Global Affairs Desk

Tue Jun 18 2024

29 Years of Rwandan Genocide

~ By Samidha Jain on 6/13/2023

29 Years of Rwandan Genocide

From 7th April to 14th July 1994 a genocide occurred in Rwanda which shook entire international community to its core. In the Rwandan Civil War which lasted for just 100 days, more than one million people lost their lives and an estimated 1,50,000 to 2,50,000 women were raped. The genocide was leaded by the Hutus against the Tutsis. The incident also brought in the urgency for humanitarian aid and political stability in the under-developed countries of Africa, after they became independent from their European colonial masters.

Pre- Colonial Era

By 1994, Rwanda’s population was of 7 million with people comprising of three ethnic groups- 85% Hutu, 15% Tutsi and 1% Twa. Tutsis had an upper hand during the pre-colonial era. In those times, division was not as ugly, a wealthy Hutu could be assimilated in Tutsi and an impoverished Tutsi could be regarded as a Hutu. A sort of clan system functioned and before 1887, when Germany got the control of Rwanda and Burundi by the Berlin Conference of 1884. A Tutsi clan, Nyiginya ruled the kingdom.
During the rule of King Kigeli Rwaburgi (1853- 1895), the rift between Tutsis and Hutus started to widen. Under the administrative reform of Ubuhake, Hutus were forced to provide labor to regain access to their seized lands.

Colonial Era

Germany had a subordinate setup established where they super headed the local Rwandan rulers. They were not considerate about the differences in the colony and left it to the local community.

During the first world war in 1917, Belgium seized the control of Rwanda and Burundi from Germany and started controlling the colonies directly from 1926.
They intensified the growing differences by introducing a system of permanent division and issuing compulsory identity cards. They favored Tutsis and thus all the prominent government positions and resources were reserved for Tutsi minority. During 1950s, the world experienced a decolonialization wave. Hutus started pressing for autonomy whereas Tutsis, benefitting from the imperial regime resisted democratization to secure their acquired privileges.

In November 1959, a violent uprising headed by the Hutus called “Hutu Peasant Revolution” took place. In this aggressive revolution, hundreds of Tutsis were killed, and thousands were forced to displace to the neighboring states. The revolution ended in 1961 and Rwanda gained independence in 1962.

More than 1,20,000 Tutsis had taken refuge to escape violence in countries of Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo), Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. This resulted in gradual coming into power of the Hutu community. By 1980s, some 4,80,000 Rwandans had become refugees and continued to call for fulfillment of their international legal right to return to Rwanda. However, Juvenal Habayarinama took the stance that due to huge population pressures and less economic opportunities, Rwanda was unable to accommodate the Tutsi refugees.

Cycle of Civil War

Tutsi refugees found the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1988 in Kampala, Uganda. RPF was hailed as a political and military movement with stated aims of securing repatriation of Rwandans in exile and reforming the Rwandan government.
It composed of many fighters from the President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army, which overthrew the previous Ugandan government in 1986.

On 1st October,1990 RPF launched a major attack from Uganda with the strength of 7000. Hutu propaganda set wildfire in the country, It labelled and targeted Tutsis in Rwanda as accomplices of RPF. United Nations Security Council (UNSC) established UNAMIR, United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda with a mandate encompassing peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and general support for peace process in October 1993.

The Genocide- 6th April,1994

Presidents of Burundi and Rwanda die in a plane crash caused by a rocket attack and RPF gets blamed to have planned and executed this crash. This incident ignited several weeks of intense and systematic massacres. Members of the Presidential Guard started killed a section of Tutsis in Kigali. In less than half an hour after the plane crash, roadblocks manned by Hutu militiamen with assistance of gendarmerie was set up to identify and slaughter Tutsis. On 7th April 1994, Radio Television Libres Des Mille Collines (RTLM) aired a broadcast attributing the plane crash to RPF and a contingent of UN soldiers as well as incited the countrymen to eliminate the “Tutsi Cockroach”.

Later that day, Prime Minister Agathe Unwilingiyimana and 10 Belgium peacekeepers assigned in her protection are brutally murdered by Rwandan soldiers in an attack on her home. Moderate Hutu leaders were also assassinated, and Belgium withdrew its peacekeeping force. UNAMIR is deemed as a failure as its original strength from 2165 drops to 270 by 21st April. The absence of a resolute commitment to reconcile both the Rwandan parties was an issue. The tragedy was compounded by the flattering response of the international community. The capacity of UN to reduce human suffering in Rwanda was severely constrained by the unwillingness of member states to respond to the changed circumstances in Rwanda.

On 22nd June, UNSC authorized French led forces carried out Operation Turquoise, a humanitarian mission which saved hundreds of civilians in Southwest Rwanda. It is also blamed to have aided genocide criminals to flee Rwanda. By 14th July 1994 RPF took military control of the entire territory.

The Aftermath

Around 1.4 million Hutus fled to Zaire due to the fear of RPF. These camps were used by Rwandan forces to later launch attacks in Congo. Since 1996, Rwanda has fought two wars over the tensed ethno-political situation with Congo.

The government began Genocide trials in 1996. By 2000, there were 100,000 suspects awaiting trials, the delay was caused due to the loss in instruments of judiciary and personnel. In 2001, Gacaca courts came into existence in these, communities elected judges to hear trials. They gave lower sentences if the person was repentant and sought reconciliation with the community. The ethos of Gacaca was to increase community participation in process of justice.

With the purpose of prosecuting perpetrators of violence in Rwanda between 1st January 1994 and 31st December 1994, UN established International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). The Tribunal indicted 93 individuals whom it considered guilty for serious humanitarian law violations. It ended its term on 31st December 2015.
Conclusion and Current Situation.

Rwanda is now a stable and strong Presidential Democracy. RPF after the victory over Hutus in 1994 formed government and its current and 3rd time, 7year tenure President, Paul Kegame was the leader of RPF during the genocide. Rwanda is still healing from the wounds of its past. It still needs international support for overcoming the deadlock of economic growth and clear tensions with DRC. Its troubled relations with its neighbors and the gruesome violence inflicted by its past leaders in the Great Lake Valley region along with the huge number of refugees are some major issues which need to be sorted.

| Comments - (1)

Tushar sharmaCommented on 6/14/2023

Well written 👌👌