats relied heavily on native Tutsi chiefs to maintain order over the Hutu lower classes and collect taxes. Thus, the German affirmation of the stratified social structure was utilized by the Tutsi aristocracy as justification for minority rule over the lower-class Hutu masses.

The German presence had mixed effects on the authority of Rwandan governing powers. The Germans helped the Mwami increase their control over Rwandan affairs, but Tutsi power weakened with the introduction of capitalist forces and via increased integration with outside markets and economies. Money came to be seen by many Hutus as a replacement for cattle, in terms of both economic prosperity and for purposes of social standing. Tutsi power was also weakened by Germany through the introduction of the head-tax on all Rwandans. As some Tutsis feared, the tax made the Hutus feel less bonded to their Tutsi patrons and more dependent on European foreigners. The head-tax also implied equality among those counted. Thus, despite Germany’s attempt to uphold traditional Tutsi domination of the Hutus, the Hutu began to shift their ideas surrounding this concept.

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Mwami Palace: A reconstruction of the traditional Mwami’s palace at Nyanza, Rwanda.

Belgium

Germany’s defeat in World War I allowed Belgian forces to conquer Rwanda. Belgian involvement in the region was far more intrusive than German administration. In an era of Social Darwinism, European anthropologists claimed to identify a distinct “Hamitic race” that was superior to native “Negroid” populations. Influenced by racialized attitudes, Belgian social scientists declared that the Tutsis, who wielded political control in Rwanda, must be descendants of the Hamites, who shared a purported closer bloodline to Europeans. The Belgians concluded that the Tutsis and Hutus composed two fundamentally different ethno-racial groups. Thus, the Belgians viewed the Tutsis as more civilized, superior, and most importantly, more European than the Hutus.

This perspective justified placement of societal control in the hands of the Tutsis at the expense of the Hutus, establishing a comprehensive race theory that would dictate Rwandan society until independence: Tutsi racial superiority and Hutu oppression. The institutionalization of Tutsi and Hutu ethnic divergence was accomplished through administrative, political, economic, and educational means. Initially, Belgian administrators used an expedient method of classification based on the number of cattle a person owned – anyone with ten or more cattle was considered a member of the aristocratic Tutsi class. However, the presence of wealthy Hutu was problematic. Then in 1933, the colonial administration institutionalized a more rigid ethnic classification by issuing ethnic identification cards, officially branding every Rwandan as Tutsi, Hutu, or Twa.

Tutsis began to believe the myth of their superior racial status and exploited their power over the Hutu majority. A history of Rwanda that justified the existence of these racial distinctions was written. No historical, archaeological, or linguistic traces have been found to date that confirm this official history. The observed differences between the Tutsis and the Hutus are about the same as those evident between the different French social classes in the 1950s. The way people nourished themselves explains a large part of the differences observed; for instance, the Tutsis, who raised cattle, traditionally drank more milk than the Hutu, who were farmers.

Post-Colonial Framework

As Belgium’s era of colonial dominance over Rwanda drew to a close during the 1950s, Hutu and Tutsi racial identities had become firmly institutionalized. Manipulative racial engineering by the Belgians and the despotic practices of the Tutsi chieftains they empowered helped to drive together the disparate Rwandan sub-classes under the “Hutu” moniker. When the Belgians finally left Rwanda in the early 1960s, the politics of racial and ethnic division remained. In the decades that followed, regimes under both Hutu ultra-nationalists and moderate conciliators would demonstrate how the labels of Hutu and Tutsi could be molded to fit political expediency.

100 Days of Violence

The Rwandan genocide was a mass slaughter of Tutsi people in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government.

Learning Objectives

Recall the key events of the 100 Days of Violence

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The army began training Hutu youth in combat and arming civilians in 1990 as part of an official program of civil defense against the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
  • In March 1993, Hutu Power groups began compiling lists of “traitors” who they planned to kill, possibly including President Juvenal Habyarimana.
  • In October 1993, the President of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, who had been elected in June as the country’s first ever Hutu president, was assassinated by extremist Tutsi army officers.
  • On January 11, 1994, General Romeo Dallaire, commander of United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) sent the infamous “ Genocide Fax” to UN Headquarters, stating that an informant told him of plans to distribute weapons to Hutu militias to kill Belgian members of UNAMIR and guarantee Belgian withdrawal from the country.
  • On April 6, 1994, the airplane carrying President Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali, killing everyone on board.
  • Following Habyarimana’s death, a crisis committee was formed, which would remain the de facto source of power in the country as well as one of the driving sources of the genocide.
  • Within hours of Habyarimana’s death, the genocide began. For the remainder of April and early May, the Presidential Guard, gendarmerie, and youth militias, aided by local populations, continued killing at very high rates.
  • The RPF made slow but steady gains in the north and east of the country, ending killings in each area they occupied.
  • At the end of July, Kagame’s RPF forces held the whole of Rwanda, except for the zone in the southwest that was occupied by Operation Turquoise, effectively ending the genocide.

Key Terms

  • UN Charter article 2(4): “All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations.” Although some commentators interpret Article 2(4) as banning only the use of force directed at the territorial integrity or political independence of a state, the more widely held opinion is that these are merely intensifiers, and that the article constitutes a general prohibition subject only to the exceptions stated in the Charter (i.e., self-defense and Chapter VII action by the Security Council).
  • interahamwe: A Hutu paramilitary organization that enjoyed the backing of the Hutu-led government leading up to and during the Rwandan genocide. Since the genocide, they have been driven out of Rwanda, mainly to Zaire (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo).

The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a mass slaughter of Tutsi people in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. An estimated 500,000 to one million Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994, constituting as many as 70% of the Tutsi population and 20% of Rwanda’s overall population.

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Nyamata Memorial Site: Human skulls at the Nyamata Genocide Memorial.

Prelude

Preparation for Genocide

Historians do not agree on a precise date on which the idea of a “final solution” to kill every Tutsi in Rwanda was introduced. The army began training Hutu youth in combat and arming civilians with weapons such as machetes in 1990, as part of an official program of civil defense against the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which largely consisted of Tutsi refugees whose families had fled to Uganda after the 1959 Hutu revolt against colonial rule. Rwanda also purchased large numbers of grenades and munitions starting in late 1990. In one deal, future UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in his role as Egyptian foreign minister, facilitated a large sale of arms from Egypt. The Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) also expanded rapidly during this time, growing from fewer than 10,000 troops to almost 30,000 in one year. New recruits were often poorly disciplined, however, and a divide grew between them and the more elite, experienced units.

In March 1993, the Hutu Power group began compiling lists of “traitors” who they planned to kill, and it is possible that President Juvenal Habyarimana’s name was on these lists. The far-right Hutu Power political party Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR) was actively and openly accusing the president of treason, and many Power groups believed that the national radio station, Radio Rwanda, had become too liberal and supportive of the opposition. In turn, they founded a new radio station, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLMC), which broadcast racist propaganda, obscene jokes, and music, and quickly became popular throughout the country. Throughout 1993, hardliners imported machetes on a scale far larger than required for agriculture, as well as other tools that could be used as weapons, such as razor blades, saws, and scissors. These tools were distributed around the country, ostensibly as part of the civil defense network.

In October 1993, the President of Burundi, Melchior Ndadaye, who had been elected in June as the country’s first ever Hutu president, was assassinated by extremist Tutsi army officers. The assassination caused shock waves throughout the country, reinforcing the notion among Hutus that the Tutsi were their enemy and could not be trusted. The CDR and Power wings of other parties quickly realized they could use the situation to their advantage. The idea of a Tutsi “final solution”, which had been floating around as a fringe political viewpoint, now occupied the top of Hutu party agendas and was actively planned. The Hutu Power groups were confident of persuading the Hutu population to carry out killings given the public anger at Ndadaye’s murder, the persuasiveness of RTLM propaganda, and the traditional obedience of Rwandans to authority. Power leaders began arming the interahamwe and other militia groups with AK-47s and other weapons, whereas previously they possessed only machetes and traditional hand weapons.

On January 11, 1994, General Romeo Dallaire, commander of United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) sent the infamous “Genocide Fax” to UN Headquarters. The fax stated that Dallaire was in contact with a high-level informant who told him of plans to distribute weapons to Hutu militias to kill Belgian members of UNAMIR and guarantee Belgian withdrawal from the country. The informant, a local politician, had been ordered to register all Tutsis in Kigali. Dallaire requested permission for the protection of his informant and the informant’s family, but Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the UN, repeatedly forbade any operations despite having authority for approval until guidance was received from headquarters, citing UN Charter article 2(4).

Assassination of Habyarimana

On April 6, 1994, the airplane carrying President Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the Hutu president of Burundi, was shot down as it prepared to land in Kigali, killing everyone on board. Responsibility for the attack was disputed, with both the RPF and Hutu extremists blamed. A later investigation by the Rwandan government blamed Hutu extremists in the Rwandan army. Despite disagreements about the perpetrators, the attack and deaths of the two Hutu presidents served as the catalyst for the genocide.

Following Habyarimana’s death, on the evening of April 6, a crisis committee was formed of Major General Augustin Ndindiliyimana, Colonel Theoneste Bagosora, and a number of other senior army staff officers. The committee was headed by Bagosora, despite the presence of the more senior Ndindiliyimana. Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana was legally next in the line of political succession, but the committee refused to recognize her authority. Dallaire met with the committee that night and insisted that Uwilingiyimana be placed in charge, but Bagosora refused, saying Uwilingiyimana did not “enjoy the confidence of the Rwandan people” and was “incapable of governing the nation”. Bagosora sought to convince UNAMIR and the RPF that the committee was acting to contain the Presidential Guard, which he described as “out of control,” and that it would abide by the Arusha agreement, which had ended the three-year Rwandan civil war.

Killings of Moderate Leaders

UNAMIR sent an escort of ten Belgian soldiers to bring Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana her to the Radio Rwanda offices to address the nation. The plan was cancelled, however, because the Presidential Guard took over the radio station shortly afterwards and would not permit Uwilingiyimana to speak on air. Later that morning, a number of soldiers and a crowd of civilians overwhelmed the Belgians guarding Uwilingiyimana, forcing them to surrender their weapons. Uwilingiyimana and her husband were killed, but their children survived by hiding behind furniture and were rescued by Senegalese UNAMIR officer Mbaye Diagne. The ten Belgians guards were taken to the Camp Kigali military base where they were tortured and killed.

In addition to assassinating Uwilingiyimana, the extremists spent the night of April 6 in Kigali with lists of prominent moderate politicians and journalists on a mission to kill them. Fatalities that evening included President of the Constitutional Court Joseph Kavaruganda, Minister of Agriculture Frederic Nzamurambaho, Parti Liberal leader Landwald Ndasingwa and his Canadian wife, and chief Arusha negotiator Boniface Ngulinzira. A few moderates survived, including prime minister-delegate Faustin Twagiramungu, but the plot was successful enough that by the morning of April 7, all moderate politicians and leaders were either dead or in hiding.

Genocide

The genocide itself began within a few hours of Habyariamana’s death. Military leaders in Gisenyi province were initially the most organized, convening a large number of interahamwe and civilian Hutu. The commanders announced the president’s death, blamed the RPF, and then ordered the crowd to begin killing. The genocide spread to Ruhengeri, Kibuye, Kigali, Kibungo, Gikongoro, and Cyangugu provinces on April 7. In each case, local officials, responding to orders from Kigali, spread rumors that the RPF had killed the president and commanded the population to kill Tutsi in retribution. The Hutu population, which had been prepared and armed during the preceding months, carried out the orders without question. There were few killings in Gitarama and Butare provinces during the early phases of the genocide, due to the moderation of their governors. Killings began in earnest in Gitarama on April 9 and in Butare on April 19, following the arrest and murder of Tutsi governor Jean Baptiste Habyarimana. The genocide did not affect areas already under RPF control, including parts of Byumba province and eastern Ruhengeri.

For the remainder of April and early May, the Presidential Guard, gendarmerie, and youth militias, aided by local populations, continued killing at very hig  rates. Historian Gerard Prunier estimates in his book The Rwanda Crisis that up to 800,000 Rwandans were murdered during the first six weeks of the genocide, which represents a rate of killing five times higher than during the German Holocaust. The goal of the genocide was to kill every Tutsi living in Rwanda, and with the exception of the advancing RPF army, there was no opposition force to prevent or slow the killings. Domestic opposition had already been eliminated and UNAMIR was expressly forbidden to use force except in self-defense. In rural areas, where Tutsi and Hutu lived side-by-side and families knew each other, it was easy for Hutu to identify and target their Tutsi neighbors. In urban areas were residents were more anonymous, identification was facilitated using road blocks manned by the military and interahamwe. Each person who encountered a road block was required to show their national identity card, which included ethnicity, and anyone carrying a Tutsi card was slaughtered immediately. Many Hutu were also killed for a variety of reasons, including demonstrating sympathy for moderate opposition parties, being a journalist, or simply appearing Tutsi.

The RPF made slow and steady gains in the north and east of the country, ending killings in each area they occupied. The genocide was effectively ended in April in areas of Ruhengeri, Byumba, Kibungo, and Kigali provinces. The killings also ceased during April in western Ruhengeri and Gisenyi because almost every Tutsi had been eliminated. Large numbers of Hutu in RPF-conquered areas fled, fearing retribution killings. Half a million Kibungo residents fled over the bridge at Rusumo Falls into Tanzania at the end of April and were accommodated in UN camps effectively controlled by ousted leaders of the Hutu regime.

In the remaining provinces, killings continued throughout May and June, although they became increasingly sporadic. Most Tutsi were already eliminated and the interim government hoped to rein in the growing anarchy and engage the population in fighting the encroaching RPF. On June 23, approximately 2,500 soldiers entered southwestern Rwanda as part of the French-led UN Operation Turquoise, intended as a humanitarian mission, although the soldiers were unable to save significant lives. The genocidal authorities were overtly welcoming of the French, displaying the French flag on their own vehicles, but slaughtering Tutsi who came out of hiding seeking protection.

Planning and Organization

The crisis committee, headed by Bagosora, took power following Habyarimana’s death and was the principal authority coordinating the genocide. Bagosora immediately began issuing orders to kill Tutsi, addressing groups of interahamwe in person in Kigali and making telephone calls to leaders in the provinces. Other leading national organizers included defense minister Augustin Bizimana; commander of the paratroopers, Aloys Ntabakuze; and head of the Presidential Guard, Protais Mpiranya. Businessman Felicien Kabuga funded the RTLM and the interahamwe, while Pascal Musabe and Joseph Nzirorera were responsible for coordinating militia activities nationally. In Kigali, the genocide was led by the Presidential Guard. They were assisted by militias, who in turn set up road blocks throughout the capital. Militias also initiated house searches within the city, slaughtering Tutsi and looting their property. Kigali governor Tharcisse Renzaho played a leading role, touring road blocks to ensure their effectiveness and using his position at the top of the Kigali provincial government to disseminate orders and dismiss officials who were not sufficiently active in perpetuating murder.

In rural areas, the local government hierarchy was also in most cases the chain of command for execution of the genocide. The governor of each province, acting on orders from Kigali, disseminated instructions to the district leaders who in turn issued directions to the leaders of the sector, cells, and villages of their districts. The majority of actual killings in the countryside were carried out by ordinary civilians under orders from their leaders. A combination of historical Hutu repression by the Tutsi minority, a culture of obedience to authority, and duress due to the belief that lack of participation would lead to violent retribution, all contributed to the willingness of ordinary citizens to commit violent acts against their neighbors.

The crisis committee appointed an interim government on April 8. Using the terms of the 1991 constitution instead of the Arusha Accords, the committee designated Theodore Sindikubwabo as interim president and Jean Kambanda was the new prime minister. All political parties were represented in the government, but most members were from the Hutu Power wings of their respective parties. The interim government was sworn in on April 9, and immediately relocated their headquarters from Kigali to Gitarama in order to avoid fighting between the RPF and Rwandan army in the capital. The crisis committee was officially dissolved, but Bagosora and some senior officers remained de facto rulers of the country. The government played some part in mobilizing the population, providing the regime an air of legitimacy, but it was in reality a puppet regime with no ability to halt the army or interahamwe’s activities.

Impact

Given the chaotic nature of the situation, there is no consensus on the number of people killed during the genocide. Unlike the genocides carried out by Nazi Germany or the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, authorities made no attempts to document or systematize deaths. The succeeding RPF government has stated that 1,071,000 were killed in 100 days, 10% of whom were Hutu. Based on those statistics, it could be derived that 10,000 people were murdered every day, which equals 400 people per hour, or seven people every minute. The journalist Philip Gourevitch agrees with an estimate of one million, while the UN estimates the death toll to be 800,000. It is estimated that approximately 300,000 Tutsi survived the genocide. Thousands of widows, many of whom were subjected to rape, are now HIV-positive. The genocide also created about 400,000 orphans, and nearly 85,000 of them were forced to become heads of households.

Rwandan Patriotic Front Military Campaign and Victory

On April 7, as the genocide began, RPF commander Paul Kagame warned the crisis committee and UNAMIR that he would resume the civil war if the killing did not stop. The next day, Rwandan government forces attacked the national parliament building from several directions, but RPF troops stationed there successfully fought back. The RPF then began an attack from the north on three fronts, seeking to link up quickly with the isolated troops in Kigali. Kagame refused to talk to the interim government, believing that it was just a cover for Bagosora’s rule and not truly committed to ending the genocide. Over the next few days, the RPF advanced steadily south, capturing Gabiro and large areas of the countryside to the north and east of Kigali. They avoided attacking Kigali or Byumba, but conducted maneuvers designed to encircle the cities and cut off supply routes. The RPF also allowed Tutsi refugees from Uganda to settle behind the front line in RPF-controlled areas.

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Paul Kagame (2014): Paul Kagame was commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Front for most of the Civil War.

Throughout April, there were numerous attempts by UNAMIR to establish a ceasefire, but Kagame insisted each time that the RPF would not stop fighting unless the killings stopped. In late April, the RPF secured the whole of the Tanzanian border area and began to move west from Kibungo to the south of Kigali. They encountered little resistance, except around Kigali and Ruhengeri. By May 16, they cut the road between Kigali and Gitarama, the temporary home of the interim government, and by June 13, they had taken Gitarama itself following an unsuccessful attempt by the Rwandan government forces to reopen the road. Subsequently, the interim government was forced to relocate to Gisenyi in the far northwest. As well as fighting the war, Kagame was recruiting heavily to expand the RPF. The new recruits included Tutsi survivors of the genocide and refugees from Burundi, but they were less well -trained and disciplined than earlier recruits.

Having completed the encirclement of Kigali, the RPF spent the latter of half of June fighting for the city itself. The government forces had superior manpower and weapons, but the RPF steadily gained in territory while conducting raids to rescue civilians behind enemy lines. Kagame was able to exploit the government forces’ focus on the genocide and translate that into RPF wins in the battle for Kigali. The RPF also benefited from the government’s waning morale as it lost territory. The RPF finally defeated Rwandan government forces in Kigali on July 4, and on July 18, they took Gisenyi and the rest of the northwest, forcing the interim government into Zaire, ending the genocide. At the end of July 1994, Kagame’s forces held the whole of Rwanda, except for the zone in the southwest occupied by the French-led UN force, Operation  Turquoise.

Aftermath and Reconciliation in Rwanda

Rwandans had recourse to international and community justice in the aftermath of the genocide.

Learning Objectives

Evaluate the methods used to encourage reconciliation after the genocide

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The systematic destruction of the judicial system during the genocide and civil war was a major problem for the prospects of reconciliation in Rwanda.
  • It was not until 1996 that Rwandan courts finally began trials for genocide cases with the enactment of Organic Law N° 08/96 of 30 on August 30.
  • In response to the overwhelming number of potentially culpable individuals and the slow pace of the traditional judicial system, the government of Rwanda passed Organic Law N° 40/2000 in 2001, establishing Gacaca Courts at all administrative levels.
  • The Gacaca court system traditionally dealt with conflicts within communities, but it was adapted to deal with genocide crimes.
  • The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) had jurisdiction over high-level members of the government and armed forces, while the government of Rwanda was responsible for prosecuting lower-level leaders and local people.
  • Following the RPF victory, approximately two million Hutu fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries, particularly Zaire, fearing RPF reprisals for the Rwandan Genocide.
  • Refugee camps were set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but were effectively controlled by the army and government of the former Hutu regime, who began rearming in a bid to return to power in Rwanda.
  • In addition to dismantling the refugee camps, Kagame began planning a war to remove the long time dictator of Zaire, who had supported the genocidaires based in the camps and was accused of allowing attacks on Tutsi people within Zaire.

Key Terms

  • Gacaca: Loosely translated to “justice among the grass,” a system of community justice inspired by Rwandan tradition. It was adapted in 2001 to fit the needs of Rwanda in the wake of the 1994 genocide.

Domestic Situation

The infrastructure and economy of Rwanda suffered greatly during the genocide. Many buildings were uninhabitable, and the former regime had taken all currency and movable assets when they fled the country. Human resources were also severely depleted, with over 40% of the population having been killed or fled. Many of the remainder were traumatized: most had lost relatives, witnessed killings, or participated in the genocide. The long-term effects of war rape in Rwanda for the victims include social isolation, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies and babies, with some women resorting to self-induced abortions. The army, led by Paul Kagame, maintained law and order while the government began the work of rebuilding the country’s structures.

The graph shows that the population of Rwanda rose steadily from the 1960s to the late 80's, dipped dramatically from the late 80's to the mid 90's, and then started rising again in the late 90's.

Rwanda’s demography over time: Rwanda’s population (1961-2003). Y-axis: Number of inhabitants in thousands.

Non-governmental organizations began to move back into the country, but the international community did not provide significant assistance to the new regime, and most international aid was routed to the refugee camps formed in Zaire following the exodus of Hutu from Rwanda. Kagame strove to portray the government as inclusive and not Tutsi-dominated. He directed the removal of ethnicity from citizens’ national identity cards, and the government began a policy of downplaying the distinctions among Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa.

During the genocide and in the months following the RPF victory, RPF soldiers killed many people they accused of participating in or supporting the genocide. Many of these soldiers were recent Tutsi recruits from within Rwanda who had lost family or friends and sought revenge. The scale, scope, and source of ultimate responsibility of these reprisal killings is disputed, although some non-governmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch alleged that Kagame and the RPF elit  either tolerated or organized the killings. In an interview with journalist Stephen Kinzer, Kagame acknowledged that killings had occurred, but stated that they were carried out by rogue soldiers and had been impossible to control.

July 4, 1994, is marked as Liberation Day in Rwanda and commemorated as a public holiday. The RPF has been the dominant political party in the country since 1994 and maintained control of the presidency and the Parliament in national elections, with the party’s vote share consistently exceeding 70%. The RPF is seen as a Tutsi-dominated party but receives support from across ethnic sub-groups. It is credited with ensuring continued peace, stability, and economic growth; however, some human rights organizations, such as Freedom House and Amnesty International, claim that the government suppresses the freedoms of opposition groups.

Justice System

The systematic destruction of the judicial system during the genocide and civil war was a major problem for the prospects of reconciliation in Rwanda. After the genocide, over one million people were potentially culpable for their roles in the genocide, amounting to nearly one-fifth of the population remaining after the summer of 1994. The RPF pursued a policy of mass arrests for the genocide, jailing over 100,000 in the two years after the genocide. The pace of arrests overwhelmed the physical  capacity of the Rwandan prison system, leading to what Amnesty International deemed “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment”. The country’s 19 prisons were designed to hold about 18,000 inmates, but at their peak in 1998, there were 100,000 people in detention facilities across the country.

Government institutions, including judicial courts, were destroyed, and many judges, prosecutors, and employees were murdered. By 1997, Rwanda only had 50 lawyers in its judicial system. These barriers caused trials of those arrested for genocide-related crimes to proceed very slowly. Of the 130,000 suspects held in Rwandan prisons after the genocide, 3,343 cases were handled between 1996 and the end of 2000. Of those defendants, 20% received death sentences, 32% received sentencing of life in prison, and 20% were acquitted. It was calculated that it would take over 200 years to conduct the trials of the suspects in prison—not including individuals who remained at large.

It was not until 1996 that Rwandan courts finally began trials for genocide cases with the enactment of Organic Law N° 08/96 of 30 on August 30, 1996. This law established the regular domestic courts as the core mechanism for responding to genocide until it was amended in 2001 to include the Gacaca Courts. The Organic Law established four categories for those involved in the genocide, specifying the limits of punishment for members of each category. The first category was reserved for those who were “planners, organizers, instigators, supervisors and leaders” of the genocide or who used positions of state authority to promote the genocide. This category also applied to murderers who distinguished themselves on the basis of their zeal or cruelty or who engaged in sexual torture. Members of this first category were eligible for the death sentence.

While Rwanda had the death penalty prior to the 1996 Organic Law, no executions had taken place since 1982. However, following the enactment of the 1996 Organic Law, 22 individuals were executed by firing squad in public executions in April 1997. After this, Rwanda conducted no further executions, though it did continue to issue death sentences until 2003. On July 25, 2007, the Organic Law Relating to the Abolition of the Death Penalty came into law, abolishing the death penalty and converting all existing death penalty sentences to life in prison under solitary confinement.

Gacaca Courts

In response to the overwhelming number of potentially culpable individuals and the slow pace of the traditional judicial system, the government of Rwanda passed Organic Law N° 40/2000 in 2001. The new law established Gacaca Courts at all administrative levels of Rwanda and in Kigali. It was mainly created to lessen the burden on normal courts and escalate the administration of justice for those already in prison. The least severe cases, according to the terms of Organic Law N° 08/96 of 30, would be handled by the Gacaca Courts. With this law, the government began implementing a participatory justice system, known as Gacaca, to address the enormous backlog of cases.

The Gacaca court system traditionally dealt with conflicts within communities, but was adapted to deal with genocide crimes. The following are the objectives of the Gacaca Courts:

  • Identifying the truth about what happened during the genocide
  • Speeding up genocide trials,
  • Fighting against a culture of impunity
  • Contributing to the national unity and reconciliation process
  • Demonstrating the capacity of the Rwandan people to resolve their own problems.

Throughout the years, the Gacaca court system went through a series of modifications. It is estimated that it has tried over one million cases to date. Meanwhile, the UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based in Arusha, Tanzania. The UN Tribunal had jurisdiction over high-level members of the government and armed forces, while the government of Rwanda was responsible for prosecuting lower-level leaders and local people.

Closing of the Courts

On June 18, 2012, the Gacaca court system was officially closed after facing criticism over favoring members and associated parties to the RPF-dominated government. Concern persisted that the judges who presided over the genocide trials were not trained adequately for serious legal questions or complex proceedings. Further, many judges resigned after facing accusations of personal participation in the genocide. There was a lack of defense counsel and protections for the accused, who were denied the right to appeal to ordinary courts. Most trials were open to the public, but there were issues relating to witness intimidation.

Since the ICTR was established as an ad hoc international jurisdiction, the tribunal was officially closed on December 31, 2015. Initially, the UN Security Council established the ICTR in 1994 with a mandate of four years without a fixed deadline. As the years passed, however, it became apparent that the ICTR would exist long past its original mandate.

Refugees, Insurgency, and the Congo Wars

Following the RPF victory, approximately two million Hutu fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries, particularly Zaire, fearing RPF reprisals for the Rwandan Genocide. Refugee camps were crowded and squalid, and thousands of refugees died in disease epidemics, including cholera and dysentery. The camps were set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), but were effectively controlled by the army and government of the former Hutu regime, including many leaders of the genocide, who began rearming in a bid to return to power in Rwanda. By late 1996, Hutu militants from the camps were launching regular cross-border incursions, and the RPF-led Rwandan government launched a counteroffensive. Rwanda provided troops and military training to the Banyamulenge, a Tutsi group in the Zairian South Kivu province, helping them to defeat Zairian security forces. Rwandan forces, the Banyamulenge, and other Zairian Tutsi then attacked the refugee camps, targeting Hutu militia. These attacks caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee, many returning to Rwanda despite the presence of the RPF, while others ventured further west into Zaire.

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Rwandan refugee camp in east Zaire: Refugee camp for Rwandans in Kimbumba, eastern Zaire (current Democratic Republic of the Congo), following the Rwandan genocide.

The defeated forces of the former regime continued a cross-border insurgency campaign, supported initially by the predominantly Hutu population of Rwanda’s northwestern provinces. By 1999, however, a program of propaganda and Hutu integration into the Rwandan national army succeeded in bringing the Hutu to the side of the government, and the insurgency was defeated.

In addition to dismantling the refugee camps, Kagame began planning a war to remove long-time dictator of Zaire, President Mobutu Sese Seko, from power. Mobutu supported the genocidaires based in the camps and was accused of allowing attacks on Tutsi people within Zaire. The rebels quickly took control of North and South Kivu provinces and then advanced west, gaining territory from the poorly organized and demotivated Zairian army with little fighting, and controlling the whole country by May 1997. Mobutu fled into exile and the country was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Rwanda fell out with the new Congolese regime in 1998 and Kagame supported a fresh rebellion, leading to the Second Congo War. This war lasted until 2003 and caused millions of deaths and massive damage. A 2010 UN report accused the Rwandan army of committing widespread human rights violations and crimes against humanity in the DRC during the two Congo wars, but the charges were denied by the Rwandan government.

The Lack of International Response

Most international actors during the Rwandan genocide stood on the sidelines, hoping to avoid their own nationals’ loss of life and political entanglements.

Learning Objectives

Account for the lack of international intervention during the Rwandan genocide

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) had been in Rwanda since October 1993, but their mandate was hampered by the UN’s inability to intervene militarily, President Habyarimana and other Hutu Power hardliners, and the loss of troops.
  • During the first few days of the genocide, France launched Amaryllis, a military operation assisted by the Belgian army and UNAMIR, to evacuate expatriates from Rwanda, but the French and Belgians refused to allow any Tutsi to accompany the evacuations.
  • In late June 1994, France launched Opération Turquoise, a UN-mandated mission to create safe humanitarian areas for displaced persons, refugees, and civilians in danger, but as the genocide came to an end and the RPF ascended to a leadership role within the country, many Rwandans interpreted Turquoise as a mission to protect Hutu from the RPF.
  • U.S. president Bill Clinton and his cabinet were aware of a “final solution” for Tutsi people within Rwanda before the massacre began, but fear of a repeat of the events in Somalia shaped U.S. failure to intervene. Many Catholic and other clergy within Rwanda sacrificed their lives to save others from slaughter; however, there is evidence that others did little to prevent the spread of the genocide, with some even actively participating in crimes.

Key Terms

  • Françafrique: A portmanteau of France and Afrique used to denote France’s relationship with its former African colonies and sometime extended to cover former Belgian colonies as well.
  • Chapter VI mandate: The chapter of the United Nations Charter that deals with peaceful settlement of disputes. It requires countries with disputes that could lead to war to first seek solutions via peaceful methods. If these methods of alternative dispute resolution fail, the issue must be referred to the UN Security Council.

Most of the world stood on the sidelines during the Rwandan genocide, hoping to avoid the loss of life and political entanglement that the American debacle in Somalia had created. As reports of the genocide spread through the media, the Security Council agreed to supply more than 5,000 troops to Rwanda to combat the genocide. But the delay and denial of recommendations prevented the force from getting there in a timely fashion, and ultimately they arrived months after the genocide was over. After the genocide, many government officials in the international community mourned the loss of thousands of civilians within Rwanda, though they took no action to prevent the slaughter as it was happening.

UNAMIR

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) had been in Rwanda since October 1993 with a mandate to oversee the implementation of the Arusha Accords following the Rwandan civil war. UNAMIR commander Romeo Dallaire learned of the Hutu Power movement during the mission’s deployment, as well as plans for the mass extermination of Tutsi. Dallaire also learned of growing secret weapons caches, but his request to raid them was turned down by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). UNAMIR’s effectiveness in peacekeeping was also hampered by President Habyarimana and Hutu hardliners, and by April 1994, the Security Council threatened to terminate UNAMIR’s mandate if it did not make progress with its mission.

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Kigali school chalkboard: A school chalkboard in Kigali. Note the names “Dallaire,” UNAMIR Force Commander, and “Marchal,” UNAMIR Kigali sector commander.

Following the death of Habyarimana and the start of the genocide, Dallaire liaised repeatedly with both the Crisis Committee and the RPF, attempting to re-establish peace and prevent the resumption of the civil war. Neither side was interested in a ceasefire: the government was controlled by backers of the genocide, and the RPF considered continued fighting necessary to stop the killings. UNAMIR’s Chapter VI mandate rendered it powerless to intervene militarily, and most of its Rwandan staff were killed in the early days of the genocide, severely limiting its ability to operate. On April 12, the Belgian government, one of the largest troop contributors to UNAMIR, lost ten soldiers who were protecting Prime Minister Uwilingillyimana, and subsequently announced its withdrawal from the force, reducing UNAMIR’s effectiveness further.

UNAMIR was therefore largely reduced to a bystander role, and Dallaire later labeled it a failure. Its most significant contribution was to provide refuge for thousands of Tutsi and moderate Hutu at its headquarters in Amahoro Stadium as well as other secure UN sites, and in assisting with the evacuation of foreign nationals. In mid-May, the UN finally conceded that “acts of genocide may have been committed” and agreed to reinforcement, which would be referred to as UNAMIR. New soldiers did not start arriving until June, however, and following the end of the genocide in July, the role of UNAMIR 2 was largely confined to maintaining security and stability until its termination in 1996.

France and Operation Turquoise

During President Habyarimana’s years in power, France maintained very close relations with him as part of its Françafrique policy and assisted Rwanda militarily against the RPF during the Civil War. France considered the RPF, along with Uganda, to be a part of a plot to increased Anglophone influence at the expense of that of the French. During the first few days of the genocide, France launched Amaryllis, a military operation assisted by the Belgian army and UNAMIR, to evacuate expatriates from Rwanda. The French and Belgians refused to allow any Tutsi to accompany them, and those who boarded the evacuation trucks were forced off at Rwandan government checkpoints, where they were killed. The French als  separated several expatriates and children from their Tutsi spouses, rescuing the foreigners but leaving the Rwandans to a likely death. The French did, however, rescue several high profile members of Habyarimana’s government, as well as his wife, Agathe.

In late June 1994, France launched Opération Turquoise, a UN-mandated mission to create safe humanitarian areas for displaced persons, refugees, and civilians in danger. The French entered southwestern Rwanda from bases in the Zairian cities of Goma and Bukavu and established the zone Turquoise within the Cyangugu-Kibuye-Gikongoro triangle, an area occupying approximately one-fifth of Rwanda. Radio France International Estimated that Turquoise saved around 15,000 lives, but as the genocide came to an end and the RPF ascended to a leadership role within the country, many Rwandans interpreted Turquoise as a mission to protect Hutu from the RPF, including some Hutu who had participated in the genocide. The French remained hostile to the RPF and their presence did temporarily stall the RPF’s advance. A number of inquiries have been made into French involvement in Rwanda, including the 1998 French Parliamentary Commission on Rwanda, which accused France of errors of judgement but stopped short of accusing it of direct responsibility for the genocide itself. A 2008 report by the Rwandan government and sponsored by the Mucyo Commission, however, did accuse the French government of knowing about the genocide and helping to train Hutu militia members.

Other International Actors

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Southern European Task Force (SETAF) Transporting Water

The water was made by eight chlorinators and two reverse osmosis machines in Goma for Rwandan refugees located at Camp Kimbumba, Zaire.

Intelligence reports indicated that U.S. president Bill Clinton and his cabinet were aware of a “final solution” for Tutsi people within Rwanda before the height of the massacre. However, fear of a repeat of the events in Somalia shaped U.S. policy at the time, with many commentators identifying the graphic consequences of the Battle of Mogadishu as the key reason for the U.S. failure to intervene in later conflicts such as the Rwandan Genocide. After the Battle of Mogadishu, the bodies of several U.S. casualties were dragged through the streets by crowds of local civilians and members of Aidid’s Somali National Alliance. As a result, 80% of the discussion in Washington in the lead up to the 100 days of violence in Rwanda concerned the evacuation of American citizens. Later, Bill Clinton would refer to the failure of the U.S. government to intervene in the genocide as one of his greatest foreign policy failings while in office.

The Roman Catholic Church affirms that a genocide took place in Rwanda, but states that those who took part did so without the permission of the Church. Many Catholic and other clergy sacrificed their lives to save others from slaughter. However, there is evidence that others contributed to the mayhem, with some even actively participating in crimes. Though religious factors were not prominent, Human Rights Watch faulted a number of religious authorities in Rwanda in a 1999 report on the genocide, including Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants, for failing to condemn the genocide. Some religious authorities were even tried and convicted for their participation in the genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). Father Athanase Seromba was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment (increased on appeal to life imprisonment) by the ICTR for his role in the massacre of 2,000 Tutsis. The court heard that Seromba lured the Tutsis to a church where they believed they would find refuge. When they arrived, he ordered bulldozers to crush the refugees within and Hutu militias to kill any survivors. Similarly, Bishop Misago was accused of corruption and complicity in the genocide, but was cleared of all charges in 2000.